We have entered the last week of our European vacation. We have enjoyed most excellent adventures along the way, in London, Paris, and le beautiful Périgord. Le Husband, Junior and I shared special times with old friends and relatives, while sightseeing and re-discovering favorite places in la Belle France.
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. When we come home, I am planning to write a story about special places we found along the way, and l'Auberge de Castel Merle will definitely get a nod.
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 we noticed when we arrived was the gigantic fortress towering over the city. You would think we would be blasés about seeing yet another medieval château, but 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 even a few [privileged] hotels)
Carcassonne: Even more impressive at night!
Carcassonne: the ramparts
Our hotel was right outside the fortified town
The place was too busy to enjoy fully so Les Boys went back to the hotel after an hour to relax a bit. I am glad I stayed behind as I found the most unusual museum inside the old city's walls. I was very excited about my discovery but I will save it for another story if you don't mind. Let me just say the museum was about... school.
Later that night, we had dinner in a medieval restaurant where we had to eat fairly messy dishes with no forks or plates (they did not exist in the Middle Ages, you see. Neither did soda, or French fries.) Le Husband and 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
I don't know what kind of medieval potion we ordered, but when we left the place, Le Husband decided to pick a fight with a knight who was standing guard outside the restaurant.
Then we all went on a long walk in the deserted streets and decided we liked Carcassonne a lot better at night.
The following morning, the three of us 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. 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
A stroll in Collioure: French or Spanish? Definitely Mediterranean!
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 lovely setting 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"
It's been hard on Le Husband to be boat-less on the Mediterranean. Our sailboat, Mistral, (his most treasured possession) is waiting for us at home in Seattle. You should have seen him looking longingly at sailboats, bobbing in Collioure bay... Très triste...
He and Junior found a way of getting out there by signing up for a tour. It was not quite sailing, but it was something, wasn't it?
Happy husband and son back on the water...
Off they go...
Moi? I picked a first row seat at the best café right on the beach...
It would have been lovely to spend another day in Collioure, but my 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 summer vacation 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, Théo. While the boys stay with my parents, Le Husband and I picked a hotel in a small cove a short distance away. There is a pool, of course, so the boys can play in the afternoon, but the big draw is the beach, and the waterfront restaurants and bars that remain open until late at night. With dinner starting after 9:00pm, nightlife is an important part of a Spanish vacation.
|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 Husband and Le Brother (who flew down from Paris for the weekend,) have taken the boys on pedal boats, jet skis, and there has been some talking 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...|
|Junior jumps in while Le Husband looks on...|
|The whole crew after the dive|
We still have a few days here before we drive to Barcelona where our flight will be waiting. The weather is absolutely gorgeous, in the lower 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?
This has been a long, and eventful vacation. I have struggled with erratic Wifi connections to post some stories and pictures, and I will be looking forward to sharing more material once in Seattle. Thank you for coming along and for all your messages. Have a wonderful July!
|Long live Europe!|