Albi, Pyrenees Chateau trip
As a single woman living in Guernsey in the British Channel Islands, I got to meet some affluent people. A friend of mine, Brian, had a small aircraft and had purchase an ancient chateau in France so invited me along with four other friends.
Brian was a good pilot and it was a beautiful day; we flew across the ocean, and eventually over the daunting Pyrenees Mountains and into Toulouse airport. Two caretakers from the chateau were waiting to pick us up. We split into two cars and we were off.
The chateau rose majestically, high up in the mountains; the ride was hair-raising and spectacular as we climbed steep and narrow S bend roads, with views only seen in post cards. We passed through villages, a monastery and had an intimate lunch - (which went on for 3 hours) in a little village restaurant; more accurately described as a local family's front room.
After lunch, we continued around tight S bends and heart-stopping sheer drops with views over enchanting lakes. Then finally the chateau came into view. The huge outer walls loomed above us and two wooden gates were swung wide to let us through. We entered into a cool and pleasant flag stone courtyard and then into the foyer.
Through the ‘servants quarters’ were the back gardens with a view over the shoulder highwalls - an amazing 30 mile view across outstanding countryside; to the left was an almost sheer 3,000 ft drop where the wall had worn away.
We dined al fresco under a canopy of twinkling stars; the sky like black velvet. It was warm and the air perfumed with wild lavender from the crag wall. We drank local wines and made a meal of rice and chicken on an old-fashioned range.
Our ‘bedrooms’ were huge state rooms with no furniture (we were made aware of this before we traveled and so slept on the floor on sleeping bags). I didn't sleep well; not just because of the hard, uneven stone floors, but because of the creaks and groans and fear of ghosts; after all this was a 600 year old chateau! Hundreds of people must have lived and died within these walls.
We visited Albi, which is a medieval city located 50 miles north-east of Toulouse. Albi is regal with huge buildings and is one of the most preserved historic sites of France. The red banks of the river Tarne reveal clay, which is used to make bricks for building the local houses.
The crusade against the Cathares of Albi is an important part of the their history as well as the artistic inheritance. Toulouse also gets its reputation from the talented writers born there, like Toulouse-Lautrec or the Count of Laperouse. We visited the awesome Sainte-Cecile’s Cathedral and had a typical evening meal of couscous, fresh fish and wine.
We spent a fantastic day at the Toulouse museum and touring the ancient towns. It was four days of heaven, living like ancient royals in our very own chateau in the heart of the Pyrenees mountains.