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.
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.