Saturday, 25 July 2015

La Cité of Carcassonne

Our first few weeks in France were spent mainly as a holiday but with a little bit of work. We plan to be out here for at least 3 or 4 months and have a list of things that need to be done to the house from my in-laws and a list of places we want to visit for ourselves. After we had got a phone line and internet installed, painted a room, built a shelf and done some surprisingly successful conversing with French people (mainly my husband) we decided to take a little trip.

We had bought a cheap tent from Amazon for such trips and so, with this in the back of the car and a vague plan to camp near Carcassonne and then venture up to the Pyrennees if we felt adventurous, we started the 4 hour drive.

Carscassonne is famous for its fortified city which is called La Cité. I had always wanted to visit it after reading Kate Mosse's novel Labyrinth which is partly set in Carcassonne in 1209 when it was a stronghold of the Cathars. There is a camping site 15 minutes walk from the walls of old Carcassonne called Camping de la Cité where we booked one night on arrival, thinking that we could add another night if we fancied it as the campsite was not that full. From the campsite you could just make out the walls of the city.

With our car parked in our spot which was nicely bordered with hedges for some privacy, we ventured into Carcassonne for some lunch and a wander. The 15 minute walk was relatively flat apart from the last section which led up to the steep walls of the old city. It was definitely worth it for the view that welcomed us!


Inside the walls the city is very small and the cobbled streets and small alleyways connecting streets gives it a similar feel to Venice. It is really beautiful and save for the shops signs and restaurants, you really feel you could be living hundreds of years ago. After lunch in a beautiful square where thankfully all the tables were covered by parasols due to the 36 degree heat, we wandered around the city and went into the Château Comtal which is a 12th century castle. 

We bought the audio guide and spent over an hour following the guide around the Château. The Château has a fascinating history and because it and the rest of the city were restored in 1853 you are able to see it  more or less as it would have been in the 1200s. I say more in or less, because during the restoration a few additional things were added to the Château and ramparts much to some puritan historians' disgust!

After our visit to the Château we walked back to the campsite to put up our tent and have a little rest before going back in the evening.  Now I am not what you would call a seasoned camper. I camped with Guides a few times and then went to a small music festival in Oxfordshire where we camped for two nights. Neither have been amazing experiences but I had not been put off it completely. I know how to put a tent up and having tried the new tent out at home in the garden we were confident that it would be easy. Mistake! Since we arrived in France until the 3 weeks later when we were in Carcassonne it had been wall-to-wall sunshine. The temperature had very rarely gone below 25 degrees and was currently in the mid 30s with warnings of 40 degrees to come. This meant that the ground had not seen much rain for quite a while and as such it was like hammering tent pegs into rock. Many trips to get water and a lot of bent tent pegs later (thank goodness we had spares!) we had the tent attached to the ground...sort of. It wasn't going to weather a really strong wind or a small wind come to that but we had done what we could and set off again to Carcassonne hoping that when we returned we wouldn't have to sleep in the car.

We didn't have a lot of money to spend on eating out in Carcassonne and as we had had a large lunch we weren't looking for a big meal. We walked past a lovely looking restaurant called L'Escargot serving french inspired tapas and when we saw a free table outside we quickly grabbed it.  About 10 minutes after we sat down there were a number of couples and groups that were turned away so we got there just in time.  Outside there was a large menu on chalkboards to choose from. We had a nice selection of breads with tomatos and garlic, tuna cerviche with coconut milk and spices, potatoes with bbq sauce and cheeses. The cheeses were amazing and were served with honey, which you don't see very often but it went really well. We also had a bottle of Viognier which the waitress recommended and which was very refreshing. It was a lovely way to end the day in Carcassonne. And when we got back to the campsite after walking around the walls of the city which was silhouetted by the sunset, our tent was still firmly on the ground!

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