Sunday, April 21, 2013

Languedoc in the Spring

From a recent traveler to the South of France:
Carcassonne finally fell on my last afternoon. The rampart walks were green with spring grass and several shops and restaurants were still closed, resting before the summer invasion. If you stuck to the edges it was fun: the Château Comtal tour was a lesson in medieval defensive architecture – even if much of it was built in the 19th century – and the Basilica of St Nazaire rang with the sound of a choir.

It was worth visiting just for the relief of a battle in its south transept – so energetic that the medieval knights and their weapons almost exploded out of the stone – and a simple effigy of Simon de Montfort, ambitious 12th-century nobleman, scourge of the Cathars and father to the de Montfort who led an English rebellion against Henry III.

A path wound out of the Port d'Aude, past kitchen staff from the Hotel de la Cité having a fag break before popping back to work via a medieval turret, and led down to the basse ville, a grid of streets between the Aude and Canal du Midi. At the Café Felix on the main square, bavette et frites was the plat du jour and most of the diners were regulars, as they have been since it opened in 1945.

There were zinc bottle drawers behind the bar and on the wall an old photograph of Felix himself, in rugby kit – English rugby is a regional passion – squatting in a vineyard. Above him was a familiar skyline of turrets and towers, battlements and embrasures. Blacker, less perfect, a smile before extensive dental work, but unmistakably my old friend Carcassonne. (Read entire post.)

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