We have spent the last couple of days in Occitanie – the prefecture that covers France from the Pyrenees in the south thru to its border with Provence-Alpes and Côte d’Azur. I’ve spent a lot of time in the latter but this is the first time I’ve spent much time in the Languedoc-Occitànie.
Like so many other places in Europe, there is a local language spoken traditionally by those who grew up and still live here. Some call it Provençal. But we were told by a local they refer to it as Occitàn and it’s got ties to Cantalan spoken across the border in Spain. So using our Spanish, with some limited French mixed in has served us very well. I’ve been quite surprised.
When checking in to our hotel in Avignon, there were other Americans shouting to be understood. The owner of the hotel smiled as I handed her my Spanish residence card and tried out my French ( I’ll admit sprinkled with Spanish). She leaned over.
‘I will give you the best room. These people? Meh.’
We were all Americans but we were the only ones trying to communicate. I don’t understand why people travel but don’t learn just a few words. Even linguistically shy Jeff is pulling out all the stops. He was laughing over lunch yesterday when the waiter walked away.
‘Well, we used French, Spanish and English in that interaction (he was a full on participant, I might add), now you need to pull out some of your German and we’ll be all set.’
This small city with its castle, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, is simply stunning. Nestled in the foothills of the French Pyrenees, it has been important to the region for more than 1000 yrs.
The Cathars (a Christian religious sect – sort of like Buddhism, seriously) ensured the city’s prominence at the beginning of the last Millennium. You can see how this might have angered the Pope and the Catholic Church. It all went south from there with the Pope declaring a Crusade on the entire area of the Languedoc, to root out the wicked Cathars. Sieges followed. Lots of deaths. It was really what kicked off what we call ‘The Inquisition’. So it’s a historical place and a rich time period.
Luckily, none of that is going on today. Cathar castles and keeps dot your descent out of the Pyrenees to Carcassonne. Especially along the twisty winding roads we took. But nothing compared to Carcassonne.
A rare picture of me. Helmet head didn’t stop me from enjoying the wine.
Unlike some castles we’ve been to, within the castles walls people still live and work – although tourism is the main industry. I love being able to see the historical strata on castle walls and Carcassonne didn’t disappoint. It’s easy to see the original fortress built by the Romans and each period where it was continued after. Layer upon layer.
The Cathedral is beautiful with its stained glass. The sign asking visitors to be silent shows its remaining bitterness to Catholic oppression. Alas, as I stood and lit candles for my family – it’s been a tough stretch for my parents – the sign didn’t stop a family of American tourist from opening a loud bag of caramels and then loudly debating which were the best ones. I gave them my best ‘Sil vous plait’ in my most accenty French accent complete with Gallic shrug and pinched fingers. It was a movie like charicature I knew they would understand.
The people of Carcassonne are very friendly and welcoming, even though they are over run in the summer months, with tourists from around the world.
We headed up the coast yesterday to Avignon in the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte. Heaven must surely be exactly like this little town. When I learned that Popes of the 14th century quit Rome and moved here, I felt a little better about their judgement. The Palais Des Papes is the palace they built for themselves and is the largest Gothic edifice in the World.
We checked into our hotel – Auberge de la Treille. Surrounded by Plane trees and nestled on Ile Piot – an island in the Rhône river – it is the perfect oasis from the hot sun and a 10 min walk across the bridge into the old city. I’m pretty sure God was listening when I lit a candle for this stretch of the trip, because after a very a hot ride it was truly in heaven. The owner is lovely.
We got cleaned up and walked into the city for an afternoon of sightseeing, food and drink. And maybe a little glacé. Followed by a farmers market that smelled like the ambrosia of Provence. Lavender, olive oils, tomatoes like cannon balls, fresh herbs, local honey, and rose’.
Do I want to leave here? Never! I am happy to sit under the Plane trees planted by Napoleon and forget there is anything outside of the water of the Rhône rushing by. There are no motorcycles needing to get to Germany. No hustle and bustle of daily life. I could paint here in perfect light, as all the impressionists did. And write my stories. Melting into the life of Provence – as I feel sure we were all meant to do.