By now we are falling into a pattern on travelling days. Breakfast, pack the car, choose one or two places en-route to visit, depending on the length of the drive, then go for it. Lunch is often a baguette and honey or vegemite (I brought a tube with us) or maybe some nice ham or terrine, hopefully eaten In a pretty place, but sometimes in a roadside lay-by. Then again, lunch may be a happenstance lovely restaurant under the shade of a linden tree or plane tree.
Today, wild territory to start, with the white cliffs, overgrown huts in the fields, forests, winding roads sometimes going through small tunnels in the rock. We passed St Cirq Lapopie on the other side of the river where we stayed in 2008. So high up!
We headed for the Chateau of Cenevieres where it appeared on arrival that it was via tour only, and that tour would be in French. But the guide obligingly went and found another gentleman who said he was the owner, (though we met his very elderly father) who kindly gave us our own private tour in English.
The castle was built and improved over many centuries, with travelling Italian artists playing a large part in its partial conversion to a Renaissance chateau, with a beautiful colonnaded verandah and a terrace overlooking the river. The ceiling of the main room has been revealed again, beautifully painted beams instead of the previous covering of plaster. There is an alchemy room here too, as at Jumillhac, and some ancient paintings are being gradually revealed in this room and the grand salon. Then there are the primitive rock guard rooms and dungeons and the old kitchen as contrast. I could do without the figures set up tableau style in many rooms, but thoroughly enjoyed the visit.
On to Najac, a pretty medieval city with a big fortress at the end, and quite capable of being a film set at any time with half timbered and porch houses down the steeply sloping road. We got to the bottom of the hill but decided against attempting the fortress or the church beyond. Lunch on a deck looking out at the fortress. One of those happenstances!
Then on to Albi. Coming in was for all the world like driving into an Italian city. The architecture tended to be taller, maybe 4 stories or more, with rosy colours and curved tile roofs. The old bridge spanned the river and there was the massive cathedral like a fortress on the skyline. Many buildings are in brick, including the cathedral. It reminded me of Florence or Urbino. To contrast, we stayed at a rather plebeian Ibis Hotel, but it was reasonably convenient and clean.
The main sights of the city are clustered together, the cathedral and the Toulouse Lautrec museum which is in the old episcopal palace. The museum first, though no photos allowed. I really knew little of Toulouse-Lautrec except his posters, so this was quite interesting, from his aristocratic family, his genetic disease that left him stunted (no one is really sure what it was) to his art studies and gradual immersion in the world of art, brothels, theatre and alcohol, dying at 36. He was a prolific artist but did many preparatory drawings, some of which are exhibited. Very worthwhile. We wandered to the back of the building and there found gardens, including a parterre garden beautifully maintained and then looked down on the river. This was part of the Bishop’s Palace.
Then to possibly the biggest brick church in Europe, certainly in France. Massive, a fortress for the soul after the Albigensian heresy, plain outside to prove the church was not all about wealth, but then decorated inside. Every wall and ceiling was painted, there were numerous statues of apostles and saints, a choir screen that completely surrounded the choir area of the church with stone Gothic tracery. The interior painting reminded me so much of the interior of Mantova Cathedral, and hey presto! the artists were Italian and completed the work in about three years and it has not needed retouching since. Eat your heart out Michelangelo!
At some stage this church interior was turned around so the altar is now at the other end from the choir, which makes sense as the enclosed choir excluded the public, and fits with Vatican 2. At some other stage much earlier, no one knows when, a decision was made to cut an opening in the biggest painting of the Last Judgement ever known, which was on this wall, under the organ. So now the central Christ in Judgement is missing, but the saved and the damned are still there as a lesson for the faithful. (click to see them bigger
Next stop: Carcassone