Discovering France One Crêpe at a Time : Toulouse, Albi, Cordes-sur-Ciel

After a week of procrastinating (and talking about fashion instead), I have finally decided to write about my trip to Toulouse, Albi, and Cordes-sur-Ciel and share some amazing photos. OK, full disclosure, the WiFi at my host family’s decided to stop working so I have no access to procrastination-enabling materials at the moment.

I initially wanted to write a mini-guide to the three locations, but seeing as we made the trip in the dead of January and our visit to Cordes-sur-Ciel fell on a Sunday, virtually everything was closed. [As a side note, nothing is ever open on Sundays in this country except cafés where you can brunch strictly between 11am and 4pm and where you absolutely cannot use your laptop—trust me, I tried this Sunday and was reprimanded by a waitress.] So, instead, I will just share the marvelous views and some cool facts about each place.

Toulouse

Toulouse AKA la Ville Rose (“Pink City”) is the capital of the Occitanie region of France—map below for the geographically challenged, myself included—and the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the country after Paris, Lyon, and Marseille.

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It earns its nickname from the color of the terracotta bricks used to construct the majority of the buildings. To be quite honest, the bricks aren’t really rose-colored at all, they’re more of a reddish-brown with a sliiiiight pink hue. The material differs notably from the white stone we typically imagine when we think of old French buildings. Such stone was used in Paris and Bordeaux, but it was too expensive to import all the way from the Pyrénées to use for the construction of Toulouse.  Thanks to such geographical constraints, you can easily spot the former residencies of incredibly wealthy merchants because they are constructed at least in part using the overpriced white stone. If there’s one thing you need to understand about French history, it’s that the bourgeois class loved to show off.

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Capitolium AKA the Capitole AKA the city hall constructed from the famous bricks. It also contains portions built using the white stone (e.g. the columns), to reflect the prestige of the institution, which always served as the gathering place of Toulouse’s governing elite.

If you are going to visit one landmark in Toulouse, let it be the Basilica of St. Sernin. The person it’s named after—Saint Sernin, the bishop of Toulouse—was allegedly tied to a bull and dragged across town for propagating Christian beliefs in the Roman Empire. The cathedral stands where he finally died, and let me tell you, the man was tough because the street he was dragged through (aptly named Bull Street) is loooooong. Important to note: Toulouse was indeed around in the days of the Roman Empire. Back before the French kings centralized the country and imposed the language of the northern regions (now French) on the south, residents of the Occitanie region spoke, well, occitan. To this day, the street signs are written in two languages—French and Occitan—though most people think it’s Catalan at first glance.

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Basilica of St. Sernin feat. your favorite bricks!

Another cool location for history nerds and art aficionados is the Musée des Augustins, a fine arts museum that contains sculptures, paintings, and curious objects dating as far back as the Middle Ages. While the paintings come from all over France, the sculptures are all native to the Occitanie region, so I highly recommend them to anyone seeking to understand what sets Toulouse apart from other French cities.

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The Gothic sculpture room in the Musée des Augustins.
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Musée des Augustins.

Last but not least, food: For lunch, I had a life-changing galette (savory crêpe) with chèvre cheese, honey, and walnuts at a cafe aptly titled La Crêperie near the Capitole. Honestly, if you find yourself in the Midi-Pyrénées region and you DON’T eat a galette, you’re doing it wrong.

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Calories don’t exist in France.


Albi

Albi is worth a visit for a glimpse at the Sainte-Cécile Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the largest brick cathedral in the world (probably because brick isn’t your typical go-to cathedral-building material). It resembles a fortress more than it does a church because it was originally constructed during a 13th century papal crusade against Catharism—a Christian sect denounced by the Church as heretical—in southern France. Fun fact about the bricks used to construct the cathedral and the town (as if you haven’t had enough of the infamous bricks yet): if you visit the neighborhood where the clergy resided in the Middle Ages, you can find lots of 13th-century fingerprints in the walls. Talk about witnessing history firsthand…

Here I also had not one but two fantastic crepes for lunch, but unfortunately for y’all, they were so good that I forgot to take a photo before eating.

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Sainte-Cécile Cathedral, Albi.
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Sainte-Cécile Cathedral, but farther.

Cordes-sur-Ciel

Cordes-sur-Ciel is a fortified town built on a large hill, and its name literally translates to “Cordes-on-the-sky.” Originally, it was simply called Cordes, until a French poetess referred to the town as Cordes-sur-Ciel in reference to the clouds you can see in the valley below while standing at the highest point in the village. And so it was renamed. Aptly so, because overlooking the fields below makes you feel like you’re floating in the sky. To experience the breathtaking beauty of it all, you do have to walk a couple of miles uphill on extremely uneven and highly slippery stone pavement. Somehow, the French residents manage to drive their tiny cars up and down the narrow slopes at alarming speeds.

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Talk about #views.
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Extremely unsafe pavement.

Bonus points: Albert Camus (AKA my favorite writer all of time) once visited Cordes-sur-Ciel, prompting a boom in postcards bearing his quote about the town.

“Le voyageur qui, de la terrasse de Cordes, regarde la nuit d’été sait ainsi qu’il n’a pas besoin d’aller plus loin et que, s’il veut, la beauté ici, jour après jour, l’enlèvera à toute solitude.”

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“The traveller who, from the terraces of Cordes, looks at the summer night sky, knows that he needs to travel no further, because the beauty here, day after day, will remove any loneliness.”

Albert Camus

No crêpes were consumed here as everything was closed to the point where I struggled to find a bathroom.

So, dearies, if you had to pick one, which of these three would you visit (try not to let the magnificent galette sway you, I promise Albi & Cordes-sur-Ciel have crêpes, too!) ? Comment below & stay tuned for my upcoming trip to La Rochelle this weekend. I will also try to update my Instagram stories with some interesting info about the town as I go, so if you’d like to follow along, find the link at the bottom of the page!

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