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Report 1954: A Weekend in Albi
By Veronica in France from France, Fall 2011
Trip Description: Visiting a few sites during a sunny weekend in Albi in September.
Destinations: Countries - France; Regions/Cities - Other France Region
Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Foodie Trip; Sightseeing; Independent Travel; 2 People
Page 1 of 3: Friday Evening: Dinner in the Jungle
Le Robinson, Albi
Despite having lived within two and a half hours' drive of Albi for 15 years, we've never visited. So when we decided we needed a not-too-expensive weekend break, it seemed like a great choice.
We set off on Friday afternoon, driving along the lovely winding road that goes through the woods of the Montagne Noire: beautiful in the late afternoon sunshine. I'd booked a room at the 2-star Les Pasteliers, because it had a lot of good reviews on TripAdvisor, and the price was right (€70 a night for the two of us, excluding breakfast). It lived up to expectations; the hotel and surroundings may not look enticing from the outside, but it's a great value place for a short stay in Albi. And while it's not in the historic centre, it's less than a 10-minute walk from the cathedral. As soon as we arrived, the very pleasant owner offered us a slightly larger room than the one we'd booked online, because he'd had a cancellation.
OK, the larger room was still rather small :) But who goes to Albi to sit around in a hotel room? We only used it for sleeping. And it was thoughtfully decorated and equipped, better than the average 2-star hotel -- although I wasn't sure deep burgundy walls were an appropriate choice for such a small room :) Theoretically there's free WiFi in the rooms; we couldn't get it to work, but we didn't try that hard. We didn't bother with breakfast, at €8.30 each, but we're not great breakfast eaters. Instead, both Saturday and Sunday morning we walked to one of the cafes in town for coffee and a croissant at half the price.
You can park for free in the square beside the hotel; the owner did warn us about parking there on Friday night because of the Saturday market, but it was easy enough to find an on-street space at that time. We arrived around 6:30, giving us time to settle in and ask for a recommendation of a nice but not too expensive restaurant for that evening. He warmly recommended a place called the Robinson, by the river. As it was still early, we decided we'd go for a wander round town, checking out the restaurant on the way, then go for a drink somewhere and go back to the restaurant if it looked interesting, or find somewhere else if it didn't.
It turned out that we'd never have found it without the hotel owner's explanation. In a car park at the end of the Pont Neuf, some insignificant steps wound down the steep wooded slope to the river, which was glittering in the light of the setting sun. A couple of hundred metres along the bank, hidden in the trees, an enticing gate stood open, showing a glimpse of a green garden with banana trees, bamboo, and a small pond. Magical. The minute we stepped inside and saw the covered terrace overlooking the river, we knew we'd be eating there, even though at this point it was deserted. The hotelier had told us it would be busy, so we reserved a table for later and headed back to town for a drink and a tapa at a much more trendy bar opposite the Palais Berber.
Back at the Robinson the sun had almost set and we sat at a lamplit table overlooking the river. It still wasn't crowded; there were only about a dozen diners in all, so we needn't have booked. The menu was short, with only a couple of choices for each course. Our first-course salads arrived to gasps of admiration. A bouquet of salad leaves towered over my small dish of gazpacho, and a section of bamboo was used as a container for the salad dressing and a vase for a topknot of edible nasturtium flowers. Beautiful. The main courses weren't quite so impressive -- salmon for Steve, Thai chicken for me, with stir-fried vegetables, and the tarte aux myrtilles for dessert wasn't as good as mine. But it was "correct" as we say in France: fresh, attractively presented food at a reasonable price -- with a bottle of white Gaillac and coffee it came to €67.
We drank our coffee on squashy leather sofas inside, listening to a medley of Spanish revolutionary songs and the occasional squawk from the African grey parrot. Though the food wasn't extraordinary, I really liked this place and would definitely go back. The tropical jungle-like setting and the building itself are so beautiful and unexpected, just a few minutes' walk from the centre of Albi. Apparently it used to be a dance hall in the 1950s; you can imagine couples whirling around to the orchestra on warm summer nights.
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