Friday, May 17, 2013

May 16 Carcassonne, climb to Chateau Puilaurens and dinner in Couiza

After a leisurely breakfast of croissants, pain au chocolat, coffee, fresh bread, homemade confitures and incredible French butter, the four of us bundled up, packed ourselves into the Meriva and headed down the hillside, then down the valley, and back up through Limoux in search of Carcassonne. 

The view of this walled city is truly spectacular -- from a distance. Up close and inside it was, as we would soon discover, like nearly any other tourist melange of shops selling rubber swords, plastic chain mail and just about every completely irrelevant knick-knack made in China you can imagine.

Soon after entering the lower part of the city we began following sins leading us to "2000 parking spaces," which we did indeed find available right outside the main entrance. After getting our ticket (you really didn't think that parking would be free, did you?) we entered the gate somewhat more leisurely than the Inquisitors did in the 13th century. 

We strolled inside down the twisting streets that must have seen interesting times during the Albigensian Crusade to be sure but now the only stress comes figuring out how many tourists the city can hold at any one time. And at least one of our group was having an amusing time of it. . .

We did find a nice place for lunch, Adelaide's, and popped inside just before the frenetic lunchtime crowd took over. I had authentic (?) cassoulet, a local speciality (although the folks in Castelnaudry just up the road toward Toulouse claim that distinction as well). 

After lunch we walked back to the car, and left Carcassonne behind us as we moved back south toward the Cathar mysteries. Our plan was to try and see the castles of Puilaurens, Queribus and Peyrepetuse, all southeast of where we were staying and, we thought an easy drive. 

The roads twisted and turned through the valley floor and with the onset of drizzle and dropping temperatures in the hills we opted to just see the nearest castle, Chateau Puilaurens (or Puylaurens). 

Although not officially a Cathar castle, it was a place of refuge for many of the Cathars escaping the Inquisition and the crusaders. (apparently, it was actually in Aragonese territory and therefore not liable to attack.)

The walk took about 15-20 minutes offered some striking views of the surrounding countryside.

a latrine -- hey serf! watch out below!

climbing up through a maze of walled trenches


After leaving Puilaurens we headed back home and relaxed before venturing back down the valley once again. This time it was for dinner at Le Carnotzet, a Savoyard restaurant in nearby Couiza. At the suggestion of our server we started out with an aperitif of the local blanquette with chestnut liqueur, which we all thought a bit too sweet. The wine for the evening was a delicious local pinot noir.

My dish consisted of a salad in one bowl, frites in another and warm, melted Camembert cheese in a third, which I used for dipping the bacon and frites

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