So there we were, sitting in Carcassonne for a month. What better place to just sit and enjoy living like a local in the south of France. Carcassonne is a good sized city dominated by La Cité, a fortified castle and walled town perched on a hill above the Aude River and overlooking the La Basse Ville. The lower town, which was also walled at one time, sits between the Canal du Midi and La Cité. Carcassonne has its origins as a Roman colony in 118 BC, moving through the centuries changing hands between the Gauls, Barbarians, Visigoths, Spanish Arabs and finally the Franks/French. The Count’s Castle and the majority of the buildings date from 1130 AD. It was saved from destruction in the 1850’s and has since been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is truly spectacular.
While we were moored in Carcassonne, we met a lovely English couple, Jan and Brian Elmes, who cruise on their sailboat for several months each summer. They travel to and from the boat and England by car which also gives them a second mode of transportation as they cruise. They were delightful company and generously offered to include us in a couple of excursions. We headed south of Carcassonne to the heart of Cathar country and climbed up to Chateau Peyrepertuse (say that 10 times really fast!!). It sits atop a rocky outcrop several hundred metres above the valley formed by the junction of the Corbières and Fenouillèdes rivers. It held out against the Cathar Crusaders until 1240. This is also the heart of the Corbières wine region – yummy!!
We also drove along the Gorges de Galamus. Beautiful limestone rock formations within deep gorges. There was an amazing tiny settlement built into the side of a rock wall – you can only wonder how did they get there and once there, how were they able to build it? The gorge road was built into the side of the gorge and was very twisty. Jan and I both got quite nauseous. But it was seriously stunning.
Another day we drove through the Black Mountains along a scenic route through the gorges and included a stop at Mazamet. Unbelievably, in the 1800’s Mazamet was the world centre for processing sheep’s wool and skins. Shipments of wool came from all over the word especially from Argentina. We couldn’t quite fathom why there, but it just proves that with will and determination, business entrepreneurs can make amazing things happen. It is still a centre for processing sheep’s wool as well as tanneries and dye works. Driving through the countryside also reinforces how much of France’s economy is agriculturally based. The largest being grape vines and tobacco if what we saw was representative. The market loves vices.
In Carcassonne we met Malcolm, a retired ex-British Airways pilot and Andrea, a Dutch business woman who live aboard their beautiful barge Tinpan. Andrea’s galley rivals my condo’s kitchen!! How envious was I???? As they are both keen golfers we are hoping that they will visit us once we are settled back in Nanaimo. We also have our fingers crossed that Robert and Christa, Marian and John and Jan and Brian come for a visit. We are anxious to show them how beautiful Canada is but how different it is from the ancient European countries.
While our stop in Carcassonne was prompted by the unbearable heat, it was a very good decision. We had unexpected adventures as well as planned ones, met wonderful fellow boaters who we hope will be friends for a life time. Our entertainment on board Calypso was sitting on the aft deck watching the hire boats make their way through the canal and locks. We call them “bumper boats” as that is what they do best – bump into everything and anything. The hire boat renters are known as “whale hunters”. Picture them standing at the bow/prow of their boat, harpoon (ie: boat hook) in hand ready to fend off anything in peril in front of them. The spiked front end can actually do a lot of damage to the paint of a boat, so Phil and other boat owners are forever yelling at them to use the blunt rubber end if they need to fend off. But mostly we try to stay out of their way!!
So here we are – one more blog to go. We will cruise the final two weeks to Moissac where we will leave our beloved Calypso to await new owners who will take her on new adventures. Hopefully her next owners will know more about boats than we did and her new life will be less stressful than living with two neophytes. She was very patient with us and gave us four amazing summers of cruising from northern Holland to the south of France. We will miss her!
Much love to all
Captain Extraordinaire and the Sensory Overloaded Matelot.