81000 Albi, France
Albi Ville, that understated old town you want to visit in the South of FranceOn having one Eurail pass and one day to spare between the big X's marked Paris and Barcelona, I craved the soothing ad-lib of a tiny, not-so-known area in the South of France. Bordeaux, Marseille… all remarkable cities I'm sure, however my penchant was for something quieter, more quaint, a visual snack, unique enough to not have its size let you leave unaffected.
I discovered the episcopal city of Albi on the UNESCO world heritage list (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1337). A half-hour train ride from Toulouse, the medieval site is situated in the centre of Albi Ville, one of the many communes dotted across the country.
A note: embarking onto the platform of la gare, I had to question if I'd missed the stop. The immediate surrounds hinted at nothing outstanding of a simple locale, complete with convenience shop and a contemplative old man sandwiched between his tweed beret and a bench. A signpost saying 'Tourist Centre' was the only beacon assuring me that something did exist here that attracted outsiders to this modest patch of the world.
The process of strolling through the town and eventually discovering the old city was a notable highlight of this adventure, so I won't spoil it for anyone by detailing it here. All I will say is I'd almost given up hope until walking the perimeter of a tall, reddish cathedral (which itself deserves an exploration inside), and just like that the city whispered "Surprise!", revealing itself in all its preserved, fairytale-like beauty.