Saturday, 28 May 2016

Discovering Albi in the Midi Pyrenees

The Cathedral of St Cecelia
St Cecile

Without doubt the first place most people head for when they visit Albi is the famous St Cecile cathedral, the largest brick built cathedral in France and which is in the 'centre historique' of Albi. Focussing on the cathedral as a starting place will quickly bring you severeal of the most stunning places of interest of the city. 

Right next to the cathedral is the 'Palais de la Berbie' with beautiful manicured gardens that overlook the river.

Palais de la Berbie garden tower
From the river looking back you can see the magnificent tower that sits in the corner of the gardens and beyond which are the beautiful gardens of the palace.

It goes without saying that one of the most famous children of Albi is the renowned  19th century painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and a museum based in the Palais de la Berbie has been opened so that you can find out all about the famous painter, his life and his art.

Palais de la Berbie - Toulouse-Lautrecmuseum

The river that runs through the city is of course the Tarn, which also gives its name to the department where Albi resides. The oldest of the three bridges that cross the Tarn in Albi is the Pont-Vieux. The other two are the Pont du 22 Aout 1944 and the Pont SNCF (I'll leave you to guess what type of bridge this one is)

Pont Vieux
Pont Vieux

Pont Vieux
Pont Vieux


There is of course a relationship between the Cathars and the city of Albi, hence the reason the reason why the crusade, led by Simon de Montfort for a time, against the Cathars was referred to as the Albigensian Crusade. Saint Bernard visited the city in the 13th century and received a very poor welcome. He consequently branded the city's inhabitants as heretics. That was a bit of a surprise because the city did remain loyal to the Roman Catholic faith and rallied to the crusaders cause, saving them from the wrath of the crusaders and eventually leading to the erection of the Palais de Berbie to act as a fortified bishop's palace along with an austere catehdral which stood as symbols of the Roman Catholic's power and demonstrated their victory over the heresy that Catharism was claimed to be!

Albi is not all about ancient history, there are a number of 21st century developments which include Vigan Square, the Pierre Amalric media library, the Cordeliers cultural district and of course the Grand Theatre designed by international architect Dominique Perrault.

It is the Episcopal City that has gained UNESCO world heritage status however (in 2010) being one of the largest brick buildings in the world. It is made up of four areas: The Castelvieil, The Castelnau, The Bourg Saint Salvis and the Combes-Berges du Tarn. More or less made up entirely of medieval architecture and dominated by the 'Sainte-Cecile Cathedral and of course the 'Palais de la Berbie'. 

St Cecile cathedral

Palais de la Berbie

Walled gardens of the Palais de la Berbie

The Episcopal City of Albi

St Cecile Cathedral

So there you have it the fabulous city of Albi in all its glory only an hour or so from our gite in France with a 'petite train' for those that like a guided tour without too much walking involved and of course you can make a day of it by calling into Lautrec medieval village on the way back for even more fabulous views and a look at the birthplace of Toulouse-Lautrec's  family.


Sunday, 17 April 2016

Lautrec Medieval Village

Lautrec Medieval Village is officially recognised as one of the prettiest or most beautiful villages in France and you can find it in the Tarn department of the Languedoc-Roussillon-Midi-Pyrénées region of the South West. In other words about 50 minutes from Le Moulin  by car.

Lautrec, Tarn

17th Century Windmill, Lautrec

Lautrec, Tarn

It has to be said it is not a massive village and it doesn't really take very long to explore. But it is definitely worth a visit and if you do decide to head up that way you could combine your visit with a trip into the equally beautiful city of Albi which sits astride the Tarn river. It is the Tarn River that gives the region its name. 

Also worth considering is a look at the lovely riverside town of Gaillac another gorgeous location in the Tarn region. So depending on how much time you have you could make it a day out for all three or a pair with one or the other. 

The Medieval Village of Lautrec, Tarn

Lautrec, a most beautiful village of France

Back to Lautrec then and what it offers... the first place we headed for was the view point above the village where on route you will find a 17th century windmill. The site for the mill is actually from the 14th century but the original mill was replaced by the current 17th century version which is open to the public. Meaning you can view the inside workings for a modest fee during the holiday season. 

Go a little higher up the spiral slope and you will find a 'Table d'Orientation' and some amazing views across the tarn countryside in all directions. Plus a collection of statues, the largest of which is Jesus on the cross.

Lautrec, Tarn

Lautrec, Tarn

Lautrec, Tarn

On the way back down you can head into the village for a look at some of the many half-timbered houses that give the village so much of its character which, combined with the little narrow, cobbled streets and ancient architecture, have ensured that it has been recognised for it's beauty.

Lautrec, Tarn

Well kids still need to find something to do, even in one of the most beautiful villages in France. The ones below were having a good old fashioned kick about. 

Lautrec, Tarn

I quite liked this old Dubonnet advert as well, I am guessing it is not medieval, but still represents a little bit of French history in a way!

Lautrec in the Tarn

13th Century Porte de la Caussade 

Below you can see the timber walkway over the last of the doorways into the village, this one is called the Porte de la Caussade and originally would have been one of eight 13th century doorways.

Lautrec, Tarn

I am not sure who this little statue represents, but I liked the look of it strolling across the top of the original fortified walls as we headed towards the Porte de la Caussade .

Lautrec, fortified medieval village of the Tarn.

Couldn't help noticing that the Porte de la Caussade wasn't very well guarded, I found these 'Anglais' loitering just inside the walls sussing the place out. Although I imagine that now we are in the 21st century they will represent a tiny proportion of the English who have managed to breach the fortified defenses and all under the guise of tourism.


So one last look back as we head off to find another destination to visit in the beautiful department of Tarn. Not a bad way to spend a few hours in April even if it did get a little overcast now and then.

Porte de la Caussade


Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Euro 2016 is Coming

So what you may be saying, but there will be a lot of people, several hundred thousand, arriving in France and 66% have already booked their accommodation and half of them will not have tickets to the games as highlighted by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO).

So what they are saying is "Be on the Ball" and they are providing top tips to fans so they can prepare and plan ahead. Here are the links to their guides for anyone heading off to Euro 2016.

Not forgetting the top 11 travel tips above for Euro 2016 so that you can enjoy the football and stay safe.

Plus of course you can get my tips and advice for Travelling to France via our very own website.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Cabardes and The Cubservies Cascade

Cubservies cascade
There are several lovely places to visit in the Cabardes area of France which is only a short drive from Carcassonne. We had decided we would like to visit the Cubservies Cascade and see what else we could find on the way there.

So from Carcassonne you head towards Mazamet on the D118 then you turn onto the D101 where you see the signs for Lastours and Mas Cabardes.

Now you have a number of different choices, the caves at Limousis, the chateaus of Lastours, not one but four, or you can carry on up the hill through Lastours towards 'Les Ilhes Cabardes'.  Which is exactly what we did and then we kept on going until we got to the D9 and headed towards Roquefere. 

So far so good, we were intending to have a look around Roquefere but there was some sort of event going on and the main road through the village was blocked. We got diverted off to the left and before we realised it we were on a very narrow route where, with all the activity, it was very tricky to turn and there was nowhere to park. At that point we decided it was better to just keep going and save Roquefere for another day, our main objective was after all to visit the Cubservies cascade.

The next 7 kilometers or so were a little hairy, very narrow, very twisty and very few passing places if you met something coming the other way. Fortunately for us the only car that did come the other way passed us when we stopped on the outskirts of the little village of 'Saint Julien'. Quite lucky really but we were, it felt, driving up into the heavens and we still hadn't arrived.

Finally, it seemed to take a long time, we arrived at Cubservies and immediately spotted a sign for the cascade. So at least it wasn't going to be difficult to find. 

It actually turned out to be very easy indeed. There was a viewing point for the cascade right on the edge of the village and this time a few handy parking spaces where we could park quite easily. Have to say as well, it was worth it, the cascade is 90m high and it was a lovely sunny day so not only could we get the view of the cascade itself we were also able to wander a little further into the village and get a magnificent view right back down the valley we had just driven up. The village itself, albeit quite small, was very picturesque and certainly helped to make the trip worthwhile. We now really were in the heavens, almost at the top of the 'Montagne Noire'.

Cabardes France

Having enjoyed the views of the cascade and the valley below we pressed on, made a quick stop at the 'Saint Sernin' chapel, a Romanesque building from the 11th & 12th centuries and then arrived at a junction of the D1009. We decided to turn left towards 'Les Martys' and then just followed our noses until we were back on the D118, the main route between Mazamet and Carcassonne.

Saint Sernin Chapel

Where you come out is only just down the road from the 'Lac Des Montagnes' so we decided that would be a very nice place to visit before turning back towards Carcassonne and the route home. We had driven past the lake before but never been in to see it, so it was a nice way to end the trip and have a walk around the edge of the lake for a little way (it's a big lake).

Lac Des Montagnes

Then we were back on the D118 heading towards Carcassonne, retracing our steps a little in the process, and before we knew it we were in Cuxac, home to a very nice English run restaurant The Hungry Fox which we can personally recommend for some excellent food and friendly service.

Then it was a right turn towards St Denis & Saissac beyond, passing by the 'Le Moulin à Papier de Brousses' (to be the subject of a future post) and the famous Saissac Chateau.

For us that was nearly home, just a quick run down the hill through St Papoul and on to our home village of Issel. All in all a pretty good day out.

Monday, 14 September 2015

A Short Break on the French Mediterranean

Many people may think we are a bit mad, this is because, just recently, we packed up our little sports car, left our lovely old watermill  and went camping on the French Mediterranean.

I suppose on first impressions that may seem a bit mad, leaving all that comfort, a swimming pool and country scenery behind to go and sleep on an airbed in a tent.

But there was method behind our madness. First of all being away from home with no internet access meant that there was no way we could slip into work mode and ensured that we did actually have a little break.

Secondly, we opted to take the scenic route to the Mediterranean, heading off to Limoux, then Quillan and finally along the Gorge de Agly (D117). A beautiful route with no time pressure and the opportunity to enjoy the trip, the scenery and even a little picnic in a gorgeous location next to the River Aude.

That is a bottle of shandy in the photo by the way, we were driving after all.

Taking that route you go right through Cathare territory, passing by the Chateaus de Puilaurens, Peyrepertuse and Queribus en route. You can have a look at this map for more information on the location of the Cathare Fortresses.

Our ultimate location was of course the French Mediterranean and one of our favourite little places to visit, Leaucate Plage.

We chose the campsite called 'Camping Cap Leaucate' because it was located virtually on the beach and was still only about a twenty minute walk from Leaucate village for restaurants in the evening. There are restaurants at Leaucate Plage as well, but being September the choice was a bit limited.

It wasn't long after arrival that the tent was up, we were set for the evening and we could go off to meet some friends at Canet En Roussillon. But not before ensuring we had some nice croissants for breakfast the next morning and something for lunch on the beach, courtesy of a very handy supermarket between Leaucate Village and Leaucate Plage.

Canet turned out to be a lively little town with live music in the 'Grande Place', right on the sea front, which also turned out to be a great place to chose a restaurant for an evening meal. Our little break was off to a great start and the accommodation was actually less expensive per night than the dog kennel where our dog Charlie was staying for a few days :-)

The next day, as we had promised ourselves, was to be a whole day lazing on the beach, picnicking and swimming in the Mediterranean. The weather was gorgeous and we just completely chilled out. To top the day off we had a cold beer in a bar on the beach before heading back to camp for a shower, brush up and getting dressed for dinner.

We did take a quick look at the restaurants in Leaucate Plage, but there was only one open so we decided to head into town where there was much more choice.

Plus there was the added bonus of the sun setting over the lake as we walked along the promenade. Incidentally, when the sun sets in September, it is probably a good idea to have a fleece or something light to pop on, because it can get a little nippy, not bad but a bit.

We actually really enjoyed the walk, it was a lovely evening and we had had a pretty lazy day all in all. So a bit of exercise was a good idea and we could also convince ourselves we had earned our meal for the evening. We chose El Chupito 'La Table de Lily' for our meal and that turned out to be a great choice, lovely food and wine with a very nice young lady looking after us.

After a suprisingly good night's sleep, perhaps we had a little more wine than we should have done, we woke for our last day at Leaucate Plage. The weather had turned a little cloudy, which was unlucky because it was the only day of the week that there were clouds. So after a quick change of plan, we decided to head towards Narbonne and see if we could find a little sunshine. We did eventually, when we got back to Le Moulin, but on route we took a look at Peyriac de Mer, which is a stunning little town near Bages and then tried our luck at Gruissan Plage. But it was not to be, the cloud persisted and we decided to pass on another beach day and headed inland.

All was not lost however because once we were the other side of Narbonne we spotted a sign to the 'Abbaye de Frontfroide' and thought why not? A drive through the Corbieres wine region taking in Frontfroide, Lagrasse and Carcassonne. Seemed like the perfect way to end our little break to the Mediterranean also this is a section of the famous 'Route 20' wine tour through the Corbieres and of course Carcassonne is our nearest big city and the home of 'La Cite' a UNESCO World Heritage site. So you know it is not going to be too shabby a trip home.

So there you have it, our little break to the Mediterranean, of course we can do all of this in a day trip and we often do. But it was very nice to have a couple of nights in the great outdoors, even if my back did complain for a few days after, and to enjoy a little more of this fantastic place we live in. 

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