Continuing with my cheap weekend travels in the south of France, I visited Carcassone and Toulouse.
The first stop was Carcassonne,known for its walled city called “La cité médievale” which is a part the UNESCO’s world heritage list and is also said to be the inspiration for Walt Disney’s ” The Sleeping Beauty”.
The history of “La cité” dates back to Gallo-Roman times, who fitted the town with ramparts and worked on fortifiying it. After centuries of witnessing battles and acting as a fortress used to protect the border between France and Aragon, the town lost its strategic importance when the “Pyréneés” region was signed back to France. Later it was restored by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc , the same architect in charge of the restoration of the “Notre Dame” cathedral in Paris.
As I entered the walls of this madieval fortress, I found the cutest medieval themed candy and souvenir shops as well as restaurants and coffee shops, but everything is ridiculously overpriced.
What is really worth entering is the Chateau Comtal and ramparts area, for which you have to pay an entrance fee of 8.50 euros for adults, but it’s free for youth up to 26. Inside you can walk on the ramparts, see the inside of the Chateau and watchtowers and get amazing views. Walking on the ramparts I will admit that, at one point my friend and I run around pretending like the “bad guys” were coming and we had to dodge arrows :p
After exploriing “La Cité” for a few hours I made my way to the lower part of town ” La Ville Basse” , there’s a few worth visiting spots like Place Carnot, a small town square sorrounded by restaurants, and Saint Vincent church in which you can make your way up the bells tower after 238 stairs and get a wonderful view of the whole city.
I would say one day is enough to explore and get to see all the attractions of Carcassonne, which is what I did. Since I was travelling to a different city the same day in the afternoon, the first step was getting a map which you will find just outside the train station at a little tourist office. Also if you have any baggage you can leave it for about 1 euro at “Hotel de la Bastide” to walk around freely and with no extra weight.
My weekend in Toulouse consisted of visiting a good friend who happened to live in the cool neighbourhood of Carmes. We basically walked all weekend exploring the streets and scoring a bunch of free things!
All the french cities I’ve posted about in the past are located in the Languedoc-Rousillon region, but Toulouse is at the heart of Midi Pyrinees region lying at the banks of Garonne river. This is the type of city that I like, metropolitan and vibrant but with its charm intact.
For those who like visiting churches , you will love this city. The Basilica of St. Sernin is a UNESCO world heritage site, but I didn’t visit this one :p. Instead we visited “Le couvent des Jacobins” , actually we stumbled up on it as we were walking around town, but I’m glad we decided to enter. It’s a gothic style church with a beautiful courtyard garden (4 euros to enter,but free for students).While inside we got to see a beautiful singing performance by a woman with an amazing voice that echoed all around the church. Another fun thing is that one of the pilars has a mirror installed all around its base so we spent some time trying to take cool pictures.
Continuing with our lucky spree of scoring free things, as we made our way to “Garonne” river, we took part in a game for an oil brand campaign and after playing we were entitled for a free boat ride on the river! So we not only had fun and made fools out of ourselves, but we actually got to take a boat which usually costs 8 euros.
Another important spot in Toulouse is the “Capitole” which houses the city hall ,and its square is always full of life, from dance shows to wedding celebrations and activists with megaphones fighting for different causes. After enjoying an ice-cream we made our way to the closest “Galeries Lafayette” mall, not for shopping purposes but instead going all the way to the rooftop to get view of the city.
I’m going to skip the night life experience as we did not find any place that we actually liked to stay for more than 20 minutes.
The next day started with a -free again- cup of hot chocolate at a little chocolate festival, and a visit to the Royal Gardens. After a nice walk around the park and snapping a few pictures we walked past “Le muséum de Toulouse” and a sign that said ” Free entrance today” , so obviously we went it ! 😛 ,usually the entrance fee is 6 euros.
I had a great weekend in Toulouse with my friends and I would definitely go back 🙂
This weekend a short train ride from Montpellier took me to the beautiful city of Nîmes which is also located in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in southern France.
Dating back to the Roman empire. Nîmes was actually an important Roman colony and “Via Domitia” , the road constructed during the empire to connect Italy to Spain passes through this city, so there is also some Spanish influence.
I was only there for one day so I visited 3 of the main sites and explored the streets of the city.
Back in the Roman empire days the amphitheatre on it’s 2 stories could accommodate 24.000 viewers
Roman Temple “Maison Carrée”
One of the best preserved Roman temples
Tower “La Tour Magne”
The tower stands in the highest point of the city and played a military role as it was part of the walls built sorrounding the city . The view from the top is spectacular and you get to go up for just 3 euros (2.50 for students)
To get to the Tour-Magne you have to enter the “Jardins de la Fontaine” (“Fountain Gardens”).
But what was special about the weekend was the “Feria des Vendanges”, a grape harvest festival that takes place every year for 3 days in September which celebrates 2 traditions, wine making and bull fighting.The athmosphere on the streets is amazing, it’s really a party that takes over the city. There are open air concerts, bars blasting the speakers and filling the air with music and paella and sangria everywhere you look. At night you can hit the clubs, but the best idea is to just stay on the streets where music is playing in every corner and people are dancing everywhere till around 3 am.
The only thing I disliked during my visit was the bull fighting, which is one of the main attractions of the weekend and takes place in the amphiteathre. During these fights, toreros kill around 6 bulls per performance with spades and make a show out of it. I understand that this is a part of many cultures and it’s done in other places of the world but it’s just something that I will never be in favour of and would never pay to watch animals get killed. Hopefully traditions like this all over the world dissappear eventually.
After the “show” was over, I snuck in the amphitheatre just to take a look at the inside, I wasn’t impressed but the sky looked beautiful.