La Reserve, Albi
Okay, this is off the garlic trail but a good stop after the Lautrec Garlic Festival
Albi, France was just added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites and it couldn't be more deserved. The stunning brick city is dominated by a cathedral that rivals Chartres. Albi's money came from woad, a dye plant that yielded a beautiful blue pastel. Thanks to this plant, Albi was enormously wealthy at the end of the 15th century. The cathedral's ceilings are decorated by lush blue frescoes. There's an exquisite museum devoted to local son, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec next door to the cathedral.
La Reserve is a Relais & Cheateau hotel on the outskirts of town overlooking the Tarn river. Its run by Helene Hijosa-Rieux, whose brother runs the Hotel Saint Antoine in town. Helene is an absolute delight -- and if she has time, she's been known to give guests a personal tour of her beloved city.
The rooms run the gamut. One is a groovy Austin Powers hideaway; next door might be a lovely country French room with lovely blue or yellow toile; mine was a bit dowdy but the view and the patio made up for any shortcomings. The round bar and terrace are wonderful places to enjoy a glass of local Gaillac wine. (The area is one of France's oldest wine-producing regions and is best known for its rustic reds but I loved the light rose).
The new chef did admirably with smoked salmon with wasabi cream and angler fish accompanied by luscious mashed potatoes. But the killer was the soft chocolate cake with morello cherries accompanied by a sea-salt carmel ice cream. Top ten desserts of my life.