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UNESCO World heritage in the Tarn Tarn, in the Occitanie region, is one of those places in France that confuses people. They automatically think of the wild Gorges des Tarn which are in Lozère, some 140kms to the North West of Albi, Tarn’s capital. The River Tarn flows through both but there the comparison ends. The département has a landscape of green hills, lush vineyards, medieval Bastide villages and some notable UNESCO World Heritage sites. Albi I start in the capital Albi, around an hour west of Toulouse. From my room in the Mercure Cité Episcopale Hôtel, overlooking the River Tarn, there’s a picture postcard view of the city, dominated by the fortress-like Sainte-Cécile Cathedral. It glows red in the early morning, a monstrous mountain of brick, erected from 1282 to 1392, as a powerful show of strength, after the Cathar revolt was finally quashed. Bishop Bernard de Castanet didn’t just build this cathedral, he also started a vicious inquisition accusing many prominent townspeople of heresy. I cross the Tarn into the city by the 11th century Pont Vieux and make my way up to this Fortress of God. Up close, it’s even more intimidating, a brick bunker, with windows nothing but slits, topped with the highest brick tower in Europe, rising to 78m. It’s part of the UNESCO rated Episcopal City which also includes Bishop Bernard’s own stronghold, the Palais de la Berbie plus the palace’s riverside gardens, the Saint Salvi church and the Pont Vieux. After the Gothic gauntness of its exterior, the inside of the Cathedral comes as something of a pleasant surprise. The vault is covered in richly colourful frescoes, the largest example of Italian Renaissance painting in France. At the back is an enormous depiction of the Last Judgement, four stories high and taking up the entire width of the building.
Bonjour and bienvenue to the Autumn