Albi, the capital of the Tarn Department, Occitanie (previously Languedoc Roussillon) offers plenty to do and see. And, there’s also lots to see around and about. We’ve put together a few of our favourite ideas for what to see and do near Albi…
Around 45 minutes south of Albi is the city of Castres, which developed around the Benedictine abbey of Saint Benoît, founded in AD 647. Don’t miss the Saturday morning market which fills the whole of Place Jean Jaurès. From Quai des Jacobins there’s a striking view of the medieval multi-storey tanners’ and dyers’ houses lining the River Agout, known as the Venice of Languedoc.
All have basements, opening directly onto the river where animal skins were cleansed and rinsed and then put in tanks full of lime. The ground floor was occupied by the workers with the masters living above. On the top two floors were the drying sheds, with shuttered openings protecting the hides from the sun during summer and from the frost during winter. Under the roof, the “soleiller”, or second drying shed was left wide open to let the air and light in.
The Bishop’s Palace is now the town hall and has immaculately laid out gardens by Le Notre, a famous 17th century landscape gardener who also laid out the gardens at Versailles. It’s also home to the Goya museum, dedicated to Spanish artists, and contains a handful of works by the master himself. Don’t miss their Picasso, the “Bust of Man Writing”, on loan from the Picasso Museum.
Royal School-Abbey of Sorèze
Half an hour south west from here is the Bastide village of Sorèze. The Benedictine abbey became a Royal Military School under Louis XVI, then a college for the rich and famous and only closed in 1991.
The main attraction here are the UNESCO World Heritage tapestries of the master weavers of Aubusson. It was a monk, Dom Robert, from the nearby Abbey of En Calcat, who revived the tradition in the early twentieth century.
In the new museum, located in the Abbey School, there are 60 stunning examples of his tapestries, featuring motifs inspired by nature, plus sketches and paintings. Other works by the Aubusson weavers are also featured and there’s an exhibit outlining the process of creating a tapestry.
In the southwestern end of the Tarn, in the Black Mountains, is the tiny village of Les Cammazes. It’s an unlikely UNESCO site but its claim to fame is the Rigole de la Montagne, or Mountain Channel, which supplies water to the Canal du Midi.
It was built in 1666 by engineer Pierre-Paul Riquet. 20 year later the great Vauban modified it. He created a vault designed to pass through the mountain. This 122m underground aqueduct has been recently restored and is open to the public. It’s not for the faint of heart as the pathway is dark and narrow, but armed with a torch, it’s a unique experience.
Castres Tourisme: information about the city.
Where to stay: Hotel Abbaye Ecole de Sorèze is inside the Abbey
Restaurants: La Part des Anges has a Michelin Bib Gourmand in Castres; Les Collets Rouges is a stylish establishment inside Sorèze Abbey; Le Salon de Vauban serves home grown produce in Les Cammazes.
More on Albi – the top things to do in the city
Rupert Parker is a writer, photographer, cameraman & TV Producer. His special interests are food & travel & he writes about everything from wilderness adventure to gourmet spa tours. Read about his latest adventures on his website Planet Appetite.