Before I let this trip get too far away from me, let me tell you about Albi, an ancient town in the Midi-Pyrenees, on the Tarn River.
Our hosts, JPG and Françoise, are accomplished personally and professionally. They lived in Algeria and the US and their whole family is talented, engineers and architects and magazine editors and writers. We stayed in an old, beautiful maison, eating every day in a converted candle factory. It's story is very interesting, a sort of French, post-antebellum Tara: With the invention of the light bulb, the family candle business suffered, and the matriarch did everything she could to keep their home. The family lovingly restored the place, turning its offices into a modern residence and cultivating a garden around a river running through the backyard. Stepping into the original residence is like visiting a panorama of the French Third Republic.
The central part of Albi is a UNESCO heritage site. Many pilgrims visit the giant brick cathedral in the city center, and the Toulouse-Lautrec museum is one of the oldest castles in France. We visited the town market, Saint-Salvi cloister and Musée de la Mode, an extensive, expertly-preserved collection in an old convent. Downstairs, the curator's "mood-board" loops onscreen: My Fair Lady, Gone With the Wind, and Dangerous Liaisons inspired his selection, fitted on custom mannequins in air, temperature, and light-controlled chambers. Nearby Rodez houses the stunning Musée Soulages, a must-visit, if you can tear yourself away from Michel Belin long enough.
I learned so much about French culture and life staying here. They were zero-waste before that was a thing- the hostess makes her own everything (confits, jam) at home, their compost bin is steamy and well-attended, and the host installed solar on the usine, which shoots enough power back into the grid to garner a check from EDF every now and then. All the household items are largely plastic-free, special and built to last: A friend's little boy played all day with the vintage wooden train set and Red Flyer wagon. Françoise gave me a special, colorful addition to my 10-piece wardrobe, and my friend Fiat made the incredible Thai meal seen above... he prepared the red curry paste, from scratch, himself!