Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Canicule at Carcassonne

Our long-planned break at Carcassonne coincided with the recent heat wave. (French for heatwave: la canicule)   However, it was less severe in Carcassonne than elsewhere in France, reaching only about 33 degrees, and was alleviated by a stiff breeze.  So although it was hot, it wasn't unpleasant as long as you weren't doing anything too physical.

Carcassonne is a medieval fortress town that was falling into disrepair, its stones being carried off, under government permit, to be used on buildings elsewhere.  This was halted by the enthusiasm of a Mr Mérimée, starting around 1830, and the town was restored over the following decades until it was finished about 1913.  Although some of the styles used for the restoration were controversial at the time, the site won UESCO World Heritage Site status in 1997.  In any case, it is now a major tourist attraction, its narrow streets lined with gifty shops, artisanal food and wine emporia, fashion boutiques, fine (and not-so-fine) restaurants and so on.   The atmosphere is similar to Mont St Michel, without the religion.

Although the tourist offices quote opening times, these apply only to the closed, chargeable areas, that is, the old keep and the chateau building itself.  All the rest of the city you can enter at will and at no charge.  It's an excellent place for chilling out with a coffee in the morning or a beer in the evening.

And I'm sure it's quite a money-spinner for the local town.  They must get plenty of fees from the many businesses there, and the car parks are seriously expensive by French standards.  It's best to find free parking a short way away and walk there if you can, but under the heatwave we decided to take the heat in the form of the parking fees rather than the temperature.

The nearby car parks are free after 8PM, so the restaurants fill up into the evening with locals as well as tourists.

The lady in the artisanal nougat shop (above, right) was keen to improve her English, and pounced on us as we sampled her nougat.

 - "How do you say "Do you like" without saying "Do you like"?"
 - "How about "What do you think?"
 - "What does that mean?"
 - "Qu'en pensez-vous?"
 - "Ok... What do you sink?"
 - "That'll do"

We bought some of her nougat for ourselves, and some for our friends who were doing a wonderful job watering our garden while we were away.


CherryPie said...

I really enjoyed my stay in Carcassonne. We visited just outside the main tourist season so it had atmosphere without being too busy :-)

Mark In Mayenne said...

We just scraped in before the July season starts. Although there were many tourists from outside of France, the place wasn't crowded. The shopkeepers I spoke to expected the rush to start on the Monday we departed.

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