A Travellerspoint blog

Back to the Med! Languedoc inward bound: Carcassonne

After gorging our eyes and stomachs at the amazing Sète market, we still had a couple of stops to make on the way to Carcassonne. First up was Béziers, where I executed a parallel parking maneuver with the Iceberg so magnificent that I had to record it for posterity.

We climbed a steep hill in the old town to reach Cathédrale Saint Nazaire, where there were great views of the countryside on the other side of the river Orb.

We walked back across town to the wide boulevard Allées Paul Riquet, where we encountered a shellfish vendor, an ice cream cafe, and a carousel.

At the end of the boulevard was a beautiful park called Plateau Des Poètes. The kids were able to get their playground fix and there was a pond with birds to feed.

I regretfully abandoned my amazing parking spot and we drove on to Narbonne. My main motivation in visiting here was to get a look at the Canal du Midi. Before I began researching this trip, I never knew it was possible to travel from the Atlantic coast of France all the way to the Mediterranean thanks to this amazing feat of 17th century engineering. I had originally wanted to take a half day boat trip on the canal, but abandoned that plan as I added more cities to our itinerary. Narbonne is actually on the Canal de la Robine, a branch of the main waterway built in the 18th century. We had a very enjoyable walk along the bank, admiring the glassy surface of the water and the flat houseboats reminiscent of Regent's Canal in London. Set back slightly from the canal were tall plane trees and elegant Parisian-style town homes.

We walked back to the old town and hung out just long enough to see the outside of the Palais des Archevêques and the Narbonne Cathedral. I got a reasonable picture of the palace but I think it's impossible to photograph the cathedral from the ground without special lenses. There's a great photo of the beautiful and unique cathedral here

The obvious choice for dinner in Narbonne was Les Grands Buffets, which purportedly had a great selection of regional specialties and was universally lauded in guidebooks and review sites. We found the restaurant with some difficulty and unloaded everyone only to find out at the door that they were completely booked for the night. I had automatically assumed that a large capacity buffet restaurant wouldn't be a problem on a Wednesday night, but international travel is always full of surprises. We dejectedly returned to the Iceberg and had to scramble for a new dinner choice. Fortunately our replacement, L'Ecailler Gourmet, was quite a good seafood restaurant although the menu was a little too unimaginative to qualify for a place in our top ten. The presentation was great though.

It was quite late once we left the restaurant so even though Carcassonne was a straight shot on the main highway from Narbonne it was after ten when we arrived at La Ville Basse, the residential part of the city. There was no parking close by so we had the usual routine of unloading everything into the Airbnb followed by my lonely search for a legal parking spot. Our host had warned us about the downstairs neighbor so I took off my shoes to walk in the kitchen. I made the mistake of pushing a chair back from the dining table to sit down and was immediately greeted by a series of pounding thumps emanating from underneath the floorboards. Apparently the neighbor keeps her broom close at hand to welcome the Airbnb guests.

Thursday was a market day in Carcassonne, but the main square of La Ville Basse was strangely deserted. I resorted to Google again and discovered that it was Ascension Day, another national holiday that I had never even heard of. Hopefully this would be the last trip where I would be unaware of any of the national holidays of the country I was traveling in. The covered market was a ghost town as well, so we went directly to La Cité, the famous medieval citadel that everyone thinks of when they hear the name of Carcassonne. I had anticipated this stop even more eagerly than I had Aix and Èze, and just like those towns La Cité was unable to live up to those high expectations. The walled city looks like a fairytale castle from a distance, but up close it is an overdeveloped tourist attraction with endless cheap outlets for souvenirs and fluorescent frozen drinks. We did our best to find the few quiet corners that weren't commercialized but we were bored after an hour and left.

Posted by zzlangerhans 07:45 Archived in France Tagged carcassonne narbonne beziers

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