Despite our small flea problem (see 'arranging a house swap') , our week in Albi was great. Albi, the birth place of Toulouse-Lautrec, is a beautiful city. The centre of town boasts a large cathedral, a Toulouse-Lautrec museum and the ubiquitous square bustling with cafes and restaurants. The river Tarn flows through the middle of it. A large but gentle river with a weir and several superb bridges creating a splendid vista along the river.
We were lucky enough to palm off the older two kids on grandparents whilst we went to the Toulouse-Lautrec museum. It houses the majority of his work as no one wanted it in Paris when he died. His mother donated most of his work to Albi and created the museum.
We also took a short boat trip along the Tarn which the boys thought was fantastic. We visited the nearby Cordes-sur-ciel, a picturesque medieval village with little windy streets and a 'fablious' tourist train (one of those ones that goes on the road.) Even with 4 children we managed to have a (relatively) leisurely lunch and we even escaped without buying any form of toy sword, be it plastic, wooden or foam.
We spent a day at the 'zoo of 3 valleys'. A relatively new zoo which was a bit like a cross between a safari park and a zoo, except you had to walk everywhere instead of being in a car. Generally I'm quite keen on walking, but it was really windy and dusty and with 4 young children (even with our amazing chariot buggy) it was quite hard work for everyone. (And on the whole, it didn't even mean the animals had larger cages, although there were some in large fields.) The highlight of the trip were the large cats, everyone loves a lion or 2 (especially young boys.) And it appears that every tiger loves a baby or 2. The happily dozing (really quite large) tiger, suddenly sprang into life at the sight of 4 succulent baby legs kicking around only a metre or 2 away from him. He started prowling backwards and forwards, never taking his eyes off them. My husband thought this was highly amusing. However, despite the large fence, my faith in French health and safety is not great, I decided to move them away. Much to the tiger's disappointment.
For me the highlight of the trip was spending a day exploring the woods and rivers. There is a large national park east of Albi and we spent a day exploring a small part of it. The weather was really hot (with no mediterranean to cool us down) so we joined the locals in dipping into an icy river with crystal clear water to cool ourselves down (naked children and us in our undies as we hadn't bought our swimmers). OK, perhaps the water wasn't really crystal clear but it wasn't unpleasantly dirty either!
So, I'd really recommend a trip to this neck of the woods. It was beautiful and there were enough things to keep us all occupied for over a week. I would definitely go back, although I think I'd like to explore the national park more so would probably stay there. And if you're going in summer, I'd suggest accommodation with a swimming pool.