Since 2010, the historic centre of Albi has been on the UNESCO list of sites. Located in the Occitania region and founded along the course of the river Tarn, the episcopal city has just under 50,000 inhabitants and attracts around 800,000 visitors from all over the world every year.
Its extraordinary urban grid, formed by a particular type of brickwork, has given Albi the nickname of the red city: a unique atmosphere can be admired, created by an incredible palette of colours that change and iridescent depending on the light, turning in all shades of red, pink and ochre. This type of construction has left us with an architectural model unique in Europe: the cathedral and the Palais de la Berbie are in fact among the largest fired-brick buildings in the world.
The beautiful and charming city of Albi is made up of four historical districts, surrounding the two giants of brick, the cathedral and the bishop’s palace.
The Castelviel district, opposite the cathedral tower, is the cradle of the city. With its squares surrounded by medieval half-timbered houses and narrow alleys, it looks like a postcard or an image out of a history book. The Castelnau, a picturesque quarter with wide, straight streets, is a symbol of the city’s modern development in the 12th century. The Vieil Alby house, near rue Toulouse-Lautrec, headquarters of the Albi Patrimoine association, is one of its emblems.
On the other hand, the Saint-Salvi hamlet, in the shape of a ring or wheel, surrounds the collegiate church and the Saint-Salvi cloister. This is a remarkable complex built from the 11th century onwards, combining Romanesque and Gothic architecture. While the Combes and the banks of the Tarn, including the Pont-vieux, built around 1030-1040, were the focus of commercial prosperity in the Middle Ages.
The largest brick cathedral in the world, it shows the appearance of a fortified castle and offers visitors an impressive collection of paintings, sculptures and statues. At 113 metres long and 35 metres wide, together with a 78-metre high bell tower, the cathedral of Sainte-Cécile d’Albi possesses exceptional dimensions.
If the exterior façade impresses with its mammoth proportions and unmistakable colour, the interior also amazes with the majestic blue of its vaults and its entirely painted walls, with a total surface area of 18,500 m2, a unique case in Europe. Take an unhurried look at the geometric motifs and trompe l’oeil covering the walls of the cathedral before admiring the great organ, beneath which is the oldest representation of the Last Judgement: a fabulous comic strip in which Heaven, Earth and Hell are staged over more than 200 square metres. In the lower part, the punishments of the 7 deadly sins do not go unnoticed.
Also not to be missed is the choir, a riot of stone lacework comprising 200 sculptures of musical angels, saints and religious figures, fine stone statues chiselled with skill, bringing to life all the details of clothing, the features of faces, the folds of skin, as if they were alive.
The former bishops’ palace, the Palais Berbie and the Sainte-Cécile cathedral form an extraordinary and unique ensemble: it is the episcopal city, declared a World Heritage Site in 2010, the prestigious home of the Toulouse-Lautrec museum.
Built in the 13th century, the Palais Berbie is one of the oldest castles in France, predating the construction of the famous Palais des Papes in Avignon. Built on a naturally fortified site, a belvedere over the Tarn, it is characterised by military architecture that asserted the power of the bishops against the city’s consuls. Over the centuries, the bishops transformed it into a pleasure residence.
Listed as a historical monument in 1862, it is one of the best-preserved bishop’s palaces in France. It is in the main courtyard, flanked by two towers, that we can now access the entrance to the Toulouse-Lautrec museum. In addition, we can visit the palace gardens and the old city walls, which have now become a splendid footpath, offering a panoramic view of the banks of the Tarn, the barge jetty, the Madeleine quarter and beyond, the surrounding hills on which Notre Dame de la Drèche stands.
The Toulouse-Lautrec museum houses the world’s largest collection of works by the painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: 31 posters, 219 paintings, 563 drawings, 183 lithographs. You will find irreverent paintings of brothels and entertainment venues, together with important advertising prints, as well as his late works. It is an exceptional collection that follows each stage of his production, highlighting his gift of observation, his talent as a draughtsman, his precise line in detail.
The tour is enhanced by information panels that comprehensively explain the evolution of his art, showing every aspect of the complicated life of this Albigensian artist, of whom the city is so proud. The first rooms are dedicated to his early works depicting his family, friends and animals. Next, the visitor is slowly introduced to the Parisian universe: brothels, belle époque clubs, show business and the circus.
Room after room, you can follow the evolution of this atypical artist, marked by a difficult life and poor health. In fact, as a teenager, the young Henri suffered a fracture of his left femur and then his right leg. Furthermore, due to pycnodisostosis, a hereditary bone disease, his growth was stunted, his legs remained very short, and he never grew taller than 1.52 metres. After a life on the margins of society and endowed with an incredible talent for painting, he died at only 37 years of age.
The collegiate church of Saint-Salvi, named after the city’s first bishop, has stood proudly since the 11th century on the corner of Place Sainte-Cécile. This church is one of the largest Romanesque churches in the Albigese region.
The main characteristic of this building is the mixture of stone and brickwork coinciding with the change of materials in the 13th century. It is possible to read the various architectural phases of the structure and the transition from Romanesque to Gothic. In the church, six large paintings offered by the consuls of Albi in 1725 tell the life of Saint-Salvi and the history of the village. At the back of the church, under the Moucherel organ are a series of surprisingly detailed and colourful sculptures.
Not to be missed is its marvellous cloister, built in 1270: it is a small oasis of peace where silence reigns, an invitation to peace and meditation, adorned with Romanesque arches embellished with Gothic capitals sculpted with figures, animals or vegetation shoots. At the centre of the cloister, aromatic and medicinal herbs were cultivated and are made available to visitors free of charge.
The Pont-Vieux d’Albi is one of the few bridges of medieval origin still in use. Connecting the two banks of the Tarn, the Pont-vieux is a key element of Albi’s heritage, classified as a UNESCO monument.
The bridge was an obligatory crossing point in the trade of foodstuffs, raw materials for tanneries and the textile industry. Indeed, in the 12th century, Albi was an important crossroads on the routes between the Mediterranean and the Ocean, from the Basque Country and Toulouse to Lyon, as well as from Catalonia to Paris. The bridge thus allowed tolls to be collected for entry into the city.
In the 16th century, the bridge had a completely different appearance: 151 metres long, closed on both sides by drawbridges, it was once defended at its centre by the fortified tower of Notre Dame, which has now disappeared. In addition, numerous half-timbered houses were built straddling the roadway. Eleven families lived there: tanners, shoemakers, weavers, fullers, fruit merchants. In 1766, following a severe flooding of the Tarn, the municipality bought the damaged houses and destroyed them.
Jean-François de Galaup de Lapérouse was one of the most famous Albigensian citizens, born in 1741.
Louis XVI appreciated the human qualities and seafaring skills of this young captain and entrusted him with a great expedition with two frigates, La Boussole and the Astrolabe, in order to complete James Cook’s discoveries. As many as 225 men, sailors, scholars and artists left Brest in 1785, travelled along Brazil, Chile, Alaska, California, China, Russia, Australia and ran aground in 1788 in Vanikoro, near the Solomon Islands, in the Pacific. During this voyage, the captain carried out precise and valuable cartography and scientific research.
This museum is highly recommended for lovers of history, exploration and maritime history. More than 600 exhibits are on display, including many vestiges of the two frigates from excavations at the site of the shipwreck.
You can admire weapons, uniforms, navigation instruments and models that are a real attraction, in particular that of Vanikoro (the island of the shipwreck), the city of Brest in the 18th century and the beautiful reproduction of La Boussole, the flagship of Lapérouse.
The Lapérouse museum is not only the story of a man, but a great page of maritime history at the end of the 18th century and an invitation to take part in the mysteries that still remain to be explored.
This old half-timbered building has retained intact the characteristics of the old mediaeval houses of the old town: built high to gain space, it is located in the heart of the centre, in a network of alleyways with the omnipresent cathedral tower as a backdrop.
The ground floor is reminiscent of old taverns and a staircase leads to the upper floors to discover a permanent exhibition on the youth of the Albigensian painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
A stone’s throw from the cathedral, Albi’s covered market becomes the lively hub of the city every Saturday morning. Wander among the stalls and allow yourself to be tempted by the petit jeannots, the aniseed biscuits typical of Albi, or the bougnettes, a filling made from bread, pork and eggs.
Local vendors will be able to give you the best advice on Albi recipes to cook with their genuni products. The market is open every morning from Tuesday to Sunday.
Albi is crossed by the river Tarn, which rises from Mont Lozère, winds its way through the famous Gorges du Tarn, follows the Tarn valley and its meanders and continues towards Montauban where it flows into the Garonne.
From its banks, a unique panorama of the Old Bridge and the Episcopal city can be admired and the best way to experience this is to follow the numerous footpaths. The most famous path is called Echappée verte: it runs for 4 kilometres in a preserved and unspoilt natural environment. Quickly, the noise of the city dies down and birdsong takes over to accompany the walk. The banks of the Tarn follow the old towpath, a favourable place for relaxing walks, picnics and games with the children.
The Echappée verte is divided into three well-marked sections that can be walked separately or all together:
Alternatively, the banks of the Tarn can be explored by river by taking part in excursions on the gabarre, the traditional flat-bottomed barges. This experience offers passengers unexpected views of Albigensian heritage and a peaceful atmosphere along the Tarn.
If you are wondering from where the most iconic photo of Albi is taken, the one you see on all the postcards, the answer is: from the bridge of 22 August 1944. In fact, from this point you can embrace the Pont Vieux, the Episcopal city, the Palais de la Berbie and the Cathedral in a single glance.
In short, all the great monuments classified as World Heritage by UNESCO in one spectacular shot.
This district has been largely restored and refurbished, making way for top cultural buildings: the Grand Théâtre des Cordeliers, symbol of Albi’s cultural district, a contemporary building designed by architect Perrault, the CGR-Cordeliers multiplex, the art and non-fiction cinema, the Pierre-Amalric media library, the Jean-François Champollion University Centre.
Place Lapérouse invites you to take a break in the green spaces but also to play among the water jets of the Encircle fountain, created by Danish artist Jeppe Hein. We particularly recommend a visit to the Grand Théâtre des Cordeliers: the building is covered in a golden copper and aluminium mesh to evoke the theatre curtain. The glass facades capture shine, reflections, colours and make it a veritable dress of light.
In addition, from the top of its panoramic terrace, you can enjoy a breathtaking view of Albi’s old town: your gaze will take in the Sainte-Cécile cathedral, the collegiate church of Saint-Salvi, the roofs of Vieil Alby and the Place Lapérouse.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
Just 27 minutes from Albi, you will find this enchanting perched village with its unmistakable medieval atmosphere: fortified gates, ramparts, sculpted Gothic façades and small hidden corners.
The course of history has miraculously spared the stones of the old town, still clinging to an imposing rocky outcrop. As you walk up the Rue Droite, you pass an incredible row of Gothic houses, including the remarkable houses of the Grand Fauconnier and the Grand Veneur.
For a total immersion in the Middle Ages, don’t miss the Grand Fauconnier festivities in July, during which the entire town dresses up in period costumes and re-enacts the times and splendours of the past.
On the road to Carcassonne, Castres will enchant you with its quays, colourful houses and typical Hispanic atmosphere.
Don’t miss the view of the houses overlooking the Agout river, which display their pastel-coloured façades, from white to green, blue to orange. We recommend a boat trip to admire what were once the homes of weavers, dyers and tanners who processed wool, leather and paper.
If you love thrills and adventure, then you should not miss this footbridge swinging 70 metres above the void. At 140 metres long, it connects the heights of Mazamet to the small medieval village of Hautpoul.
To venture over the Mazamet footbridge, there are two possible routes, more or less long, from the Jamarié car park to the town exit. It is also possible to cross it from Hautpoul in the other direction.
Albi is a charming town of 50,000 inhabitants, a trading town during the Renaissance, a cultural centre and a hub of the pastel trade. It became an industrial centre specialising in glassmaking and coal mining in the 19th century and today is an important tourist and cultural site.
The historical centre of Albi is an ancient fortified village, characterised by the unmistakable colour of the red bricks that make up its buildings: it develops around the bishop’s complex, formed by the Sainte-Cécile cathedral and the Palais de la Berbie. The colourful and flowery half-timbered houses are arranged in a circle around Place Savene, the scene of festivities during the summer season.
You will have no trouble finding accommodation in the heart of the city: many renowned hotels are located in this area and you can find solutions to suit all budgets. This is also where the most touristy restaurants and attractions are concentrated.
Starting from the historical centre, just walk along the banks of the Tarn to reach the neighbourhood known as Du Bout du Pont or Faubourg de la Madeleine (located on the right bank of the Pont Vieux ) built to meet the growing demand for housing: bakers, tanneries, dyers quickly settled there to take advantage of the strength of the current.
A former working-class neighbourhood, it offers a breathtaking panoramic view of old Albi. Today, it is a great place to sleep in Albi, just outside the centre, but set in an authentic, young context.
The Saint-Julien area is located a few steps from the cathedral square. It could be called the gastronomic district, where it is nice to meet up with friends, eat in restaurants, have a drink and go shopping.
Developed around the covered market and characterised by a network of picturesque streets, cheap and suitable accommodation for all needs can easily be found here.
Le Vigan forms the border between the old town and modern Albi. Place du Vigan is the heart of the district, the right place to refresh oneself in one of the many bars overlooking the square, or to cool off in summer, thanks to the water jets that delight young and old. Sumptuous mansions, witnesses to the prosperous era of the pastel trade, stand next to the town hall and the famous half-timbered Enjalbert house.
It is a perfect area for sleeping in Albi: here, the hotel offer is highly developed and coexists with a B&B variety for all budgets.
Albi is an important destination in the south of France, declared a World Heritage Site. For this reason, it is at the centre of a dense network of transport links.
The quickest way to reach Albi by plane is to land at Toulouse Airport, which is only 55 minutes away. From the French airport, you can rent a car directly on site to continue your journey to Albi and visit its surroundings.
The city of Albi is located on the main motorways that connect it with the most important French cities.
Albi has two stations: Albi Ville in place Stalingrad, a 15-minute walk from the city centre, and the Albi Madeleine station in place de la Résistance.
You can thus enjoy daily train connections with both Paris and Toulouse, for 17 a day.
What's the weather at Albi? Below are the temperatures and the weather forecast at Albi for the next few days.
The city of Albi is the capital of the department of Tarn, in the heart of Occitania.