A quick stop in Languedoc: Cahors, Albi, and Carcassonne

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September 10th 2009
Published: November 10th 2009
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Day 14 (Thursday, September 10, 2009)

After eating breakfast, we settled our bill with Le Petit Versailles and sadly went on our way. We had immensely enjoyed our stay at Le Petit Versailles and our time in the Dordogne region. It was by far my favorite area of France, and one that we will come back to again in the future, probably renting a house for at least a week.

Today was another long day of driving, with our final destination being the medieval town of Carcassonne. Along the way, we stopped off in two other towns. The first was Cahors, which is well-known for Pont Valentré, a fortified medieval bridge that was built in 1308 to prevent the English from entering Cahors. Before visiting the bridge, we walked around the city, enjoying the cool morning temperatures and the narrow back-alley streets. While I wasn’t overly impressed with the city itself, I did find it pleasant, but definitely not a must-see place for most visitors. However, I did immensely enjoy photographing the beautiful bridge and taking a leisurely stroll across it. I learned that up until just a few years ago, the bridge was open to car traffic, which must have been such a shame. I was very glad to see that it is now a completely pedestrian friendly bridge.

From Cahors, we drove another 90 minutes before reaching the town of Albi. Prior to our trip, I knew absolutely nothing of the city nor had I even ever heard its name. While completing research, I had read that the city was a good stopover on the way from the Dordogne to Carcassonne, so I went ahead and planned a two hour visit. Upon arrival in the city, I was pleasantly surprised with its visual beauty. Albi was absolutely gorgeous, with its red bricked buildings shining brightly under the sun and reflecting perfectly upon the Tarn River. The town immediately reminded me of Siena, Italy because of all of the red-colored buildings.

After parking the car in an underground garage, we walked through the very clean and quaint streets towards Place Sainte Cecile. Within this massive pedestrian-friendly square was located the town’s two most important sights; Sainte-Cecile Cathedral and the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum.

Our first stop was the museum, which is home to over 1,000 works by Albi-born artist Toulouse-Lautrec. While neither of us are fans of art museums, both of our guidebooks spoke high praises of the museum, so we hoped and assumed it would be worth our time. After paying the entrance fee of 5.50 Euro per person, we walked into the main gallery. Although we were both unfamiliar with Toulouse-Lautrec, we found it nice that the museum offered explanation sheets (in multiple languages) in each of the rooms, describing a few of the paintings listed. We found it disappointing however that there was only a few galleries of paintings to view, so we did not find it worth the 5.50 Euro entry fee. I guess that just means that we must not appreciate art enough!

Next, we walked over to Sainte-Cecile Cathedral, first enjoying its gorgeous and very massive exterior. We then walked inside, with both of us saying “wow” in unison. The interior was unlike anything I had ever seen prior in a church; aside from being absolutely huge, it was immensely colorful with nearly every square inch being painted with detailed color. The cathedral was originally constructed between 1282 to 1480 in the Southern Gothic Style. I read that the ceiling, which was absolutely stunning with its deep blue and gold hues, has not been restored nor touched in 500 years; quite an amazing feat, especially in Europe!

After visiting the church, we headed towards Pont Vieux (old bridge) where there was a great view of the city for me to photograph. As soon as the river, bridge, and skyline came into my view, I became giddy with excitement. The view was absolutely phenomenal, with the gorgeous red bricked buildings reflecting beautifully upon the water. Although it was scorching hot outside at this point, I spent quite a bit of time out on the bridge, taking my time to photograph the scene.

Afterward, we headed back into town, stopping at a grocery store to purchase some food, and then drove out of town. I was very sad to leave; I had immediately fallen in love with Albi and regretted not having known more about it prior to our visit. Otherwise, I would have planned at least an overnight stop as I would have loved to see the city lit-up at night.

We continued along, driving for another 90 minutes upon the windy back-roads of France. We finally arrived in Carcassonne around 19:00; perfect timing considering there were very few tour buses parked outside the medieval walls. Prior to visiting the city however, we went and checked into Hotel Espace Cite , which was located just a short walk away from the city walls.

After dropping our things off, we made a quick getaway for the city as the sunlight was quickly waning. Instead of immediately walking within the medieval walls, we decided to partially walk around the exterior of the walled fortress city in order to take some photographs while the sun was still out. The fortress of Carcassonne is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Although there has been signs of a settlement in the area since 3500 BC, the actual medieval fortification was built during the 13th century, and is currently in amazingly good condition, thanks to a massive restoration that occurred back in 1853.

I had assumed that Carcassonne would be just as touristy as Mont St. Michele. However, although it was definitely filled with tourists, its massive size and relatively obscure location from any nearby major city made it much more comfortable to walk around and explore. There was lots of tacky tourists shops, but much to my surprise, there was also quite a substantial number of restaurants.

We decided to go ahead and eat dinner that night (even though we had been planning against it) as Mike really wanted to try the famous dish of the area; cassoulet. We settled on a restaurant called La Girouette, due to its inexpensive thee course menu for 12 Euro per person. In addition to the cassoulet as his main dish, Mike ordered a pate of pork as an appetizer, and cherry cake for dessert. I requested the house salad and the roasted chicken with fries, along with the cherry cake. I wasn’t expecting anything too gourmet or fancy, based on the price, but we were both pleasantly surprised with the quality of food. Everything we ate was simple, although quite delicious. We both ended up feeling way too full, as is usually the case with those three course menus. However, when a single entrée is only 1 or 2 Euro less than an entire three course menu, it's really difficult to pass up!

After dinner, we walked back to the hotel through the dimly-lit streets of Carcassonne. I had wanted to take some night shots of the medieval walls since they were illuminated by many lights. However, I didn't happen to have my tripod on me, so very few of the shots turned out. In hindsight, we should have driven the car a few streets away in order to get a better overall shot of the entire fortress. If you plan to stay the night in or near Carcassonne, make sure to do this!

Additional photos below
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10th November 2009

awwwsome pictures....!! it reminded me of my trip to TUSCANY ITALY. I went through Tuscan Way (twice actually) and everything here is so on point. So much great food, so much amazing wine, and memories I will remember forever. This location would be my next target. thanks once again..!!
7th February 2010

This is so helpful!
Thank you for taking the time to post the information and pictures of your trip. I found this more helpful than most sites that have lots of ads and very little real information. Thanks so much!

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