Detour to Pont du Gard
We had originally planned a busy travel day to include stops in Nimes and Arles enroute, but by this last leg of our 3 week tour of France, I was learning to be less optimistic about how fast and how far we could go in one day. We would leave the Roman ruins in Nimes for another day!
We instead only put the Pont du Gard as our enroute stop – an amazingly well restored Roman aqueduct that is almost 2000 years old. We benefitted from being there early – before the tourist buses released their swarms. It allowed David clear views from all angles – and believe it or not, this bridge resulted in even more pics than the Pont du Avignon. The multi-arched bridge are some of the biggest ever built by the Romans at 80 feet high – all built without mortar, relying solely on gravity and design to hold up.
We headed up the goat path to the “panorama” spot – and were soon followed by the sheep. We had hoped to be able to walk across the top deck of the aqueduct but the access door was closed – and no matter how long the 4 tourists looked at the door, nobody was getting in. We walked back up the hill and could get a view along the aqueduct but that was as close as we would get to seeing the channel that provided water for over 30 miles to as far as Nimes.
Escaping the increasing crowds we wandered down the riverbank, lounging on the rocks like lizards for a quick break.
We finally left, heading on our way on the local roads towards Languedoc-Roussillon , French wine country. We were aiming for a lunch stop – as 2pm was quickly approaching – when we got detoured by a sign to the factory and “source” for Perrier water. We were not up for a tour and left still unaware of the “source” after seeing a sewage pumper painted in Perrier green.
We had to bully our way in to lunch when we stopped at 15 minutes before the mid-day break – which proved to be a more common occurrence in the smaller towns. While the “moules gratin” appetizer was very good, the crème caramel and chocolate mousse “pucks” were not even edible for chocolate and caramel addicts.
While we had planned to use local routes to get to French wine country, we did hop on the Autoroute to bypass Montpellier and Bezier – but there was no quick road for the final portion. The first stop met David’s first obsessions – to visit the Brico Marche (a Home Depot fix) and the Super Marche (for his Magnum ice cream fix). The quaint country roads were a sure sign that we had left the large cities far behind!
Entering French Wine Country
Wine tours are one of our favourite activities when we are travelling. We spent a long weekend in Napa and enjoyed a great tour of many of the small private wineries. When travelling in Italy, we visited the Lugana wine region to sample the wines from this more northern region. We couldn’t possibly miss seeing French wine country!
We were travelling through French wine country right at harvest time, the vines heavy with grapes. We could see the people and machinery in the fields bringing in grapes. We spent a few minutes watching the machine with finger-like attachments go down a row of grapes and “pick”.
I stopped in Rieux Minervois to give David his first glimpse of the wine making process at the local co-op “degustation”. It was great to be in France at grape harvesting season. In French wine country, you could just lift your nose and smell the “must” as the grapes began the long harvesting and fermentation process.
The route from there was easy and remembered route into the heart of the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region of France. Arriving at the Chateaux Paulignon set in the middle of a working vineyard, we settled in for a few days to explore this French wine country.
Touring the Languedoc-Roussillon Region
I had been to this region of France before so I had my “return visit” sites picked out to share with David. There was much to see in French wine country in addition to the wineries. The first stop was the town of Minerve – which combined a gorge with a town on the hill. Of course, we parked outside the town and up we headed – again. We wandered around this small hill town before stopping at a cafe overlooking the gorge. And since we were in French wine country, of course we sampled the local wine.
From there we meandered along the small country roads in French wine country to Homps for lunch and a café by the Canal du Midi. We took the tiny trail up along the canal but on this visit we didn’t really have time for a canal ride. We did think about a bike ride in the future or maybe even renting a house boat.
On the way back we stopped at Pucherie on the canal. The lock keeper had expanded his collection of wood and metal sculptures. The nude lady riding the bike was now part of a large scene of connected gears driving both a man and a dog to pee.
This proved however to be not as entertaining as the “rent a wreck” boat drivers banging their way into the locks, looking to me as free labour to tie them off (with David supervising my naval skills in opposition to wrong directions from the boat renters).
Arriving back at the chateau where we were staying, we rested up and then all got dressed up for a grand dinner in the tradition. It was a mixed group, most of whom seemed comfortable socializing in French. I was initially lost in the white noise of French all around me. David did quite well and easily found people to chat with. I took the easy route and joined an English business discussion. The dinner conversation was all in French – sort of. The couple sitting beside me were very nice, patient and indulgent as we worked to hold up our end of the conversation, speaking slowly so that most of the time I was not lost. Overall it was a nice evening and I did way better than I expected.
The Walled City of Carcassonne
The next day we left French wine country and headed to the old walled city of Carcassonne. I had been there a few times but this was something that David should see. It was an easy trip and we had no trouble finding La Cite and parking (finally – right outside the site!!). The carousel was still running outside the site and I amused to find a Petit Train touring the site (but no hop on hop off bus). We passed on the train and the horse drawn carriage.
Walking thru the entrance had a “Disney-like” feeling, especially as we hit the crowded narrow cobbled streets.
We just wandered thru the streets, declining to pay for a tour of the castle and ramparts. We got far more just wandering on our own. The church was much more intimate and interesting than some of the huge ones we had visited, sporting gargoyles and figures everywhere.
Lunch was a light crepe sharing – gallettes (savory) and sweet (chocolate/banana). We had a little retail therapy before leaving the city, finding the end of season pricing quite reasonable.
On the way home we detoured to Castlendary to pick up a traditional cassoulet that came pre-cooked and packaged in a ceramic dish. Cassoulet originated in this Langeduc region and is named after the deep round earthenware dish it is traditionally cooked in. It is one of those one pot wonders containing meat (generally pork sausages, goose, duck and sometimes mutton), pork skin and white beans. The first boucherie (meat shop) tried to convince us to take canned cassoulet that would travel better for our voyage – until they realized it was a short trip back to where we were staying. We finally found the correct shop and got a traditional cassoulet.
The cassoulet “for 5” was huge and was still half full when we all pushed away from the table filled to the gills. I had not had it before and I found it quite good. After dinner David and I set out for a quick walk to the local “moulon” (mill), to catch it before the sun sunk completely and we lost the light. We got some pics but David would need to get up early the next morning if he wanted his complete set of views.
The next morning, we were up and packed for a 10ish departure, with a plan to try to see something of Toulouse if the rain did not follow us. As we left French wine country, we navigated the roundabout as the experts we had now become and said goodbye to the vast arrays of wind turbines up in the hills powering the local power grids.
At lunch time we stopped in Villefranche de Louraguis at the local hotel. We decided to sample house specialties – only to find the portion sizes big enough for four people for both the cassoulet and the dessert flan (and no way to take doggie bags).
A Night in Toulouse
Arriving at the hotel in Toulouse, we dropped our bags and the car, and took the airport shuttle into Toulouse (a great deal for $12Euro return for two). We were a bit toured out, so we just wandered aimlessly through the old town centre.
Dinner was had on the glassed in terrace at the hotel watching the gale force winds whip around the hotel and shake the fence. We were hoping for better travel weather the next day for our trip back to Toronto.
It had been a fast few days in French wine country. It was great to share some of my favourite spots with David.
In the morning it was still grey but the wind had dropped. We rolled our suitcases to the airport and got checked in. A previous visit has taught us how silly it was to take a cab for this short distance. On our 3 week tour of France, we had re-visited many spots but found a few new gems. And we would leave with many things still on the “to see” list.
Did you visit French wine country? Did you choose this wine region? Did we miss some key sights in this Languedoc-Roussillon region of France?