Sunday, October 11, 2015

South West of France

Pink Flamingoes of the Camargue

The medieval waals of Cite de Carcassone

From the Auvergne, we moved to the South West of France where we based ourselves in the city of Carcassonne. Carcassonne is an excellent place to base oneself for a roadtrip as it is about one hour from the foothills of the Pyrenees, an hour or two from the Mediterranean, a short hop to Toulouse, Montpellier, or Nimes, with an amazing amount of interest in itself.

On the ramparts, looking at the Gallo-Roman semi circular tower, second in this line.

Carcassonne is a hidden treasure, a city which I'd not heard about until reading Kate Mosse's novels which are based around the city. Like much of this trip we have tried to get a little off the beaten track and have been rewarded by experiencing some beautiful parts of France. Carcassonne is a city split in two by the river Aude. On one side is a medieval walled city surrounded by a twisting, sprawling town. On the other side is another old town, though much of the buildings are more like from the 1600-1800's. That's not to say that side of town isn't old, it just was pummelled at times, including once being razed to the ground with the inhabitants banned from rebuilding until an amnesty 7 years later. Times were indeed tough in the middle ages.

Carcassonne fortress towering over the river Aude

The "new town" has a history of its own

It is a joy to walk around the walled cite de Carcassonne. There are a fair share of souvenir shops within the walls, and cafe/restaurants but it is all in keeping with the environment. Just walking around the walls is a great experience. Although much of the walls were rebuilt in the 1800's, there are parts which are much older, going back to the Gallo-Roman period which roughly was between 250-450 AD. The cite is built on a hill which makes it an imposing fortress, but it also makes walks to it (and runs around it!) quite difficult. It is absolutely worth it though.

Layeerd hills in the Pyrenees

Towns and villages nestle into valleys in the Pyrenean foothills

We took two day trips from Carcassone, one to Ax-Les-Thermes in the Pyrenees, and another to the Camargue. Both were absolutely amazing for the scenery we saw, though the Camargue had the added benefit of being a wildlife reserve. Our trip to the Camargue started with a trip to the Mediterranean town of St Maries de la Mer where a yearly Romany pilgrimage occurs every May. From there, it was just drive around and stop and look at the flora and fauna of the region, including white horses, kingfishers, Heron's, the scrubby ground full of sea lavender and dotted with Tamarisk trees, and of course, the bright pink Flamingoes.
Sparkling Mediterranean

St Maries de la Mer

White horses of the Camargue

Still waters over the Camargue marshes

Camargue sunset

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