Carcassonne, Castelnou, and Collioure. Our first trip to the South of France.

Early in December we took advantage of a Spanish holiday – the day of the constitution – and headed to the South of France.  It’s a quick drive and the six of us (us plus my parents) piled into our new-to-us vehicle – a Nissan Qashqai +2 – to explore the Languedoc region.  We started out in Carcassonne. Carcassonne is a beautiful walled city beautifully restored in the 1800′s that is now (if one is to believe the Carcassonnions(?)) the second most visited tourist site in France after the Eiffel Tower.  We attended on the day that they kicked off their Christmas season with a holiday market and a torchlight parade.  It was an incredibly beautiful setting and a great way to kick off the Christmas season. (more commentary on the trip after the Carcassonne photos).

Carcassonne as seen on approach. It is very impressive. This is supposedly one of the inspirations for the Disney castle. Though to be honest, Neuschwanstein makes the same claim. You can see the influence of both in the design actually. More on that later. Whichever the case, I don't mind following in the footsteps of great creative minds like Walt Disney. Not to say we plan on putting a tower and turret on our home when we return to the States.

This shot is from the fortress within the fortress. Château Comtal is located within the walls of Carcassonne, and is also separately fortified. Perhaps to protect them from the citizens of the walled town? Or perhaps just a double measure of safety. Either way, the chateau, and the basilica you can see in the background (Basilica of St. Nazaire), both built by the Trencavel family are truly beautiful. Owen thought the "Château Comtal was okay as castles go, but he had definitely seen better."

This is a good shot showing the double ramparts of Carcassonne.

This is the Hotel de la Cite, which is located inside the city walls, and where we stayed on the first night of our trip.

A shot from the inside of Carcassonne. The building directly ahead with streets on either side of it was the restaurant where we had breakfast. It's connected to the hotel by a second story walkway on the right side. In the lower right, the little dude evaluating his camera is Owen. The hood sort of makes him look a bit ominous.

This was a one-man medieval music machine strolling the streets of Carcassonne after dark. He was very entertaining and definitely made a lot of noise! The shot (mine, not Becca's) does not do him justice.

We thought this particular bookshelf looked a little too uniform to be real, and it wasn't. It was a hidden doorway. I'm not sure who had more fun going in and out of it (it led to the kitchen, so we had to be sort of sneaky), me or the kids. No, actually, I had more fun, because I was fueled by a bit of vino tinto. I think I embarrassed Becca, and possibly my parents. I had fun though! In this shot (again from my iphone), I think Owen was pretending to be a zombie.

O'er the ramparts we posed, teeth so gallantly gleaming. Inside the Château Comtal. Thought I should get back to some quality photos from Becca.

Enough of Carcassonne. We left the next day, it was cold and dreary, and headed to Perpignan, which for some reason the kids have been calling Perpinhagen. Perhaps because they have both read a book called “Number the Stars” which takes place in Copenhagen. At any rate, Perpignan was to be our base for the next couple of days, and it took us about an hour to arrive at our new quarters – the Chateau La Tour Appollinaire. From their own website, this is how the Chateau is described: “La Tour Apollinaire was built in la Belle Epoque by Baron Hippolyte Despres-Apollinaire to provide a grand residence from which to survey his wine estate and enjoy the pleasures of the region.” We had a 3 bedroom apartment at the Chateau that was great, and the owners of the Chateau were great (and good friends of our friends the Oliveau family). I’m digging the name Baron Hippolyte by the way.

We actually didn’t spend a ton of time in “Perpinhagen,” but instead used it as a base to visit two really beautiful smaller towns. One in the mountains, the other by the sea.  The first of those was Castelnou, which is located in the mountains of the region called the “Pyrénées-Orientales.” Castelnou is a lovely little walled city surrounding a castle -sound familiar? It is as beautiful as Carcassone, just on a more intimate scale. We were there on a Monday, and basically everything was closed. It was like walking through a perfectly preserved medieval town without any people, which you don’t expect to see anyway.  In truth, there are great little cafes (one of which we found open), art galleries, shops, etc. The cafe that we did find open was a part of an inn. And it felt as if we were eating at the table of the host family.  I think we were actually. We had some delicious crepes, and enjoyed being the only visitors in town that day (or so it seemed). I loved Castelnou, and we hope to go back to it sometime in the Spring. Here are a few pics of Castelnou, and then after those pics, one last leg of this journey to share.

A picture, even one of Becca's, does not do this scene justice. You drive around the edge of one mountain, and there in front of you, overlooking an entire valley is Castelnou, perched atop it's own little peak. Amazing. I can't imagine what it would have been like to build this over a thousand years ago.

This shot is from a bit closer in - the whole town is walled in and sort of clings to the side of this hill. Definitely going back.

He has the whole world in his hands... or at least Castelnou. Owen has me really stretching the limits of iphone camera ability with this shot. It is supposed to look like he was holding the whole town in his hands. To the extent it falls short is the fault of the photographer, not of his imagination.

The walled city is just behind us to the left. We're huddled together because we like each other, not because it was freezing cold and we were unprepared for it!

The other little city we visited was Collioure. It is on the coast of the Mediterranean, and has been under Spanish (Aragon), French, and Majorcan rule. The fortress that exists today is plenty old enough, but even it sits on older roman ruins beneath it.  We visited at dusk, and it’s an impressive vision.  More popular during summer months for obvious reasons, but we arrived to a festival kicking off the Christmas season, so our timing was as good as it could be for this time of year.

This is from the Collioure website. While we contemplated going out in a rowboat to capture the same shot at dusk, we didn't. Seriously, I just thought this was a cool image and worth sharing. Alas, I also did not add the blurry blue border. That brilliance is someone else's.

This is shot inside the fortress (The Chateau Royal) at Colliure. We stumbled upon a Christmas festival with shops, music, food, etc.

This is shot from the fortress on one side of Collioure's harbor. I hope to see it next summer filled with sailboats!

A band of snowmen. Literally.

The end – of this post anyway.

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