Since an epic meal deserves an epic journey, we decided to visit Albi as part of our Maison Bras getaway from Lyon.
We love Europe, and France in particular, for many reasons – great food, magnificent scenery, ancient cultures and some of the best public transportation on the planet. It’s a pleasure to hop on France’s network of TGV trains and travel to and from many destinations including Paris, Lyon, Provence and Strasbourg. Traveling on high-speed rail is easy, fast and comfortable.
However, even in Europe, there are times when you have to hit the road, rent a car and traverse the countryside.
At 2foodtrippers, we pride ourselves on experiencing a diversity of food experiences. We not only love street food and cafes but also cuisine that pushes the boundaries of gastronomy. Thus, eating a meal at Maison Bras became a top of the list priority in our #tastetheworld2016 tour. Restaurants like the Bras family’s Le Suquet, in the picturesque central French region of Aubrac, present a formidable journey for food lovers. Getting to the restaurant isn’t easy though. Trains don’t travel to nearby Laguiole. Rodez, the closest city to Bras, is five hours by rail from Paris. Buses to Laguiole only leave once a day from Rodez.
So, since we wanted to eat at Maison Bras, we rented a car and hit the Autoroute.
We decided to extend our trip and soak up some ancient French scenery in Albi before rolling into the French hill country. As an added bonus, our drive skirted a number of French towns that we never considered visiting. We were pleasantly surprised by the beauty of towns like Puy en Velay. Puy, the french lentil epicenter, astounded us with its striking red Virgin Mary statue atop Rocher Corneille rock. The wonderment of these sites, along with breathtaking natural scenery, fill the Gallic nation from end to end. It’s no wonder why many French never want to leave France, even for the occasional vacation.
Why Visit Albi?
We didn’t totally know what to expect when we decided to visit Albi. While featured in some American travel guides, Albi is not a key destination for many American travelers. So, as we strolled along the majestic Tarn river, moving past the city’s ancient buildings and arching stone spans, we couldn’t help but think of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David song (and Michael Caine film) Alfie, singing (and joking):
All jokes aside, Albi is located in the region of Tarn, about an hour outside of Toulouse. It’s a small but bustling city with loads of shops and eateries. A quick word of advice: Don’t visit Albi for fine dining. The town, while possessing a decent central public market and some excellent wine shops with wines from nearby Gaillac and Languedoc, is filled with disappointing, touristy French restaurants with high culinary ambitions but food that does not match. We looked for solid local food while we there, thinking we would score some awesome cassoulet and duck confit, but instead ended up with gristly steak and inedible banana crème brûlée. We did enjoy a fresh, seasonal lunch at Croc’citan as well as a delightful breakfast at our Airbnb.
However, what Albi lacks in food it makes up for in amazing scenery. Roman bridges span the Tarn river bowing before the fortresslike, rustic brown brick Saint Cecile cathedral. The cathedral is impressive on its own, with an ornately painted ceiling and gardens that overlook the flowing river. Albi prides itself as the home of noted impressionist artist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and its quality museum of the same name. The Musée Toulouse-Lautrec not only houses many of the artist’s iconic illustrations from Paris’ Belle Epoch (think classic Moulin Rouge posters) but also provides a unique history of an artist both cursed and blessed by physical deformities that shaped his unique creative vision.
Albi – A Photo Essay
Albi is best enjoyed at sunrise and is worthy of a photo display. So, as a part one of our amazing road trip through Central France, we present the ancient city of Albi in photos. Enjoy!
If you’re inspired by our French road trip, get tips on planning your own two week itinerary from The Trusted Traveller here.