3 enchanting places to visit in Occitanie…

You may well be thinking ‘why only three?’ In fact, I could be easily writing about thirty three enchanting places to visit in Occitanie, if not many, many more. But I’ve decided on three because our eldest son and his girlfriend came to stay for a few days, recently, and these were places we visited with them.

First some history! Occitanie, the administrative region, was created on 1st January 2016 from the former regions of Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées.

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Graphic from Pinterest

This large area has it all – varied landscapes, fascinating architecture, interesting culture, stunning sights and of course, sunshine!  Festivals, markets, gastronomic delights…shall I go on? In that case: the Pyrénées, the Canal du Midi, Mediterranean beaches… I’m beginning to sound like a walking tourist board but I’m obviously biased because this is the area we chose to buy our house!

The first must see place is Toulouse. We have visited several times and I only wish I had got to know Toulouse sooner. It really is the most fantastic city and is often referred to as ‘La Ville Rose’ (The Pink City) because of the colour of the bricks that are used in many of the buildings.

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I would certainly recommend Toulouse for a long weekend or a city break. Whatever your tastes, there is something for everybody: retail therapy, culture, history, art, cafés and so much more. I love walking and there are several self guided walks one can enjoy around the city. All you need is a good map (available from the tourist office) or leaflet. The leaflet we used last year cost about 1 Euro with a choice of five varied walks. We managed three of them; one focused on the historic centre of Toulouse, another took us to the green areas of Toulouse, including a section of the Canal du Midi, as well as several beautiful public gardens and, last but not least, possibly my favourite, along the banks of the Garonne, from one side to the other.

More on Toulouse in the future.

My second enchanting place to visit, in Occitanie, is Carcassonne. In particular, la Cité. We first visited a few years ago, in August. Big mistake! It was unbelievably hot within the city walls and unbelievably crowded.

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However, when we visited with our son and his girlfriend everything was perfect! The first view of the citadel is breath taking. It resembles a fairy tale castle and it is rumoured that it was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.  In reality, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage in 1997.

There has been a settlement where the Cité now stands since before Roman times and it has certainly suffered through the ages. It has been besieged, burnt and neglected. Although you wouldn’t think so when you see it now. This is because it was restored by Viollet-le-Duc in the nineteenth century. Some people are of the opinion that he ‘over restored’ the citadel, as several of the features he included, such as the pointed roofs on the towers and arrow-slits would not have been there originally. You will have to visit and decide for yourself!

In the meantime, do have a look at this video which was put together by Crème de Languedoc

My third enchanting place is possibly overusing the adjective ‘enchanting’ but I still feel the need to include it – Castelnaudary! My son and his girlfriend had no choice but to visit this small town because this is where we have our home. Obviously I am biased but it was standing looking at the views over the Canal du Midi, towards the port, that really enchanted me in the first place.

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Have you ever visited this part of France or any of these places? If you had to name three enchanting places that you have ever visited, anywhere in the world, which would they be? I’d love to know!

A flying visit…

We returned to the UK in November and hadn’t really intended to visit our house, in France, until March. However, the pull was too strong! We wanted to see how our second home had survived the winter and we’d also  received a message from Manu, who was looking after our house, about a mysterious crack that had appeared in an external wall.

We arrived in Toulouse to beautiful blue skies.

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And, once we’d reassured ourselves that the house was still standing, we hot footed it along the canal towpath, into Castelnaudary.

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The ‘Grand Bassin’ of the Canal du Midi looked particularly striking, on a cold, crisp, January day.

When we’re in France, food is never far from our minds, and having had a 5.00 a.m. start, we were feeling father peckish, to say the least. Our timing wasn’t great, as we arrived at our favourite café, at one minute to two; with the  lunchtime service usually  finishing at two. However, Madame took pity on us and sent one one of the waiters to the nearest boulangerie for a fresh baguette.

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Never had a freshly made cheese and ham sandwich tasted so good! Especially when washed down by two beers.

I have enjoyed watching the Canal du Midi change according to the season. In January it was fascinating to see all the boats that have come into the port at Castelnaudary and moor for the winter.

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Including those that are rented out in the summer for holidays on the Canal du Midi.

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No trip would be complete without dinner at our local and favourite restaurant: Le Clos Fleurie. It was good to be back! Every course was delicious but I particularly enjoyed the café gourmand… Are you a fan?

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The final highlight of our visit was lighting the open fire for the first time. Manu had organised a chimney sweep for us during our absence and it was wonderful to relax in our lounge in front of this:

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Although our visit was only brief, it was brilliant to experience another aspect of our home in Castelnaudary. Above all, it was fantastic to bump into people we knew, as we walked around the town. Having a sense of community is so important and we’re already looking forward to a longer stay in March.

And now for something completely different…

Although we now have a house we don’t have any beds! As a result, we have been staying in a local hotel. However, there was one night when the hotel was unable to accommodate us and so we succumbed to the charms of a night on water. The ultimate way to experience the Canal du Midi.

Our Dutch barge was called ‘Péniche Kapadokya’ and is owned by a delightful couple of professional photographers, Patrick and Mado. They live on the barge with their son and dachshund.

On arrival, we were welcomed with an apéro which we took on deck; a wonderful opportunity to watch the boats navigate the nearby lock.

Our cabin, although bijou, was beautifully decorated and had everything one could need, including a full size shower. The bed was extremely comfortable and we slept like logs!

If you ever have the opportunity to spend a night on this part of the Canal du Midi, I can thoroughly recommend the Péniche Kapadokya.

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Evening view of the barge

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Our delightful hosts

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Péniche Kapadokya

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Breakfast on deck

Well, we’ve only gone and done it!

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Bought a house in France. Should I change the name of this blog, I wonder? Should FancyingFrance become LivingthedreamFrance? I’ve no idea! Any suggestions welcome.

Our house is in SW France, in Castelnaudary , in between Toulouse and Carcassone. If we stand in the front garden we can see the Pyrénées on the horizon and if we walk out of our back garden gate, we are on the towpath alongside the Canal du Midi. More details to follow!

Having a home here is somewhat bitter sweet as my dream has been financed by an inheritance. Enough said…

Anyway, I’m having moments of sheer joy, followed by others of feeling overwhelmed with everything we have to do and, equally, appreciating so much what we have. Watch this space!

Do you speak estate agent…?

 

These are photos of the exterior and interior of the estate agent ( realtor) we have been using, in France. We had a personal recommendation and I think we have been very fortunate to meet someone who is the opposite of a stereotypical estate agent. The lady in question is funny, charming and has gone out of her way to follow our brief. The cynical, amongst you, are probably thinking – well, it’s her job – and yes, of course it is! Nevertheless, we are delighted with the seven houses she has shown us so far.

Here are a few sample photos but they don’t really do justice to the amazing homes we have seen…

What has been very interesting to me, from a linguistic point of view, is some of the house buying vocabulary: une atmosphère cosy, style loft industriel, fosse septique, en cathédrale.

And what is it about mezzanines? I have never come across so many houses with a mezzanine level, no matter the age or style of the house!

Floor plans – what floor plans?? I’m used to house details with floor plans included. No such thing over here.

Anyway, it’s all very exciting and slightly terrifying! Watch this space….

 

 

A month…in France!

Well, here we are back in Languedoc Rousillon or ‘Languedoc-Roussillon-Midi-Pyrénées’ as it has been known since January 2016.  Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it? This is the provisional name for the combined regions of Languedoc Roussillon and Midi Pyrénées; no surprises there. The definitive name for this area will be decided in October this year.

We are staying in an Airbnb house, sampling the lifestyle and viewing some properties  that are for sale. Watch this space…

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The owners of our temporary home, very kindly, greeted us with a bottle of Limoux, a local sparkling white wine. They also gave us a bottle of ‘syrop de violette’, so that we can make a ”Kir Royal  toulousain’. Now, I love a kir whether it be made with blackcurrant, blackberry or peach liqueur but I’m afraid the violet one didn’t work for me, at all. Although, I must say, it looked very pretty in the glass!

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We couldn’t let our first day end without a visit to a pâtisserie! Here’s what we bought:

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To Toulouse…and back!

Having just returned from getting my ‘France fix’, I am very happy – understatement!

My week (with MFF) started in Toulouse, continued with two stays alongside the Canal du Midi, and ended back where we started. This gave us the opportunity to discover, what we now know, is the wonderful city of Toulouse.

This was our first holiday, without our sons, for over twenty three years!

Having collected a hire car, at the airport, we headed for our first destination; Castelnaudary which is an important port on the Canal du Midi. Although we know the ‘other end’ of the Canal du Midi, this is our first visit to this part. I was particularly delighted because our hotel room overlooked the Canal – my idea of heaven!

View from our hotel

View from our hotel

We walked miles and miles during our stay in Castelnaudary! The section of the town around the Grand Bassin – the old ‘canal port’ – is visually the most impressive part of Castelnaudary, although the rest of this lovely town is also well worth exploring. The port has been awarded the ‘pavillon bleu’ (the ‘blue flag’ award, this is more commonly associated with beaches than inland harbours).IMG_0870

The centre of the old town is around the Place de Verdun, a leafy square surrounded by shops and cafés. The square and surrounding streets also contain some interesting and decorative 18th – 19th century grand townhouses. In recent times, I’ve taken to looking up as I walk around. There is so much fascinating architecture and detail to be seen. A word of warning, however, this can be lethal, as the French appear to be blinkered when it comes to clearing up after their dogs!IMG_0901

Castelnaudary also claims to be the town from which Cassoulet originated, therefore we couldn’t miss the opportunity to sample this dish, in a local restaurant!  More of which in the next post…

Has anyone reading this ever visited Castelnaudary? I’d love to know!