A week in the south of France

This is the last week of our European vacation. We have enjoyed most excellent adventures along the way, in London, Paris and le beautiful Périgord. We shared special times with old friends and relatives, while sightseeing and re-discovering favorite places in la Belle France. We have more to see in the south of France, as we get closer to Spain, our final destination.

After spending a few days in the Dordogne valley, we left Sarlat and the big castles, and drove to the Vézère valley, a different section of the Périgord. This is what I woke up to in the morning as we were staying at our beautiful auberge in the tiny village of Castel Merle. Picture birds chirping in the background, and a gentle breeze rustling the trees. So relaxing. A little piece of Heaven.

On Wednesday, we drove south to the coast on a major autoroute (toll road) past my hometown, Toulouse, and we reached Carcassonne, Europe’s most famous fortified town dating back to Gallo-Roman times.

The citadel, that stands in the upper Cité (city), is listed as a Unesco World Heritage site. It is an impressive place, mostly because it has been so well preserved over the centuries. Still, it felt a bit strange to be in such a touristy, crowded place after enjoying the peaceful Vézère valley in le Périgord just two days earlier.

The first thing you notice when you arrive is the gigantic fortress towering over the city. You would think we would act blasés about seeing yet another medieval châteaubut nothing can prepare you for the sheer size of Carcassonne (massive walls, a castle, fifty-two towers, an impenetrable maze of streets with restaurants, tourist shops, old houses and a few elegant hotels.)

Carcassonne: Even more impressive at night
Carcassonne: the ramparts
Our hotel was right outside the fortified town

The Cité de Carcassonne was too busy to enjoy, but I am glad I persevered, as I found the most unusual museum inside the old city’s walls. I was very excited about my discovery. Let me just say the museum was about school. You can read about it here.

Later that night, we had dinner in a themed medieval restaurant where we had to eat messy dishes with no forks or plates (they did not exist in the Middle Ages, you see. Neither did soda, or French fries.) I ordered cassoulet, a local stew made with beans, and a selection of salty meats like sausage and duck confit. Have you already tried deboning a duck leg with a spoon and a knife? Difficile, and messy, I assure you.

Cassoulet du Sud-Ouest (mine came without cutlery)

After a long walk in the deserted streets, I decided I liked Carcassonne a lot better at night.

The following morning, we woke up très excited at the prospect of reaching our final stop in France, the seaside village of Collioure, located in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, bordered by the Mediterranean sea. The Coast, enfin! Collioure (between Perpignan and Port Vendres on the map above) is the perfect place to get in the mood for Spain, a mere 15 miles away, and our final stop on this trip.

Ah, Collioure. The south of France. A magical place. Is it the pastel-colored houses around the village, the pebbled beaches, the Mediterranean climate, the seductive mix of French and Catalan origins? For over 2,500 years, visitors (or invaders) have come, fought for or fallen in love with this lovely town and its strategically located harbor.

Collioure and Notre Dame des Anges (Lady of the Angels) church
The bell tower helped sailors return safely at night

Collioure: the 800-year old royal castle

 

French and Catalan flags to celebrate le 14 juillet (Bastille Day)
How I wish I could bring one of these olive trees back with me…

Collioure’s light, colors and dreamy waterfront sights have always inspired artists. Matisse and Derain, among others, stayed there in 1905.  Fauvism, the short-lived but influential art movement, was born. Reproductions of paintings by les Fauves can be found on walls all over town (while the originals are in museums across Europe.)

Collioure harbor, Derain (Circa 1905)
Collioure’s roofs, Matisse

Today, art galleries and small artist studios are tucked away in the colorful streets. Even street names (written in French, or in Spanish) give visitors something to look at.

“The Painter’s Hut”

 

My favorite seat in Collioure…

It would have been lovely to spend another day in Collioure, but relatives were waiting for us in Spain.

It is a lot easier to cross the Spanish border these days!

My family originated in the Mediterranean region, and my parents have spent most of their summers in Spain as far as I can remember. Thirty-five years ago, they invested in a small apartment on Spain’s Costa Brava, in a small resort town, L’Escala. It is a modest place, but my favorite feature is the large terrace where we enjoy dinners alfresco, while gazing at the Mediterranean sea in the distance. Junior could not w.a.i.t. to get there to catch up with his older cousin.

Calla Montgo (Montgo cove) – view from our hotel room

We have been here a few days and have made the most of local activities. Le Brother (who flew down from Paris for the weekend,) has taken the boys on pedal boats, jet skis, and there has been some talk about renting a small Hobie Cat on Monday. Yesterday, Le Brother (a certified diving instructor) took Junior on his very first scuba dive. He knows the best diving schools in the area, and we received special treatment from Spanish friends of his.

Georges (my little brother,) our intrepid diving instructor
Junior is getting ready…

We still have a few days here before we drive to Barcelona where our flight will be waiting. The weather is magnificent, in the low 80s, and we enjoy every minute of it. Who knows what we will find when we land in Seattle at the end of next week?

A bientôt.

Deux cousins en Europe

Dear readers:

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What did you think about this article? Let me know in the comment section below, (I love reading your messages and reply to most.) Don’t be selfish and share with a friend! Merci. Véronique (French Girl in Seattle)

23 Comments

  • v-JUST BEAUTIFUL…the whole post…but the real question i have is how did jr. like the dive? love that adventurous spirit of his…did le hubby dive too? love the fact your bro. is certified…so exciting… the world under the water!!!enjoy the rest of the time spent with family…making memories for your son to keep the rest of his life…nothing else like it in the world!!-g

  • Bonjour g. Yes, both le Husband and Junior had a great time during their first dive. La Costa Brava attracts divers from all over. Beautiful rugged coast, and clear, warm water. My brother said he will take him down there again when we return next year. Thanks for staying with us on this trip and posting comments– as a blogger friend puts it: “Comments are icing on the blogger’s cake” 😉 V.

  • It was very funny, and I can confirm that “junior” love scuba diving.
    30seconds after the beginning of the “baptême”, we went into a “cave” to see the “big blue”!
    The area “estartit and the medes islands” are very known in Europe. it is a “nature reserve” and you can only dive an take pictures. So, the bio diversity is exceptionnal!!!
    For american people, the diving club recognize all the pady levels and speak all languages…
    the “tonton”

  • Wow you made me feel home sick. The paella photo hurt my feelings.=) *sigh* nice post! I still have to make it out to Collioure one of these days. Looks super charming.

  • What a fantastic trip! 🙂 I love all these photos. I had never seen a city with a fortress around it before. That is really cool!

    The culture, the arts, and the food all sound (and look) amazing. My mouth is watering just looking at the photo above. Lol.

    The scuba diving looks like so much fun!

  • Chérie– Je vous en prie. Je me suis bien amusée avec le travelogue moi aussi. Nous rentrons vendredi cette semaine. A bientot!
    Jennifer Fabulous– Thank you for stopping by and coming on this trip with us. Now you have to organize a visit to France (and Europe) soon. Looking at your blog, I know you would love it. 😉

  • It was so lovely for you to stop by my blog. Merci!
    I loved looking through yours today and will definitely be back for more adventure. I have just returned from a 7 week trip to Europe, 5 spent in France ( 2 Paris) and 2 send in Spain. I loved it all!
    France always has my heart but I found it easy to fall in love with Spain.
    On my journey i couldnt up load photos so my blog was in limbo but am back with a vengence.
    It is so nice to meet fellow travellers.
    -Suzi

  • My pleasure, Suzi. 7 weeks is a long time to be away from home. We have been gone for almost 4 and I can’t wait to see our furry children (the pets!) and our friends, but like you, will miss Europe a lot. Dieu merci, we, bloggers, get to re-live our trips through the stories we write when we get back 😉 V.

  • I just found your blog and look forward to exploring it more fully.
    Your European holiday sounds wonderful and your description of your visits and photographs are excellent!

  • How sad you must be to be back home (commenting on July 15th). I hope you will keep on posting more photos of your wonderful trip to Europe.

  • Merci Nadege. We are home now, back in Seattle with rainy weather greeting us. I will be writing more stories in the next few days. It will help to look at pictures of the gorgeous Mediterranean summer we enjoyed for a few weeks! V.

  • I really enjoyed your two last posts showing many areas I did not know. Even though I was born in Ales I have not visited the Dordogne towns which are not too far – we always say we will go but somehow we have not yet. Your pictures were lovely and the food looked so yummy.

  • I’m glad to see that your adventures are so fruitful. You give me the opportunity to visit the places that you’ve been to. The metal armor must have been rather hot to touch.

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