*a person who enjoys himself or herself - Collins English Dictionary
Saint-Antonin > Carcassonne > Collioure
Yes, we did eventually visit Carcassonne - spent a whole day there and, yes, we did enjoy it. Even though there might have been shades of Disney, as per taunts from mates, displaying only a light shade of green.
Living with our Camper
I'll get to Carcassonne in a bit but first a taste of our early experiences of three adults in a "4-berther". It had seemed appropriate on the first night that Shan and I shared the master suite while Kinks had exclusive use of the penthouse. This initial experience had demonstrated that the upper level had a wider flat surface than the "master suite", which shared much of its surface area with a surprisingly ample kitchenette. I think we got through two nights in the original configuration. Two factors on the second night prompted a rethink. The first was that the electrically reclining rear seats were in four sections - two seat backs and two squabs - none of which aligned on a common plane after the electronic wizardry had taken place. The second was that we had our only night in a municipal campsite at stop #2. We'll just say that the ablution facilities were less than welcoming. This would not have been a huge problem in its own right had they not been situated a LONG WAY from the parking. Observant readers might spot the telltale signs in one of the photos below (Kinks, being a veteran camper had also managed to coach her sister).
Above (Clockwise from top left): We beat a hasty retreat after a rapid cleanup; so hasty perhaps that we incurred our first speeding offence (a little more about speeding in France in the text below); Kinks and Shan shared the penthouse for the remainder of the trip; I managed to find a sequence of furrows in the lowered daytime seating.
Speeding in France - don't do it!
There was a time when the term laissez-faire seemed to have been invented for speed-limit observation in France. In recent years of visiting this wonderful country it had occurred to us that French drivers had become significantly more law-abiding.
In the past decade we had driven in France on many occasions in our cumbersome 7.2 m motorhome in which speeding wasn't really an option. Even on the trip down to Charente in our VW EV we had been protected by the car driving itself and obeying all speed limits without our even being aware of it doing so.
Now I don't wilfully speed (not anymore anyway) but our unfamiliarly sporty Mercedes camper was rarin' to go. I'm sure it had more than adequate cruise control but, in our short tenure with the vehicle, trying to decipher its finer intricacies were beyond us and our command of German.
My command of German had an instant shot in the arm when, after our return to the UK, Indie Campers helpfully passed a wadge of fines on to us at a price of €25 a pop. Indie's French operation had rented us a van registered in Germany. The fee for grassing us up at our UK address obviously didn't include translating the correspondence from German. The original French would've been preferable. Our French is/was better than our German.
Thankfully M. Google came up trumps and I had admitted guilt and paid the fines before the polite communications in English (example in pics above) arrived at our home address. At 55% of the cost of each actual fine, I'm not sure Indie added much value on that one!
Fingers crossed we didn't speed again on that particular journey (from Saint-Antonin - Carcassonne). It's potentially difficult to tell but I'm pretty sure that the actual "Ticketing Officer 442912" was most likely an Automatic Number Plate Recognition camera and therefore pretty instantaneous. Fair dos: speed does kill and I should'a been more vigilant.
Carcassonne (and camping there)
We had found the dream campsite for Carcassonne - walkable to the historical Medieval City - and we found the entrance easily enough. Checking in was all high-tech, not a person in sight, and we were allocated a parking bay number and ushered through. It was only when we had painstakingly reversed on to our site that it began to occur to us that there were no services whatsoever. You got a parking place and that was it. We didn't even have an onboard loo (which we had had in our dearly departed motorhome (a.k.a. "Campy").
My dear wife was in a tizz because she had navigated us there. An easy mistake that anyone could have made as it turns out. A quick reference to Google showed that the site we had booked was literally next door. We managed to get out of the glorified car park and presented ourselves next door to Camping de la Cité where there was an actual person on reception. I determined to cast myself as a friendly, reasonable ignoramus who had made a stupid mistake. Threw myself at her mercy. It was the correct thing to do. Not only did she reassure me that very little harm had been done but also assured me that she would be able to deduct the (not insubstantial) fee that "next-door" had charged us from our new home.
Boy was Shan relieved.
The new home was a little private plot of grass surrounded by hedges, with all the normal services, and in close proximity to the sanitary facilities. Result. We finally chilled out drinking wine and checking out the old city in the distance through the trees
Off to Disneyland ???
It was a decent mile's hike from Camping de la Cité to the Cité Médiéval but a pleasant one, some of it along the River Aude, while the grandeur on the mount gradually revealed itself in increasing detail.
Above: Carcassonne is an excellent example of a medieval fortified city whose massive defences were constructed on walls dating from Late Antiquity. It is of exceptional importance by virtue of the restoration work carried out in the second half of the 19th century by Viollet-le-Duc, which had a profound influence on subsequent developments in conservation principles and practice.
I am not proposing to go into a detailed discourse on our day at Carcassonne as it has attracted many academic tomes, evidently being the largest medieval fortified city in Europe, has been adopted by Unesco and was restored by the same bloke who did up the Notre Dame in Paris. Links to some descriptions are provided. Of course the fact that M Viollet-le-Duc had masterminded the renovations of both the Notre-Dame in Paris and Carcassonne's Cité did give us some cause for a little polite mirth. Book now for yiz Double Disney Date, doubters - we'll throw in a free Carcassonne game.
Nuff said. Our personal narrative will be mostly left to a picture story with photos taken by Shan and me ...
Above: The scale and magnificence of it all - (clockwise from top left) the grand entrance; the outside walls; a side entrance; the inner château partially built into the Cité ramparts reached by its own bridge from the rest of the town, itself within the outer walls.
Above; and yes there is some tat, thankfully mostly crowded around the entrance ... could it be there for the intrepid bucket-listers?
Above: there is more upmarket stuff, mostly clustered around the hotel
Above: In the midst of it all, the colour red kept popping up - on a visitor doing much the same things as we were - and highlighting a towel and the fact that people actually live there.
Above: There is the grand Basilique des Saints Nazaire et Celse, with its towering elegance and gorgeous stained glass windows.
Above: and then there is the city within the city with its gazillion breathtaking views ... here is just a sample because one really needs to go there for oneself. It is difficult to describe the overall experience without actually experiencing it ... even the first photograph in these seven (chosen at random) shows the attention to light and detail, continued in the more modern additions.
The penultimate picture in the sequence above (i.e. the one of people strolling along the open ramparts) reminded us of the game that many of the visitors in our group seemed to be playing. We were absolutely complicit in this having been encouraged to part with our money for the last tour of the day of the château and ramparts. It had taken a while to process our payments before being held up at the entrance by the guide for the session. It seemed he wanted us to move off in a bunch but then provided very little actual information or guidance.
So about 20-30 of us moseyed off at our own pace, which was absolutely fine until our "guide" kept popping up to chivvy us along.
Seems we were overstaying our welcome. A member of staff had ordered us out of the château and on to the ramparts. From that moment on our "guide" started locking doors behind us as we went along. The three of us weren't the only ones who were mildly irritated, so that many of our tacit co-conspirators started to hover to look at things and where possible, doubled back into the odd turret when we thought we'd missed something. Las chicas even paused for the pair of the "tat" photos further back. Childish, I know, but he was being pretty officious, popping up sporadically and hectoring us to move along whilst adding no value whatsoever.
C'est la vie. It was a fab tour enjoyed by many and endured by one. We hoped he hadn't missed his tea.
Disney or not Disney
What do you think Kinks, is it Disney? I don't know Shan, is it Disney? These walls are very thick, we can sit inside them. Maybe it's not Disney?
Above: Or maybe it is Disney - after all French interpretations of those theme parks do allow some discrete purveyors of beverages around the periphery?
Farewell to Carcassonne
Above: (top row) as evening draws in we leave La Cité via a side entrance/exit, heading back to the River Aude; (middle) not everyone is a tourist - we meet a delightful family of Mum with a baby in a pushchair and a little boy determined to help with their dog on a lead, in the right hand frame visitors are still arriving; (bottom) the fortifications light up as the light fades on the "modern" city down below, with its own cathedral in the background..
So, am I glad we went there? That is undeniable. This is one of those things that has to be seen for oneself. M Viollet-de-Luc may have embellished it here and there but isn't that the way with so many edifices that have existed for so long. All over the world. These things are organic.
Down to the Med - a first sighting for Kerry (Kinks) at Collioure
We started our day in the familiar way when moving on from a campsite; clearing up and carting no longer needed detritus to the campsite recycling bins. On the way back we peered over the fence into the parking lot that we initially thought was going to be our home for two nights. We spotted the behemoth (or maybe the French would call it Le Mastodonte) pictured below - we guessed its occupants would be pretty self-contained as far as services and home comforts were concerned.
My heart flirted with camper van envy but only until mid-morning.
We had a choice to get from Carcassonne to Collioure. Down the boring old Autoroute (Motorway/Freeway) network (A61/A9) to Perpignan and our destination beyond. Or we could take the "scenic route", sometimes a euphemism for legging it across lesser roads (in France this would have added benefit of avoiding tolls). With a bit of imagination we could draw an imaginary line via Limoux and plunging into the unknown at Couiza, traversing some Pyrénées Orientales before eventually emerging near the coast South of Perpignan. This would optimistically take us just short of 3 hours to cover a similar distance as the Autoroute, which would take half that time.
Stuff it, we were on a road trip. We chose the long way around. At first our choice of route was pretty enough with the Aude taking us up some scenic river valleys. Then we took the road less travelled. Initially it was a bit more of the same but then it started getting serious when we turned on to the D10 at la Savonnerie del Mouly.
No more behemoth envy. Not even any residual pangs for our recently retired Burstner. We had reached the Gorges de Galamus. The road become the D7 there ...
Above (l to r): Le Mastodonte pretty difficult to manoeuvre in mountainous terrain; even our Burstner would've had to turn back here - maybe retrace 90 km back to the Autoroute network at Carcassonne.
We were entering the Pyrenees (and thus Catalonia) right here. Stopping to take it all in, we couldn't help noticing that the Ermitage Saint-Antoine de Galamus was beckoning. I immediately regretted drawing it to the attention of my female companions. Of course they were going to want to go there. And why not. Just because I was still suffering the random effects of Long Covid, they needed to make the most of our trip.
Above: temptation started with the information board at the top before we crawled along the ledge in our campervan, the gorge a forbidding cleft, omnipresent on our right. Chapeau to my companions for completing the full Monty while I chickened out at the top and contemplated l'Ermitage from the top. The last 3 pics in the sequence show the entrance to a short tunnel that emerged above the buildings in the middle frame in which there was a musician playing a guitar before moving on to the small chapel hewn from rock in the last frame.
First we had to traverse the scariest bit of the road, a ledge along the side of the vertiginous gorge. Luckily it was a quiet time of year and the nightmare of having to negotiate around oncoming vehicles thankfully eluded us for the 1.8 km required to get to the pivotal next car park.
Les filles courageuses made their descent and returned after what seemed like an eternity, bubbling over with enthusiasm. A one-off experience. One which the necessarily condensed text in the blog cannot fully capture. The only remedy, if you're in the area of the Gorges de Galamus, follow in les filles footsteps and absorb the full experience.
This, of course is why we liked to choose the road less travelled. In this case we wouldn't have even known what was there had we not taken a bit of a "plunge" into the unknown.
Above (clockwise from top left); the most elementary of open/close signs for the Hermitage; there is always a bit of a hippyish element at sites such as these - keeping them alive takes a certain kind of commitment; I was very happy not to have arrived at this point in anything more imposing than our campervan; anyway my allegiances had already shifted from Le Mastodonte to this nifty blue number - the hippy romance emerging ...
We reached our campsite on the Med eventually ... not before passing the entrance numerous times as if we were attached to a piece of elastic. Satnavs are great but not always, especially when one's destination is on the opposite side of a railway line parallel to the highway.
It wasn't to be the last time our satnav went into paroxysms ...