Georges Rouzeau - 2010-12-15
Albi’s recent inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List does justice to one of France’s most beautiful cities. Enjoy our video and note our list of top establishments scrupulously tested by members of our team for a perfect holiday in Albi la Belle.
The ‘UNESCO Effect’ waits for no one. On 31 July 2010, a few minutes after Albi’s inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage list was made public, the city was unexpectedly stormed by waves of tourists who had been visiting France’s South-West, soon to be followed by eager tour operators. Local hotels were besieged. During the rest of the summer, the cathedral and the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum saw a 30 % increase in visitors and L’Esprit du Vin, the city’s Michelin-starred restaurant, was fully booked for lunch and dinner during the entire month of August. Today we saw buses filled with Japanese tourists and a crew from the Japanese TV station NHK busily filming a 26-minute feature about the red city.
Albi la Belle, a red city that looks like it might belong in Lombardy, well deserves the public’s admiration. Its classified area is a twenty-hectare gem which includes the Sainte-Cécile Gothic cathedral, the adjoining Palais de la Berbie, the Saint-Salvi collegiate church (Albi’s oldest religious structure, dating from the early 11C), the Old Bridge (also from the 11C) and parts of the banks of the River Tarn. The city, whose glory days were in the 16C during the peak of the woad trade, harbours several venerable old quarters which are extraordinarily well-preserved and conscientiously showcased.
Around the cathedral - something of an enormous brick elephant which truly looks like it belongs in Gotham City - are old private manors and half-timbered houses with corbelled features. Albi has an excellent quality of life (à la south of France) and is peppered with fine establishments of all genres. From the organic wine bar to the Michelin-starred restaurant; from the 18C flourmill transformed into a hotel to the sustainable design boutique, Albi is full of surprises. That the city has not been engulfed by nearby Toulouse is a gift to us all.
Here then is our address book for a happy, successful holiday in Albi la Belle.
Centre Départemental de Tourisme du Tarn
Where to stay
Hôtel Mercure Albi Bastides
41 bis Rue Porta
Tel: (33) 05 63 47 66 66
Located on the banks of the Tarn (one can hear the river roaring below) a few minutes’ walk from the city centre, the Mercure Albi Hotel is housed in a superb building: an 18C flourmill built of red brick. The hotel offers magical, incomparable views of the Old Bridge and the old Episcopal City with, at the top, the imposing St. Cécile Cathedral. The hotel has 56 rooms, all renovated in 2008, a restaurant and, at breakfast, a fine buffet. Welcoming staff. Rooms from € 80/£ 67.50.
Where to dance the salsa or have lunch, dinner, a quick bite or a glass of wine.
L’Esprit du Vin
11 Quai Choiseul
Tel: (33) 05 63 54 60 44
Like many of his peers nowadays, David Enjalran, the chef at L’Esprit du Vin (one Michelin star), has got rid of the heavy yoke of his elaborate old menu in order to better devote his talents to the ingredients and inspiration of the moment. While his roots are firmly planted in his region, he tends to wander, taking patrons along for ever-interesting culinary journeys.
Atelier menu from € 60/£ 50.60. Fixed-price lunch menu from € 23/£ 19.40.
42 Place Jean Jaurès
Tel: (33) 09 63 55 40 65
Rikard Hult, the chef at l’Épicurien, is originally from Sweden. In a splendid dining room with a refined, serene decor, the chef serves delicate, feminine cuisine which melds Scandinavian melancholy with modern cuisine from the French South-West – a real discovery, not to be missed. In our video, Hult chats with vintner friend Patrice Lescarret from Gaillac (Domaine de Causses Marines). ‘Menu bistrot’ from € 26/£ 22, ‘menu gastronomique’ from € 46/£ 39 (€ 65/£ 55; € 85/ £ 72).
Le Pré en Bulles
9 Lices Jean Moulin
Tel: (33) 05 63 36 90 17
The only café in Albi with a historic decor, Le Pré en Bulles looks like it belongs in the French film classic Les Tontons Flingueurs (Crooks in Clover). They serve simple, delectable bistro-style dishes with, for example, homemade chips. The extensive wine list features some 400 natural wines selected by up-and-coming distiller and wine merchant Laurent Cazotte. The establishment is very dynamic thanks to its theme evenings (salsa, for example!) and debates.
9 Rue St Julien
Tel: (33) 05 63 54 03 52
After finishing hotel school, this (very young) couple asked Laurent Cazotte, a great champion of natural wines, to put together their wine list. We approve. In the kitchen, Arnaud (who has worked with Rikard Hult) cooks up pleasantly fusion-style dishes such as bass with prunes and butternut squash crumble with chestnuts. Several fixed-price menus are on offer, or you can order individual portions (from just € 2.00/£ 1.70) and create your ideal meal. Fixed-price menus from € 13/£ 11.
La Table du sommelier
20 Rue Porta
Tel: (33) 05 63 46 20 10
Just minutes from the Hôtel Mercure, this establishment with a classic menu focuses on matching food and wine.
Lunch menu from € 13/ £ 11.
13 Rue Toulouse-Lautrec
Tel: (33) 05 63 54 86 55
A restaurant housed in former stables in the heart of old Albi, opposite the homes of Toulouse-Lautrec and the famed explorer Commodore Lapérouse. Chef Antoine Caramelli creates delicious classic cuisine with a few modern touches using fresh, local ingredients.
Fixed-price menu from € 15/ £ 12.65.
Le Sens des choses
24 Rue de la Souque
Tel: (33) 05 63 80 59 06
Made in France by small regional manufacturers (from Cantal to the Ariège) using recycled or recyclable natural, tactile materials (clay, cardboard, wood, wool, linen, porcelain, stoneware), the objects chosen by Séverine Paillet are ‘meaningful’ - the shop’s name in French signifies ‘The Meaning of Things’. As sustainable as they are useful, from the window planter made of linen fibre to the walking stick with a silicone handle; from the wool jewellery to the natural schistose sandstone whetting stone; from the fruit bowl made of chestnut wood from the Limousin region to the cardboard bookshelves, everything in this boutique which opened in May 2010 opposite Albi’s covered market is thought-provoking and attractive. Prices range from € 10/£ 8.45 to € 600/£ 506.