A couple of weekends ago, I had the opportunity to take a weekend trip to Carcassonne, which was a relatively short (but expensive considering the pricey French autoroutes) 1.5 hour car ride from Montpellier. I went to visit two new American friends of mine, Erica and Laura, who were taking an extended 3 month vacation in the small old village of Cuxac-Cabardès.
It’s amazing to me that, for such a small country, France has such a variety of natural beauty. In the short drive from Montpellier, I could immediately notice a difference in terrain. Instead of the relatively flat lands of the Hérault (with the exception of a few hills like Pic Saint Loup), I was now approached by the mountainous Pyrenées coated in a beautiful blanket of snow.
If I had more time, I would have loved to get closer to that massive mountainous range. But that was likely another 1.5-2 hour drive. Next time, I guess. I settled for it being the backdrop to the beautiful countryside around Carcassonne. Another thing to mention was that the weather was gorgeous! It actually rained almost the whole month of February in that area, but I had just happened to time my trip during the first 2 sunny days of the season.
One of the first things that we did was visit with a friend of Erica and Laura’s, Lois, who works in a winery in the sub-region of Minervois. Now, I thought that we had a lot of vineyards around Montpellier, but it appears that there are even more wines produced around Carcassonne. Apparently the Languedoc-Roussillon département (the region that includes both Montpellier and Carcassonne) is the most prolific wine growing region of France. Which is surprising to me because I had never heard of the wines of this region before moving here. It’s definitely been a pleasant surprise. The wine quality is excellent and varied, and because the region is not as well-known as others in France, the prices are very reasonable.
The next morning, I went out in service with Erica and Laura’s congregation, inviting people to the Memorial. The territory of Carcassonne is so different from Montpellier. We drove quite a bit – in fact, we drove 1 hour just to get to the service meeting! I definitely won’t be complaining about the driving we do in Montpellier anymore. Then, in the afternoon, we took a mini-hike to Châteaux de Lastours. Châteaux de Lastours is composed of the ruins of 4 Cathar castles from the 13th century. I would have loved to hike to all 4 castles, but time allowed us to hike to only one. However, in this short period, we were still able to get some stunning views.
After this stunning hike, we went to the old city walls of Carcassonne (aka “La Cité“). As we approached the city walls, sunset was falling over Carcassonne. This was a great opportunity to take some more photos…
This medieval fortress was originally built by the Romans in the 3rd century. It fell into disrepair when it was no longer useful, however, in the late 19th century, it was restored to now become one of the major historical attractions of France. Apparently in the summer, La Cité is packed full of tourists and loses its charm, but on this warm March evening, we were able to saunter the semi-empty streets unhindered.
The ending to this wonderful day in the Carcassonne region? A delicious dinner, of course! This region is known for Cassoulet, which is a baked dish with white beans (specific to this region), duck, and sausage. Paired with a lovely full-bodied wine from the nearby Fitou region, the meal was an absolute delight.
Thank you Erica and Laura for a wonderful weekend in Carcassonne!