Le Grand Tour
09.01.2012 - 11.01.2012 10 °C
On leaving Marseille, we decided to follow the sea as far as we could on our way to Cassis which is a favourably described Mediterranean resort town. We drove through some pretty ocean scenery before going over a spectacular mountain range that is obviously a fairly popular (and strenuous) cycling route.
Cassis lived up to its reputation and we took a boat trip out to view the Calanques which are a series of small protected inlets a little way along the coast. After spending a little bit of time facing the sun in one of the quay-side café bars, we decided to walk as far into the Calanques as time would allow. Following a picnic on a cliff top and some detouring down various paths, we set off on the 344km drive to Carcassonne in Languedoc where I had ambitiously booked a couple of nights accommodation. Although I took the "tolls" option on the GPS and maintained the 130-140 km/hr standard motorway speed, it was pretty dark for about the last hour of the trip, making it a fairly non-scenic experience.
Carcassonne consists of an old Cité enclosed completely within a castle as well as the Ville Basse outside of the walls. The hotel was inside the walls and the GPS voice got into an argument with itself trying to tell me how to get into it. After an unscheduled nighttime drive into a vineyard, we found a sign that said Hotel Client Parking and parked just outside the castle. We couldn't quite make out how to get inside so only took some of the luggage. Winter is very quiet in these places and we felt like we were the only people there clattering around through the gates and along the cobbled streets until we found the hotel. Owing to the quietness of the season, the hotel upgraded us to a superior room which was a nice surprise.
Following check-in, I thought a reasonable thing to do would be to suggest that Sonia relax in the room for a time while I go to the car and retrieve the remaining larger suitcase. The castle is basically an oblong-circular area with a limited number of exit points and I thought that this should be a fairly straight-forward exercise. After spending some time roaming around in the moat areas and gazing hopefully into the dark through the arrow slots in the outer wall, I started to think that the entire car park must have only existed in my imagination. I did, however, finally find a path to stumble down but then discovered that I had found the start of the Ville Basse instead of the car park. Thinking "it must be here somewhere", I wandered around down there for a while before deciding that the sensible thing to do would be to retrace my steps back up into the "lices" or moat areas. It was dark, absolutely nobody was around and when a rat ran across my path, I started to imagine that I had been trapped in some sort of medieval role-paying activity. I found another downward path but it kept getting narrower so I climbed back up to the lices again. The weather was pretty cold but I certainly wasn't by the time I eventually circled most of the castle's inner and outer walls to find the car and lug the suitcase back up through the stairs and gatehouses. When I finally staggered in, I was too exhausted to explain my adventure to Sonia so quickly got changed for dinner and immediately ordered a bottle of red wine.
Carcassonne is obviously very busy in the summer months but we spent a very non-crowded time in the Cité and down in the Ville Basse area. It seemed weird being one of about five people going past the two ticket booths and long queuing barriers straight into the Chateau and so forth but it made for a very relaxing visit and although the winds were a bit cold, the sun was shining and the winter colours were very pretty. Very few of the places inside the castle were open so we dined at the hotel restaurant both nights but the food and service were both very good. I sampled the famous Languedoc dish called Cassoulet which was nice although it contained enough protein and fat to sustain a small nation.