Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

A weekend in Languedoc


Standing on the skyline above the town of Carcassonne in south-west France is La Cité – 52 towers and 3km of battlements surround a castle, a basilica and a maze of narrow streets. This is where we've spent the weekend (our treat to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary).

Between the two concentric walls are the Lists, where knights once rehearsed for battle!

High up on the ramparts we looked out over the vinyards of Languedoc to the Montagne Noire in the distance. If you've read Labyrinth by Kate Mosse you can pretend to be Alais, daughter of Raymond-Roger Trencavel the lord of the Château Comtal in the 12th century.

. . . we couldn't resist buying fruit jelly and nougat from this exquisite shop near the Basilica St-Nazaire!

On Saturday we took the train to Limoux, a small town on the River Aude south of Carcassonne. Limoux's claim to fame is a carnival which takes place on the thirteen weekends leading up to Easter, an uninterupted tradition since medieval times! We weren't quite sure what to expect and when we walked into town across the 400 year old bridge over the Aude all seemed quiet. Nearing the town centre we could hear music, and in the the small market square the morning session of the carnival was getting underway.

Two bands and their accompanying performers, depicting scenes from local and international news, were making their way around the arcades round the square visiting each café and bar in turn. The repetitive folk music and simple dance was infectious, onlookers jigged along with the rythm and rushed too and fro across the square as the bands took turns to perform.

The whole performance lasted over two hours! Afterwards everyone dispersed as if nothing had happened! We followed a sign to La Goutine, a small vegetarian restaurant (the only one in the Languedoc!) and had a delicious selection of vegetable dishes for lunch. After a walk along the river and looking round an exhibition about the Fecas, we returned to the square for the late afternoon performance - there was a building sense of excitement as the locals gathered with children in costume holding long wands and bags of confetti. Apparently the Fecas was a carnival of the millers of the area and they threw flour everywhere - today confetti is thrown instead.

The musicians started up and the dancers dressed as pierrots swayed and waved their long wands, in a correographed movement they dipped into their sacks of confetti and showered the crowd in white and yellow paper! The carnival party-goers and children ran to join the performers as they emerged from each café and continued round the square.

We had to rush to catch the train back to Carcassone so left the crowds dancing, but soon found that the train times had somehow got lost in translation and we'd failed to notice that the SNCF 'train' was in fact a bus and we'd missed it!! Back in the town the bands and pierrots and carnival revellers were still progressing from café to café. We decided to have an early dinner and hopefully get a later bus so we chose one of the bars in the market square, the floor was covered with white confetti, and had Fricassee de Limoux, white beans with pork and kidneys slow cooked in the local wine Blanquette de Limoux. Trudging back to the railway station we found that unfortunately the late bus only ran on Sundays! So we had a choice of staying in town for the late night carnival session (with no way of getting back to Carcassonne) or to try to get a taxi before everyone in the town got completely carried away! Thank you to the very nice barman at the Hotel Arcades who called a cab for us when our mobiles refused to work.

On Sunday afternoon we went by train to Castelnaudary. The line followed parallel with the Canal du Midi, an amazing example of 17th century civil engineering which joins the Atlantic coast to the Mediterranean Sea. The deep oval locks and elegant bridges are marvels of construction and between them the tree lined canal snakes between the vinyards.

This is the flight of four locks leading up to Castelnaudary . . .

. . . and at the top the canal opens into the Grand Basin, a reservoir which feeds the locks. I once went with friends on a boating holiday on the Canal du Midi and remembered the thrill of the boat rising out of the last lock and this scene revealing itself in the dazzling sunshine – on Sunday the view was a just as I remembered.


  1. Bonne anniversaire! What a terific holiday.The Olde Worlde does have some wonderful traditions.I miss that.

  2. Happy 15th anniversary! You had a magical weekend. I loved hearing about the celebrations you saw. The pierrots are dressed in wonderful outfits. I have always wanted to visit this area. A friend of mine retired to Limoux ...

  3. I made this tour years ago on bicycle. This brought back some great memories. Ah, youth...

  4. You lucky things! We are off to the South West in August and i cannot wait. This looks sensational.


  5. what a delightful post -- it made me feel like I was traveling right along with you. So many unique and interesting places and celebrations going on too.


  6. Hello. I found my way to your blog through a search for "purple podded peas"! I landed on your post about Carcassonne. I teach literature in the Pacific Northwest of the US and one of my passions is medieval France. So I very much enjoyed reading your post and watching the videos. Your work as a book designer sounds fascinating. Have you tried growing purple carrots in your garden?

  7. What a fabulous weekend Celia and a delightful post - it made wonderful reading so I am sure you had a wonderful time.
    Happy Anniversary!

  8. Happy Anniversary and what a wonderful spot to visit!

    I visited years ago and loved the area.

    Thanks for sharing your tour - it was trully absorbing and entertaning. Almost feel as if I've been away for the weekend myself!

  9. How Wonderful! Thank you for taking us on a tour with you.

  10. Happy anniversary and what a wonderful place to go on holiday.
    It's beautiful - I will be grilling you on going there myself

  11. Beautiful! It was a taste of an exotic culture for me. Things are so refreshingly different and full of a lively spirit here; i wish to enjoy the place in person some day.

  12. I am so glad you had a lovely anniversary trip to France, congratulations to you both. You only have to look at some of your photos to remind yourself that France is such a romantic place. Did you know the carnival was on before you left, or were you just in the right place, at the right time? x

  13. Happy Anniversary! We recently celebrated our 30th which made us both very happy and feel terribly old. What a marvellous trip ... Lanquedoc looks like a fairy tale. I hope you had a wonderful time.

  14. Hi Everyone!

    Dinahmow - local traditions are very special.

    Kate - those costumes were beautifully made and must have taken hours of work!

    Ed - you must have had a fantastic cycling tour!

    David - you'll be in foodie heaven, but take the sun hats it will be scorching!

    Diane - you'd love all the stories of times past in Carcassonne.

    Hi Weed Whacker - well all your favourite topics seem to be here on Purple Podded Peas! Yes I have tried growing purple carrots, but like many gardeners I've found carrots tricky to grow in recent years, apparently very wet weather just after gernination may be the problem. Thank you for visiting.

    Gina - that gorgeous little hand-bound book I bought from you made a perfect miniature album of our trip.

    CS - it was only a 4 day holiday but it seemed like a week because we saw so many new and interesting things - fab!

    Thank you Matron!

    GBVC - you'd have a great time Carcassonne is the ultimate castle drenched in history (plus great French food!)

    Hi again Green Thumb - I hope you can visit Languedoc one day.

    Louise - we booked the trip to Carcassonne last December, then Cliff Googled to see if there were any exciting local events and he discovered the Limoux Carnival - so it was a lucky coincidence.

    Congratultions Becca!
    You're right - a castle surrounded by vinyards and mountains is a fairytale setting!


  15. what beautiful pictures, thanks for sharing.


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