05.05.2011 - 07.05.2011 14 °C
After our trip to Spain, we stopped for a couple of days in Carcassonne, a historic, walled city in the southwestern part of France. Carcassonne is a UNESCO World Heritage site dating back to pre-Roman times. This town also happens to be where Kevin Costner filmed Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, at least the scary, fiery outdoor battle scenes.
We didn't see Robin Hood, although I kept looking around for signs of him. "Où est Robin Hood?" I thought of asking the locals, but then again, I didn't want anyone mistaking me for a tourist. Luckily, there weren't people sporting Roman gladiator costumes like the ones we saw in Rome.
No, we didn't see any jousting competitions, nor did we see any battle re-enactments or fireworks while we were there. However, you can see all of that in this rather impressive video produced by the Carcassonne tourism board, which makes it seem like the Disneyland of France.
It felt a bit like Disneyland, only slightly older and obviously more authentic, especially to be traipsing around the walled citadel and castle grounds searching for Robin Hood.
Do we look like tourists?
Carcassonne has it all, shops and restaurants, a lively farmers' market every Saturday, picturesque cemeteries, and even quaint canal rides on the Canal du Midi (also on the UNESCO World Heritage List). There are also wineries, olive oil mills, and ancient abbeys to explore nearby in the surrounding Aude region.
Carcassonne farmers' market
For an excellent bird's eye view of the walled city, we visited the cemetery located just above the train station.
Guess this guy's not getting out anytime soon, is he?
Sign depicting "panoramic" canal boat tours
Canal du Midi
Moules et frites at Le Bistro d'Augustin
Eric's smiling about the guy in the background, who reminded us of our friend Travis
Free birthday cake at the bistro (with reservation and within three days of your birthday)
Carcassonne at night
There was plenty to do in Bastide Saint-Louis, the main town center, and also in the cité médiévale or walled city, which is set apart from the downtown area by the Aude River, the Canal du Midi and a couple of bridges, aptly named Le Pont Vieux or "The Old Bridge" and Le Pont Neuf or "The New Bridge." We were advised to approach the walled city for the first time by way of the Pont Vieux, and later return to the center of town via the Pont Neuf. From the Pont Neuf, we could take pictures of the castle with the Pont Vieux in the foreground.
View from the Pont Vieux
View from the Pont Neuf, including the Pont Vieux in front of the walled city
Inside the walled city, it was surprising how lively it was, with people actually living and working inside the city, and with all sorts of activities going on.
Small French tourists
The oldest organ in Europe!
Lunch inside the walled city - doesn't this place look old?
One of the many beautiful cats we saw in Carcassonne, clearly a "regional product" but not for sale
A twist on traditional Pastis, a popular anis-flavored liqueur consumed widely in southern France
Cassoulet is Carcassonne's local delicacy, a popular meat (duck, pork sausage, goose and sometimes mutton) and white bean dish
Visiting the castle at night - what a gorgeous view!
We actually went to Carcassonne to celebrate our one-year wedding anniversary. We stayed in an adorable English guesthouse called the Millett House, which was actually a Travellerspoint recommendation.
Eric enjoying the view from our room
Romantic twin beds!
In all fairness, they did warn us about the twin beds, which I suppose have long been a European standard. Hopefully these are falling by the wayside in modern times. Nevertheless, Meei and Richard Millett were so kind and welcoming, and gave us a map as well as restaurant recommendations when we arrived. Meei also served a delicious, traditional French breakfast of pastries, bread, juice, and tea or coffee at a very reasonable hour of 9 am each morning.
A French Havana Cafe
Gin and tonics to kick off our anniversary evening
Heading back to the walled city
On the Pont Vieux - it was very windy due to the arrival of the mistral (wild Provençal windstorm often lasting for days)
Anniversary dinner at Restaurant Le Trivalou
Le Trivalou interior
We still cannot get enough of the fabulous French bread
Duck confit cassoulet
Cheese course including Eric's favorite, Roquefort Société
A delicious and "fun" strawberry dessert
Le Trivalou turned out to be a real gem of a anniversary dinner, a fabulous little place run by a Niçoise couple, with great, fresh, local and innovative food. Time together well spent!
p.s. On our way home from Carcassonne, we couldn't resist stopping by IKEA in Montpellier, which is pretty much exactly like the IKEAs in Sweden and other countries. Here are the main differences we observed at IKEA in France.
Rolling trays, just as the French have rolling plastic baskets with long handles in the supermarket
IKEA's famous "Swedish meatballs" - look at the size of that pan!
Wine on the buffet
And last but not least, IKEA's French macarons or macaroons