Monday, September 4th – Castelnaudary to Carcassone

 

My early morning run was along the banks of the Canal du Midi that the hotel was named after.

The canal bank offered a delightful flat surface to pad along as the sunrise shone rose-pink dapples through the trees onto the still water of the canal. The only sound other than my padding feet was the quacking of ducks!

One thing I will really miss after this trip will be these solitary dawn breaks.

Determined that,at least once, we should get out of a town without going wrong, we had spent some time last night checking the city map for the best route to take. We then sat together in the car and checked our selected route against Jane’s proposal – amazingly they tallied – it seemed so simple, left out of the car park, left again at the roundabout, take first right turn and turn right again at the top of the hill onto the D88. Husbands final words as we turned left out of the car park “left, right, right, – no screw-ups this morning – right?

We turned left at the roundabout, took the first right turn and followed some cars up a steep hill. Hoorah! All seems right with the route, until a man walks in front of me with a metal barrier with a “rue barre” sign attached and waved his fat French finger at me doing U turn signs  “Non!” The market had started – no more cars can get through!

I couldn’t make this sort of thing up!

After I, and all the cars behind me, had made laborious U-turns, Jane mmade a couple of “make a U-turn as soon as possible suggestions before she gave up, recalibrated, and chose a less simple route out of town! Blame monitor was hovering but had been witness to the event so no tempers were lost and we finally leave Castelnaudary at 9.30!

We head for the famous walled City of Carcassone  in the Aude department, in the Region of Languedoc-Roussillon – this is a place that I have long longed to visit having driven past several times and not having time to stop.

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The city is famous for the Cité de Carcassonne, a medieval fortress restored by the theorist and architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in 1853 and only added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites as late as 1997. This seemed to me to be rather a long wait for acknowledgement given that the first signs of a settlement there have been dated as 3500 BC! However, the visit to the Cite explained it all – having been sacked and taken over by Crusading Simon de Montfort in 1209, the people finally rose up in 1240 to try and reinstate their previous ruling family the Trecavels. The King of France Louis IX wasn’t having that and destroyed the old town and castle and expelled all the rebel families from the area. After negotiation he allowed them back to build a new Bastide, known as the Isle of King Louis, on the lower ground nearer the river Aude.

As a result it wasn’t until the 19th Century restoration that it really became worth visiting, although these days it is listed in the Rough Guide to France as one of the top 30 things to do in the whole country – I don’t disagree with this but it does mean that this small area is somewhat full!

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According to Wikipedia the name derives from the  hill site of Carsac – a Celtic place-name  which became an important trading place in the 6th century BC but I rather prefer the legend offered by the castle that Saracan King Balaak had a wife called Carcas, who put her mind to helping him defend the City against the repeated attacks of Charlemagne and installed a warning bell to call the troops to order – the bell rang -which in French is sonne  -hence Carcassonne!

Her headstone, shown above, was originally in pride of place at the entrance to the castle but the lively image shown on the 1901 photograph below shows how important it was to get her inside and away from the rain and the extraordinary winds that batter the city walls.

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The City has a colourful history, including a siege from the English in 1335 during the Hundred Years’ War,although this time Edward, the Black Prince failed to take the city.

We are obviously not popular here,  in fact, Husband bravely took on a French driver who had got so enraged by my not knowing the way to our hotel that he chose to wind his window down and shout at me about “learning to drive in a foreign country before trying to drive through a French town” or something to that effect! I was happy that they didn’t pursue their conversation for too long!

We are staying in Hotel Astoria 18 Rue Tourtel 11000. within Carcassonne – which sounds a lot grander than it is..this is a flattering photo ..in fact bring back Cancon – all is forgiven!

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