Much earlier in the year we decided to fence of off two weeks for holiday in the middle of September. It was a good idea, although in the end, largely as result of the marine week and Chris’ heavy involvement with COP 21 it got nibbled at the edges until it was barely eight days. Still, living in France means that you don’t have to waste days either end in airport terminals or in queues for the Channel Tunnel.
We’ve had a number of holidays in Languedoc and decided to revisit the area, with the addition of the trip up into Aquitaine to visit a church that has been generous towards A Rocha. So as soon as Chris could tear himself away from the computer on Monday lunchtime we headed off westwards and after about four hours rather monotonous driving on the autoroute ended up at an old friend’s gite near Narbonne, where we stayed for three nights. It’s a pleasant area, much less built-up and prosperous than the Côte D’Azur.
We wandered along the coast seeing pelicans and flamingos. On another day we visited Toulouse, which turned out to be a very prosperous and charming city with some lovely old brick-built buildings.
We also revisited Carcassonne. Some places are hyped to the skies and when you visit them you are disappointed. Not so Carcassonne; it really does live up to its reputation, although it’s best visited in the off-season when you don’t run the risk of being crushed to death by tourists and people taking selfies. In particular places where there aren’t any other people around, it really does feel as if you’re in the Middle Ages.
In an age of ISIS and the destruction of antiquities, the story of Carcassonne is rather encouraging. Every so often France gets phases of reinventing itself and engages in throes of demolition and reconstruction. One of these occurred in the middle of the 19th century when the French government decided that the old walled town of Carcassonne was such a disgrace that it needed to be demolished. Thankfully at this point a gentleman with the splendid name of Prosper Mérimée came forward. Well connected with the aristocracy through a daughter who married Napoleon III, he put forward a spirited defence of Carcassonne which allowed it to survive. It was soon renovated, probably in not a very authentic fashion and has become one of the most outstanding sites of France. Curiously Mérimée himself is probably more remembered, not for his preservation of ancient architecture, but because he wrote a flashy little novel about an unfaithful Spanish gypsy girl which became the basis of Bizet’s opera Carmen. Fame’s a funny business.
Anyway we enjoyed Languedoc although there was nothing about it, other than lower property prices, that made us wish we lived there rather than where we do.
Eventually we headed west and north through the Dordogne, that most English of French regions. But that’s for next week.