Searching for sunflower fields

I first came across Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This was when I lived in the ‘city of brotherly love’. The year – 2005.

The Sunflowers series was partly inspired by the sunflower fields Van Gogh saw around Arles, a city in southern France. He lived there for a couple of years before his death.

Ever since I laid eyes on the Sunflowers in Philadelphia, I’ve dreamt of driving through the French countryside in the hope of seeing the flaming sunflower fields for myself.

July 2011. Toulouse. We decided to drive out and do some sightseeing around Toulouse. Our first stop was Albi, an ancient town with origins in the Bronze age (3000-600 BC).

Albi, France

Albi’s daily market in the town centre

Albi, France

The solemn, fortified exterior of the Albi Cathedral (constructed over 200 years from 1287), a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Albi, France

The ornate interiors of the Albi Cathedral

Albi is also home to the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, which houses over 1000 pieces of work by the bohemian artist, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. He became famous for his posters of the then newly opened Moulin Rouge, a cabaret in Paris (circa 1889). He was born in Albi and after his death in 1901, his mother generously donated his works to the museum.

It was almost lunch time when we finished touring the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum. At a charming cafe close by, hubby (always game to try something new) ordered the local speciality, tripe – a dish made from the cow’s stomach. It is most definitely an acquired taste but as always, he ate it with gusto.

Albi, France

After a leisurely lunch, we drove to the fortified town of Cordes-sur-Ciel, about 25km away. The town’s name (Cordes in the sky) reflects its location at the top of a hill and above the clouds. It was not an easy climb to the top of the citadel (going there right after lunch was not such a good idea!) but the views were memorable.

Cordes-sur-Ciel, France

The steep and winding cobblestone roads that lead to the top of Cordes-sur-Ciel (built 1222 )

Cordes-sur-Ciel, France

The gorgeous view of the countryside from the ramparts of Cordes-sur-Ciel

We walked around the bastide and browsed the quaint souvenir shops.

Cordes-sur-Ciel, France

An armour suit peeking from a store window in Cordes-sur-Ciel

Next, we headed to the picturesque St Antonin Noble Val, a 30 minute drive away. ‘Charlotte Gray’, a period film starring Cate Blanchett and the soon to be released ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’, have been filmed in this romantic town.

St. Antonin Noble Val, France

The view as you drive into St. Antonin Noble Val

St. Antonin Noble Val, France

The Aveyron river that flows through St. Antonin Noble Val

St. Antonin Noble Val, France

Residents of St. Antonin Noble Val preparing for a feast

Our last stop for the day was the tiny, fortified village of Bruniquel. Unfortunately, we had reached the imposing Château de Bruniquel past closing time and didn’t get a chance to tour the grand exhibits and gardens inside. According to folklore, the castle was founded in the 6th century.

Bruniquel, France

The view of the valley around Château de Bruniquel

Bruniquel, France

The entrance to the Château de Bruniquel

The day had started in the hope of sunflower fields. The French countryside did not disappoint us. It was ablaze with sunflowers all along the way. Tired and contented, we headed back to Toulouse.

Sunflower fields - Toulouse, France

One of the many sunflower fields along the drive

Sunflowers everywhere!

Sunflowers everywhere!

The picturesque town of Lourdes is a comfortable 2 hour drive from Toulouse. For more on Lourdes, check out my post, Pilgrimage in the Pyrenees.

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