Listen, I love all the hustle and bustle that French cities have to offer. But hear me out: French villages make my heart flutter. I moved to Marseille last year and fell madly in love with this Mediterranean port city. However, it’s when I’m in small town France that I feel like I’m truly in France. La France profonde. One of my good friends lives in the most darling village of Albi. Thanks to her, I discovered this village with a population hovering around 50,000 and have been able to explore Albi and its surroundings with her. Here are my favorite things to do in Albi along with stops in nearby Cordes-sur-Ciel and Laguépie.
Word of advice: listen to the locals. When my friend’s French boyfriend recommended the magret de canard with potatoes at Le Pontié, I obliged. And friends, this duck dish is truly one of the best meals I have ever consumed in France. This regional specialty was cooked the perfection: crusty exterior with a juicy inside. I woke up the next morning still thinking and drooling over this duck. Additionally, the service was impeccable, and this restaurant sits on a lively square and is the essence of French dining culture.
Located just steps from the cathedral, this spot had the perfect ambience for evening drinks with friends. I love trying new cocktails, and Au 14.80 had plenty of creative ones to pick from. Kelly and I enjoyed our fruity sips, which were also totally ‘grammable.
Take a stroll along the red brick bridge that straddles the Tarn River. This medieval bridge was first built in the 11th century and has UNESCO accolades.
I mean, did you even go to Albi if you didn’t get your obligatory tourist picture by the city sign? This red #Albi sign is located near 2 Place du Château and gives you a beautiful backdrop of the Cathédrale in your ‘gram.
Cathédrale Saint-Cécile d’Albi
Also something to add to your list of things to do in Albi is Cathédrale Saint-Cécile d’Albi, which is the largest brick cathedral in existence. This spot is also Europe’s biggest painted cathedral with nearly 200,000 square feet of frescos and illustrations. I mean, talk about bragging rights.
When I visited my friend Kelly this winter, we watched an amazing lightshow displayed on the cathedral. If you’re in Albi near Christmastime, be sure to add this to your itinerary.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was born in Albi during the 19th century, yet his mark on the modernism movement with his posters and paintings continues to today. I remember studying his work in my high school graphic design class and was fascinated by his simple yet provactive work. (I even got to see his work that made it all the way to Kansas City, Missouri!) I haven’t been able to visit this museum yet, but it’s on my list for my next trip to Albi.
Maybe the romance of southwestern France and the princess-medieval vibes were getting to me. But all I could think when I visited the Berbie Palace was, This would be the perfect place for a wedding. In any case, these perfectly manicured gardens and red brick buildings made me swoon. This UNESCO World Heritage site built in the 1200s once served as the bishops’ palace.
With a population of about 1,000, Cordes-sur-Ciel is sure to charm you with its cobblestone paths and medieval architecture — even the French agree! In 2014, Cordes-sur-Ciel was named Le Village Préféré des Français, or the French’s favorite village.
This village is a short 30-minute drive from Albi, making it an easy day trip. Head up to Les Halles to explore the restaurants around this covered, medieval square. We enjoyed strolling along the streets and poking around the boutiques with handmade jewelry.
Get the best views near Place Saint-Michel, where there’s a square that overlooks the sweeping valley. And satisfy your sweet tooth at chocolatier Yves Thuriès.
When I lived in Toulouse for a summer several years ago, my friend invited me to stay at his family castle for Bastille Day weekend with our friends. We road tripped around Occitanie, where I was first introduced to the village of Laguépie. And it was love at first sight.
At first glance, Laguépie appears to be a drive-through village with just 600 inhabitants. But this quaint village exudes French village life in the most tranquil way. On that summer day several years ago, we explored Château Lou Viel Castel, whose history goes all the way back to before the 10th century. And we soaked up the sun and splashed around in the Viaur River.
Nearly four years later, I came back to Laguépie with Kelly and her boyfriend, who grew up in Laguépie. Truly the smallest world!
One of the reasons I love living in France so much is that I’m constantly exploring. When people think of France, they often think of the big glittering spots like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, which are indeed fantastic. But I find that the heart of the French culture lies in the quieter, under-the-radar spots like Albi. Tuck away these things to do in Albi and nearby day trips to Cordes-sur-Ciel and Laguépie.
Craving even more southwestern French village charm? Here’s a post on the road trip we took through Occitanie.