Friday, 26 February 2010


Written 24th february

So we have a book and map of france showing all the free aires de service where camping-cars are welcome, a series of circled suggestions in our atlas - some from Bill, some from Tom & Katy and some to do before we die - and finding wifi is as easy as finding Mc Donalds (ie pretty easy!). France is, somewhat surprisingly far and away, their largest european market.  Maybe the food is better - we don't actually know, the hot chocolate is good and often the wifi reaches the carpark... - but there are always queues both in-store and at the drive-in, consols in some of them so you can order and pay by card and not actually talk to anyond and many more things on the menu so perhaps.

Anyway, we spent our first nuit in Limoux in the company of seven others in the town square carpark and settled in for the night to the backdrop of our chattering, wine-quaffing voisins.  At the risk of sounding cliche'd, there was definitely some 'oh la la'ing' at one stage - it is comforting ;)

Next day, sun was shining again as we headed for Carcassonne - yes I know I said we had had enough of walled cities and mazes of typical streets but this is apparently pretty special - and anyway, its french, bound to be different... :)

The road was lovely - wide and straight and shaded with lines of tall trees, apparently planted by Napoleon to provide shade for his marching armies - very forward thinking off him! - 

and soon la Cité of Carcassonne sailed into view on the horizon like a ship on the sea of vines.

Set on a hill, commanding the surrounding countryside, there has been a settlement of some kind here right back from 6BC then the Romans, Visigoths, Saracens and Francs all had a go before it became a feudal town in 1082.  Around that time, a new religion - that of the Cathars, meaning 'pure' in greek - was prevalent in the south-east corner of france - as evidenced by the 20-odd abbeys and castles, many perched precariously on vertiginous rocky outcrops on nearly every mountain top in the little triangle of land between Tolouse, Montpellier and the Pyrennese.  But when the Pope declared a Crusade against these heretics, feudal Carcassonne was seiged between the two and eventually fell, first to the crusaders, then to King Louis VIII.

As a frontier town on the edge of what was then the boarder with Aragon, Carcassonne's present day fortress and defences were constructed  and a new Lower town built at the foot of the hill - La Baside Saint-Louis - to house the increasing population.

But, in the 15th and 16th century, Carcassonne's construction proved to be unfit for the new techniques of was, ushered in by the advent of gun powder and cannons, and in 1569, under the Peace of the Pyrennese treaty, neighbouring Rousillion became part of France, thus moving the border with Spain to the mountains and robbing Carcassonne of its frontier defense raison d'être.

In the 19th century, the lower town flourished however the castle fell in to disrepair and was almost ordered pulled down, before it was repreived and  restored to the fairytale turreted splendour of its mediaeval heyday and nowadays, on a sunny afternoon, it is an almost too perfect vision of disney castle loveliness.

We followed the parking signs - naturally there is a whole carpark for camping-cars! - but somehow got lost and ended up parked in a free side street on the otherside of the hill.  It is only in walking up to the cité gate that you really realise the scale of the place, and once through the walls, you enter the ubiquitous maze of tiny streets.  But it was different and indefineably very french :)  Deciding against €8.50 each for the actual castle - although it is the only way you can walk on the actual ramparts and my brother says it is very good - we wandered throught town and out the other gate to go round the outer lists - the gap between the two sets of walls.  Whilst from here there are no views down inside, you can still see the fabulous vistas of the new town and countryside all the way south across the plains to the snow-capped mountains - hazy in cloud with the sun behind them - no marauding enemy armies could sneak up on this place!

Back inside the walls we wanderd through the streets, squares, tat shops and art galleries, resisted the temptation for lunch and a bottle of wine in a sunny pavement café, found the magnificent church -

with an unusual depiction of Mary as wench, not the style religious art we are used to! - and out and onwards once more.

A brief visit only but so glad we went and we are now back on the road once again, en route to Millau, and heading for a dot on our aires map in Anian for the night.

Bon soir tout le monde, dormez bien.

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