Saturday, 20 September 2014

St. Emilion to Montpellier

St. Emilion is a lovely little town that is mostly made up of vineyards and wineries. The views stretching across the valley are breathtaking, and the vineyards go on for miles.

We set out early in the morning looking for a Boulanger to buy our breakfast baguette, but the only shops that we could see in town were wineries. Hmmm, that wouldn't be so good for breakfast!

While the town is truly delightful, and we enjoyed navigating the narrow streets

and looking down on the lower village,

our hungry stomaches told us that sight seeing wouldn't do the job. Finally, we found a small grocery store that sold everything we needed; baguette, camembaert cheese and fruit. The bread and cheese here has to be the best in the world, and this, our standard breakfast, has made us excited to jump out of bed every morning that we have been in France! And the grapes of course, are the best in the world. Trés bon!

After driving around in circles, and getting caught up in the snare of the busloads of tourists coming into town to tour the wineries, we finally made it onto the highway heading toward Carcasone, 3 1/2 hours away.

While it was hard to believe that this castle fortress could be anywhere as awesome as Le Mt. St. Michel, we were dumbstruck when we finally saw it from a distance. It is so huge that two pictures don't even capture the width of the entire castle!

This site was inhabited from ancient times. Even though the fortress has amazing protections, including turrets for viewpoints, a moat and a double wall, it changed hands many times throughout the centuries.

In 1208 the Pope declared that a crusade should take place against the current inhabitants of the area, and it was taken over as a royal possession. From this time on, the fortress grew into a medieval town.

From the lookouts, the Pyrenees Mountains stand in the distance. One of the main purposes of Carcassone in the 1600s was to protect France from the Aragones in the south.

Much of Carconne had fallen into ruin by the 19th century, and many of the stones had been carried away to build the newer town below the castle. In 1835 a group of academics saw the fortress for the treasure that it was and sought tto have it restored. The French architect Viollet-Le-Duc undertook restoration of the castle taking 58 years, with Le-Duc dying before its completion, and one of his pupils finishing the work.

This is now a UNESCO world heritage site, and has been identified as one of the finest examples of medieval architecture in the world. As we walked around the outer wall, the word that kept coming to our minds was "magic, absolutely magic!"

After exploring the old castle for a couple of hours, we jumped back in our little Fiat and headed off to Montpelier, our stop for the night. It is always a delight to discover a truly lovely hotel at the end of a long tiring day, and La Maison Blanche was wonderful in every way.

We enjoyed a delicious dinner on the patio, and a lovely warm evening on our last night in France!


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