Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Carcassonne Diaries: Day 1 - Wednesday 21 September 2016

So here, finally (two months later) is our September holiday diary!

After a very difficult and sad summer, we made the decision to take a last-minute short break rather than our traditional week-long summer holiday.  We were looking for somewhere laid-back and tranquil to allow us to unwind and find some peace for a little while.  Faithful travelling companion came up with the idea of a few days in Carcassonne in the south of France. This seemed like a very good idea, particularly as there were direct flights from Glasgow.  Although when I say 'south of France' you automatically think of the French Riviera (and one of our most-loved holiday destinations ever, Nice) but Carcassonne is situated inland, rather than on the Med, and it's close to the the Spanish border and the Pyrenees.

The first thing you notice is that Carcassonne Airport is very small and I immediately nickname it 'the portacabin'; there only appears to be about 4 flights in and out of there every day.  But of course the important thing is that we have arrived somewhere where it is still actually summer.  At home, we have had reasonably decent weather by our standards in September (16-18 degrees) but on arrival in Carcassonne the temperatures were in the mid to high 20s, and the sun was shining in that beautiful blue sky.  

After a bit of a wait at (slow/diligent, delete as appropriate) passport control, it's time to take the shuttle bus into the city. There is a special shuttle bus service leaving shortly after every flight arrival. It's a reasonably short journey into the city and the bus drops off passengers at several key stops, firstly in the 'new city' and the 'medieval city' - Cité de Carcassonne.

That's right - Carcassonne is a 'tale of two cities' although size-wise you couldn't really describe them as cities!  We cross the river Aude and then it is uphill to the fortified medieval city.  The final stop is just a short walk from the Porte Narbonnaise - one of the "gates" to the medieval city.  I took this picture of the Porte Narbonnaise later in the week:

The place is absolutely mobbed with tourists.  We weren't expecting it to be quiet, but as we cross the 'drawbridge' and entered the medieval city we are greeted by a flood of people making their way through the narrow cobbled streets.  But we (and our suitcases) make it through and eventually check into our hotel.

It quickly becomes apparent that the Cité is unlike anywhere we've ever been on holiday or are ever likely to go.  There is something almost unreal about it - it's like living on a film set, yet it is very real indeed.  The citadel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it's over 2000 years old.  Of course there has been significant restoration work undertaken over the years, but who cares?  After a very short time there, it's very clear that the Cité is going to be one of our most memorable holiday destinations we've ever been to.

A very important aspect of all our holidays is of course the food.  So after unpacking we head out in search of our evening meal.

One thing we observe very quickly was that the place has significantly quietened down since the afternoon.  Where have all those tourists gone?  Certainly not to the restaurants, that's for sure.  As we set out to explore the medieval city's eating places, we notice that many of them hadn't bothered to open.  Was this just because it was Wednesday, I wonder?  But it wasn't long until we find somewhere with a particularly appealing menu.

Being back in France for the first time since 2012 means only one thing - the return of soupe à l'oignon - onion soup.  Both faithful travelling companion and I agreed that this may well have been the best onion soup ever.

Our main courses are also very good too, and they are washed down with some Minervois. Languedoc-Rousillon is serious wine country - as we saw during our descent today, flying over fields and fields of vineyards as far as the eye could see.

After a very enjoyable dinner we do some more exploring of the Cité.  It is extremely quiet, and the same goes for nightlife too.  There isn't any!  But we are not here to party, so that's no problem. But one thing we do enjoy on holiday is sitting outdoors to enjoy those warm late summer evenings, which you just can't do at home (unless you want to risk hypothermia).

We come across Place Marcou, a little square packed with restaurants/bars on all sides. However most of these are either closed, or closing earlier than what we've previously experienced on our holidays in France over the years.  We manage to find one which is still open.  The geographical proximity of Carcassonne to the Spanish border means....sangria!  So needless to say I have to try it out.  We then head back through the quiet streets to our hotel.  I think we're going to love Carcassonne....

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