After a very early morning flight from Edinburgh we arrived at the tiny airport in Carcassonne at 10am, picked up the hire car and stopped off at the Geant Supermarche for supplies. It was a mere 5 minute drive to the holiday house in Lavalette. It was delightfully French with green shutters, a rear balcony and stunning views of vineyards on hills. We had a lazy day lounging around the house and reading outside in the warm sun before fetching a takeaway pizza in the evening from a small pizzeria in the village.
The next day we visited the restored Medieval City of Carcassonne, “La Cite”, which was surrounded by huge battlements, topped with fairy-tale turrets. The quaint cobbled streets had many outdoor cafes and small, touristy shops that sold hand-made soaps and rustic biscuits. We went on a tour of the castle with a French guide where I got the gist of the history using my rusty and basic knowledge of French. We all had delicious crepes for lunch then wandered into the magnificent cathedral. I spent the rest of the day reading “Labyrinth” by Kate Mosse and I could vividly imagine the Cathars and their prolonged siege of the old city.
We visited Lac deCavayere which is a freshwater lake and reservoir used a watersports centre at the height of summer. It was bright and sunny but the air was cool so we did not venture into the water for a swim. We enjoyed a simple picnic lunch of French bread, pate and cheese then drove to Limoux where we had coffee in a market square. It was a very old town with narrow streets and most of the houses had shutters that needed a fresh coat of paint.
On Friday we drove on some very twisty roads to visit the caves at Grottes de Limousis. These 3 million year old caverns contained impressive stalactites and stalagmites. The temperature all year round remains at a constant 14 degrees so they are ideal for storing wine. We had a charming lunch in a cafe at Caunes, ordering medium-done steaks that were almost still alive 😉
Saturday was market day in Carcassonne so we tasted all sorts of fresh produce including fromage, pain et saucisse. We even sampled snails but although they tasted quite like mussels, they really did look like slugs. We picked up a couple of old-fashioned aluminium stove-top cafetieres cheaply so we bought one to take home and one that we can leave at the house in Lavalette.
I was sorry to finish “Labyrinth” which had been absolutely gripping and Frey was annoyed that she had speedily re-read the Harry Potter books that she had taken with her so we decided to explore Montolieu, a small town with 16 bookshops. It was a delightful village with tiny streets and alleyways. One bookshop had a marvellous bespoke staircase and many wonderful books, all of which were written in French.
We returned to La Cite to have another outdoor lunch in one of the main squares. The service was leisurely which gave us plenty of time to watch everyone coming and going. Although it was sunny, it was rather cool sitting outside. Inside the cafe the decor was authentically medieval. I ordered a Toulouse sausage but I have to say that it was not as good as the ones my Dad used to buy from Soho in London years ago.
It was market day in Mirepoix on Monday and we wandered around yet another beautiful medieval town. There was fantastic artisan produce, a hippy clothing stall and several eclectic shops. Our lunch was a disappointing salad and I was disappointed that I still had not found any French fabric shops. I did wish that I could take home some of the pottery bowls and casserole dishes but they would be too heavy for our limited luggage allowance. I decided that I would like to buy some French notebooks with the graph paper – there is something particularly pleasing about French stationery shops!
It was a cloudy day when we made our trip towards Narbonne on the coast. Some of the towns on the way were quite scruffy. We had decided to visit the indoor swimming pool as it had slides but my husband was banned from the pool for not wearing skimpy speedos like a French monsieur. We wandered around the old Roman area of Narbonne but failed to find the patchwork shop since I managed to leave the map in the car.
On the way back to Lavalette we drove through Salles d’Aude which the guide book described as a picturesque arts and crafts village on the Canal du Midi. It may be bustling in summer but we were obviously visiting well out of season as everything was shuttered up; we didn’t even manage to find anywhere that was open for lunch. We watched a boat pass through one of the canal locks before finding a small supermarket so we could have a picnic in the car.
On our last day it was raining. We drove through Limoux to Quillan on the Aude river which was a town well known as a popular place for canoeists. It had a quaint square and a very small produce market. The friendly cafe was run by an Australian couple and most people seemed to be retired Brits. I eventually found a “mercerie” but it had a limited amount of patchwork fabric and sadly, nothing French or Provencal. We had coffee in a pottery studio and I picked up a few clay buttons that may be useful on a project.
We shut the holiday house up and packed our bags – the suitcases were considerably heavier with the addition of a couple of bottles of wine, saucisse seche, olives and soap. I still had not managed to persuade the family to visit a vin cave for a “degustation” so I think we will have to plan a return visit as we enjoyed ourselves so much in the Languedoc-Roussillon Region of France.