A week in France — Carcassonne

Every time we got close to anything vaguely resembling a bridge in this town I turned to Mr B and started singing “Sur le pont, Carcasonne” last week.  Yes, I know it should be Avignon but where is the fun in that when you are in Carcassonne and not Avignon.

I did the same on the way through Perpignan too

Oh and in Narbonne

It didn’t work with Lagrasse but that didn’t stop me trying.

The only thing I had booked as part of our mini break was a day with Taste du Languedoc that included a tour of Carcassonne, lunch and a wine tasting.   It was 300 Euros for the two of us but well worth it for all that included.    They had been recommended to me by Honor at Maison de la Roche as a great day out and the perfect way to see some of the countryside, learn something about wine, and not have to worry about driving after all the tasting.  As promised Matt, who owns Taste du Languedoc with his wife, picked us up from the gite in his minibus and after a fabulous day, dropped us back afterwards.   Whilst Matt clearly knows his wine and the region the tour didn’t feel like we were on a school trip, or that we would be asked questions at the end, it was all very laid back and a huge amount of fun.   Matt gave us a great history lesson, interspersed with family stories of his experiences of living in the region, that really made you want to cancel your return flights home and become an expat.     I also liked the fact that whilst lunch was included in the price of the tour, we were given the choice of restaurants and not instructed to pick a set menu.   There are other tours available so do look them up if you are in the area.

There is no denying that Carcassonne is old; there is evidence of settlements in the area from 3500BC.    And in the summer gets hideously busy.   Apparently after the Eiffel Tower it is one of THE most visited attractions in France.   We pretty much had the place to ourselves so it was bliss, but on a busy summer’s day I can imagine it gets pretty hideous so I would suggest you go stupidly early if you are there in July or August.

You can fly into Carcassonne airport from Stansted in the UK, for as little as £8 one way.  I KNOW!!  Eight quid.  I can’t even get the train to Reading for that price.  But there really are some incredible deals on flights, that mean you can have a reasonably priced holiday in the south of France, and this town makes a great base.

As you enter the old town Dame Carcas herself guides you in from her vantage point a top a stone pillar just as you walk over the drawbridge.  She is quite the legend, and it is because of her actions the town got it’s name:

The legend takes place in the 8th century, during the wars between Christians and Muslims in the southwest of Europe. At the time, Carcassonne was under Saracen rule and Charlemagne’s army was at the gates to reconquer the city for the Franks. A Saracen princess named Carcas ruled the Knights of the City after the death of her husband.

The siege lasted for five years. Early in the sixth year, food and water were running out. Lady Carcas made an inventory of all remaining reserves. The villagers brought her a pig and a sack of wheat. She then had the idea to feed the wheat to the pig and then throw it from the highest tower of the city walls.

Charlemagne lifted the siege, believing that the city had enough food to the point of wasting pigs fed with wheat. Overjoyed by the success of her plan, Lady Carcas decided to sound all the bells in the city. One of Charlemagne’s men then exclaimed: “Carcas sonne!” (which means “Carcas sounds”). Hence the name of the city.

Yes I know, that it is all fiction (copied from Wikipedia so it’s not the most reliable of sources) but it is a great story so I am going with it, all right?

It truly is a beautiful medieval city and easy to see just how impressive a sight it must have been when it was lived in by Dame Carcas et al, and in fact it still is impressive.

 

There used to be dwellings all along the road below, just behind the out walls of the town.  They were eventually cleared and the residents moved in to more suitable accommodation but it is easy to stand and imagine the area filled with day to day medieval life.

If you do stay for lunch, make sure you have cassoulet.  It’s a traditional dish of beans and sausages and is from the area, so when in Rome and all that.  I didn’t do as I say, and went for a plate of charcuterie because I knew if I had anything bigger than this and then did a wine tasting I would be snoring in the back of the bus by 3pm.   But all the food on the menus we read (or the plates we spotted in front of fellow diners) looked amazing.  Washed down with locally grown wine of course or a large gin that was poured from the bottle and not measured.  Hic

If you go, just promise me you will sing my new favourite song too.

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  • This takes me back! Went here a few times about 15 years ago when my parents were in the process of buying a holiday home (long story short the company went bust and it never happened!!) I love Carcassonne and all the old cobbled streets, and yes very busy in July/August! I hope the old sweet shop is still there too…I was still a kid when I last visited 😉

    • Oh no! SOrry to hear the move didn’t happen, it would have been a gorgeous part of the world for a holiday home. I stood up on the top looking out and seriously considered looking into buying in the area too! I didn’t see a sweet shop, but then I was too busy gazing at roofs and cobbles! You should definitely go back!