Postcards from the Pyrenees

Just returned from two weeks in Languedoc-Roussillon in the foothills of the Pyrenees. This is an area that is absolutely stunning, and yet relatively untouristy.

20130905-111452.jpgView from QueribusIt’s on the Med – but most visitors go for it’s glitzier neighbours further east along the coast towards Cannes and Provence. It has historic Cathar castles- but the fairy tale prettiness of the Loire seems to appeal more widely.

20130905-111751.jpgQueribus It has fantastic local wines and cheeses – but again, more famous neighbours seem to take all the glory. Go now! Before the release of the film version of Kate Mosse’s book Labyrinth brings people flocking to the area, and the unhurried, authentic, unspoilt way of life falls prey to tourism and the influx of cultural globalisation.

We made the boys brave the local bakers each morning by themselves and gasp speak French. Bearing in mind they’d all had at least a couple of years of French lessons at school this wasn’t as cruel as you may at first think. Of course, by day two they were presenting themselves at the counter with “4 baguettes” written on a piece of paper so they could show the shop assistant what they wanted without actually having to say a word. Apart from merci of course. Oh and the “moi Anglais” they managed before running away when someone tried to strike up a conversation! This was marginally less embarrassing than my encounter with an elderly gentleman who clearly dearly loved the small poodle he was taking for a walk, and wanted to talk about it at length. I remembered that chien is French for dog, and jolie is pretty, and that was the extent of my input before I opted for the slightly more composed “je suis Anglais”. And turned and fled.

Some highlights from the first week

20130905-113532.jpgLagrisse courtyard

20130905-113612.jpgLagrisse river Lagrisse is a beautiful old village with a ruined Abbey and a river that is just right for swimming, paddling and fishing in. The village itself has an amazing Artisan bakers, as well as a pottery and a Brocante where I managed to pick up some vintage monogrammed French bed linen for 15E.

20130905-113931.jpgCarcassonne from the lower town

20130905-114214.jpgthe obligatory crepes au chocolate we had for our youngest’s birthday in Carcassonne

20130905-114340.jpgescargots! Yes, the children asked to try snails, and, frankly, I think any signs of adventuring beyond the usual foodstuffs needs to be encouraged so we had a portion between the 7 of us which worked out at approximately 1 snail each. Think slightly chewy mussels and you get a feel for what they are like. I liked them, but have spared you the photos of the kids faces when they tried eating theirs.

Carcassonne was beautiful but the only place we visited in the two weeks which showed signs of being ruined by tourism. It was heaving with people and presented a sanitised version of a medieval idyll. It was more like being in Eurodisney than an ancient French city. I think that if you want a more authentic experience then head for Narbonne, preferably on a Sunday morning when the old covered market is host to stalls selling fine local produce, and the streets outside the covered market are host to a flea market where you can pick up French linen clothing, Savonnerie de Marseilles, straw hats and baskets and numerous other essential things you never knew you needed.

20130905-120044.jpgthe river running through Narbonne

20130905-120116.jpgRuined doorway

20130905-120145.jpgCathedral

20130905-120201.jpgTown house in Narbonne

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