I’ve always disliked February. Winter days are much easier here than they were living in the UK but still when February arrives I am ready for Spring and getting tired of indoor based activities – I need a break. We decided to take a short road trip with Barcelona as the end destination. Although it’s only just over 5 hours drive to Barcelona from here we wanted to break the journey and a look on the map showed Carcassonne about halfway. Having read about this medieval town but never having visited it was an easy decision to include it on the trip. For the return journey we took the advice of a friend and added Collioure to the itinerary – this little seaside town is just over the border back into France south of Perpignan on the Mediterranean Coast.
Leaving the A62 we only had a short drive before the turrets of the medieval cité of Carcassonne came into view. The sight really did take my breath away and you can see why Carcassonne was chosen as the set for several scenes In Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
| The fairy tale turrets
|The narrow,cobblestoned street
winds its way up to the chateau.
|Looking out from
the castle walls
| The castle at night
Carcassonne is split into two parts – La cité which is the fortified upper part and down below the Bastide. Strolling through the medieval city to the chateau didn’t disappoint – small narrow,cobblestoned streets leading to the impressive chateau and cathedral. Apparently Carcassone attracts 3 million visitors year mostly in the summer so our cold February day visit wasn’t marred by too many other visitors. Interesting audio guide tour of the castle – we especially liked point number 12 which explained how Carcassonne was subject to cold winds blowing from the Pyrenees and asking us if we had noticed them – as this is the coldest February since our arrival in the South of France 8 years ago we certainly had!
After a hot chocolate to bring back the circulation we made our way down to the Bastide lower town and meet up with a Twitter contact. Sally and her husband Josh are renovating part of a very interesting old house and will be offering chambre d’hôtes later in the year – great to swap holiday accommodation and renovation tales with them.
|A view of the lower Bastide town|| Interesting downpipes on
all the houses
|In the main square we’re
not the only ones feeling
|This pretty wall cupboard
hides the shower room
We stayed the night in a charming chambre d’hôte in a converted distillery (perfect for us!) just outside the city walls and strolled up the cobbled streets again to have a Valentine’s evening meal at La Cotte de Mailles – good food but the service and ambiance were excellent making it a great evening.
A visit to the main square in the Bastide lower town and a coffee before leaving Carcassonne and heading south. We arrived in Barcelona to be met by our friend Paul who with his wife Nicky spends the winter on his boat in the marina right by the city centre. In March they will be heading back to their berth in Calvi,Corsica where they also rent out a holiday home.
After sharing a few (!!!) glasses of Spanish red we set off to find our apartment. Situated just off the Las Ramblas the apartment was in a very good central location – unfortunately the location was the only good thing about it! Still exploring the city was easy on foot from here and we spent the next morning strolling around Barri Gotic the old town of Barcelona admiring the cathedral and the 14th and 15th century buildings and visiting the the Picasso Museum. Later Paul and Nicky took us to the Boqueria market which dates from 1217 when tables were erected to serve meat. It was a kaleidoscope of food – piled high and looking delicious. A wonderful seafood section,small snack bars crowded with locals eating mysterious but tasty looking snacks and great quality food and veg -this lively bustling place just off Las Ramblas is a must see. Then they took us to a bar where a range of snacks were presented – all of them appetising and irresistible – Paul and Nicky explained that we would be charged per cocktail stick and suggested we didn’t get seduced by so much lovely food or we’d regret it when the cocktail sticks added up. Then a late lunch in a superb , inexpensive restaurant with great food and a very relaxing atmosphere. It was great to be with someone who knew the city as we wouldn’t have gone into either of these two places on our own.
|Exploring the old town||The tapas bar||Hot chocolate to die for|
We love Barcelona – of course there is a lot more to do but we were only there for two nights and we had visited the Gaudi highlights on our last visit. We enjoyed the visit so much – thanks Paul and Nicky.
(P.S. the other thing I loved in Barcelona was the hot chocolate which really was a cup of melted chocolate – mmmmmm)
The next morning we head out of Barcelona and north back towards France. We stopped for lunch just outside the last village before the border and also stocked up on some olive oil (15 litres) and spirits which are much cheaper in Spain. Leaving the motorway we trickled our way down to the delightful small town of Collioure – a kind of French St Ives. This little village ,like Carcassonne, gets crowded with visitors in the summer so a good place to visit out of season. We had booked a night in a small hotel right in the centre and from here we took a stroll down to the shore. We had finally found the sunshine or it had found us and we sat in its warm rays drinking a beer watching the children enjoying the beach and listening to the gentle sound of the waves. We ate at a seafood restaurant by the shore in the evening – perfect.
|Time for drink by the seaside||From the beach at Collioure||Views of the Pyrenees
on the way home
Our little road trip to shake us from our hibernation and get us ready for Spring seems to have worked and we are busy again in the garden feeling refreshed and rested – we also have a couple of additions to our family vocabulary (I ‘m sure we aren’t alone in having our own words created from shared experiences). So now for us – number 12 will always be our code for strong icy wind and keep an eye on the cocktail sticks will mean we’d better not get carried away and forget the budget!
A la prochaine.