Tag: train travel in France

All Aboard for Carcassonne

Second of the series on train rides from Barcelona into the South of France, let’s go to Carcassonne. 

Visitors to France who fancy medieval times, Renaissance festivals, dragons and gargoyles must run — not walk — to the village of Carcassonne. It’s like stepping into the back lot at Universal Studios — except it’s for real.

Since the pre-Roman period, a fortified settlement has existed on the hill where Carcassonne now stands. The earliest known site dates back to the 6BC when a fort was built overlooking the ancient route that linked the Atlantic with the Mediterranean and the Iberian peninsula with the rest of Europe.

Between 1BC and 27BC the settlement, known as “Carcaso Volcarum Tectosagum,” became a Roman town, “Colonia Iulia Carcaso.” During the late 3rd and early 4th centuries, a wall was built around the settlement — a fortification that has been destroyed, remodeled and restored throughout the ages. to give Carcassonne it’s distinction as a World Heritage site and one of the best restored fortified cities in the world.

The medieval walled city of Carcassonne in the Languedoc region of France

The medieval walled city of Carcassonne in the Languedoc region of France

The walls of Carcassonne and the people who lived within were prime targets for those who desired to have such a prime location for their settlements. The Visigoths ruled the city through the 5th and 6th century and are believed to have erected a cathedral on the site of the present structure. After Arab rule, then a successful siege by Pepin the Short, work began on the Romanesque Basilica of Saints Nazarius and Celsus in 1096.

Basilica of Saints Nazarius and Celsus in Carcassonne

Basilica in Carcassonne

 

The outside of the cathedral, like others of its kind in the south of France, has no flying buttresses. 

Basilica in Carcassonne

Stability for the structure is provided by interior vaulting. 

 

By the end of the 13th century, Carcassonne had acquired a castle, Château Comtaland, and an extension of the fortified wall. The castle, as today, has a drawbridge and a ditch leading to the entrance.

One section of the wall is notably Roman because of its red brick layers and the shallow pitch of its terracotta tile roofs.  Architect Eugène Viollet le Duc is responsible for guiding the restoration of the city that is enjoyed today by so many. Starting in 1855 he completely designed the city, rebuilding what was nothing more than ruins.

 

The early fortifications at Carcassonne consisted of two lines of walls and a castle,

The early fortifications at Carcassonne consisted of two lines of walls and a castle,

Fact or Fiction?

Dame Carcas of CarcassonneOne of the mythical, if not factual, stories about Carcassonne is shared by tour guides of the city today. It has to do with the naming of the city. The story claims that during one of the many sieges on Carcassonne, the people inside created a ruse to fool the aggressors. Because Carcassonne had so many attacks it was believed the inhabitants of the place might be suffering from malnutrition and lack supplies to defend themselves. Knowing they were at great risk, one resident, “Dame Carcas,” grabbed a healthy pig  — one of the last in the city — stuffed its belly full with food, then threw it over the wall as a “present” to the enemy. On receiving such a well-nourished sow, the charging army retreated, assuming the entire population inside the walled fortress was well-fed and ready to defend their city. Hence “Carcassonne” is derived from “Dame Carcas.” Her image (or so they say) can be found on a city gate.

 

Carcassonne Today

Visitors to Carcassonne today will find there are two parts of the city — the walled city and a “modern” city, founded by some of the inhabitants who were thrown out of Carcassonne in 1347.  You can see the walled city for miles around. Its approach from below — after walking up quite a distance from the new city, or after walking from the parking lot at the top of the hill — is  an amazing sight. Not many of us in the 21st century have had the privilege to see a “real” medieval castle — much less, enter it over what had been a drawbridge.

Entrance to Carcassonne

Entrance to Carcassonne

Once inside the huge, wide, stone passageway, the ancient-ness quickly fades away into modern-day tourism. Gift shops, candy stores and souvenir places are everywhere along the narrow streets.

Inside the stone walls at Carcassonne

Inside the stone walls at Carcassonne

If you’re not careful, you’ll miss the tourist office that’s just inside, to the right.  My advice? Find it and schedule a walking tour. The guide for my visit was superb.

Tour guide at Carcassonne tells stories of advancing enemy troops and the rigor of the fortifications

Tour guide at Carcassonne tells stories of advancing enemy troops and the rigor of the fortifications

Another idea? Ride the small train that encircles the grounds, inside and out. It’s not just for kids … or should I say …. for kids of all ages.

Train travels around the exterior of the city of Carcassonne

Train travels around the exterior of the city of Carcassonne

 

 

A view of the "modern" city below from the walled fortress of Carcassonne

A view of the “modern” city below from the walled fortress of Carcassonne

 

Best Time of Year to Visit?

My first trip to Carcassonne was in November. As in the rest of Europe, tourists are mostly at home. That’s a good time to hire a guide who will walk with you inside and outside of the city wall. The stories and images recounted by an imaginative docent are priceless.

If you want to see Carcassonne with hundreds of thousands of others on one day, visit July 14th — Bastille Day. The crowds are as bad as you can imagine, but the fireworks display is magnificent. “The best show in all of France,” some say. Click here for a great map of the “modern city” that shows where’s the best view.

Fireworks over the walled city of Carcassonne on Bastille Day

Fireworks over the walled city of Carcassonne on Bastille Day

 

Bastille Day Fireworks in Carcassonne

Bastille Day Fireworks in Carcassonne

Train from Barcelona

Carcassonne is just over two hours from Barcelona by train. For more information about schedules and prices, click here 

Barcelona to Carcassonne

Click here for more information on Carcassonne and upcoming events.

P.S. Thanks to Pete Bine, my oldest son, for sharing some of his photos for this post

 

 

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Traveling by Train to Nice. Nice!


 

Traveling to Nice by trainTraveling to Nice by train for a weekend at the beach is a piece of cake. The low cost train fare makes the trip a “must.”

Low- cost train fare

Now that I’ve learned how easy traveling by train to Nice is, I planning to travel a lot by train in Europe, I’m glad to have the “senior” rail pass. The senior discount on the fare from Avignon to Nice makes the trip incredibly affordable–  roundtrip, first class. Getting to the train station from Uzes, I have two choices. Drive “Lucy” to Avignon and park her with her 4-wheeled friends at the train station; or catch the bus from Uzes to the train station in Avignon. I prefer the first option. Even with paying for parking at the train station, the total cost of transportation is less than driving back and forth to Nice. Plus, I don’t have to worry about parking places in Nice after I arrive.

Traveling to Nice by Train

The TGV train from Avignon to Nice in the first-class coach is a treat. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a seat with no one beside or across from you. You can stretch out as much as you please. 

As you skirt along the Mediterranean from Marseilles to Nice, you get a glimpse of the beaches and the coastline villas.

There’s  a blue-sky sunny day with only a few clouds.

From one side of the train you see sunbathers stretched out on mats and lounge chairs on the beaches. The temperature is in the high 60s.

The view from the left windows reveals town people walking busily down the streets wearing leather jackets.

MarseilleToulon. Sainte Maxime.

Stretches of low forests with cedars, olive trees and pines are interrupted by occasional towns. Beaches appear from nowhere as the train speeds along.

The sea draws closer to the tracks. It darts away again.

Yacht coves appear below rocky cliffs

Cannes. Antibes.

Train stations with familiar names click by alerting passengers that Nice is ahead.

High-rise condos and apartment buildings are beginning to crowd together on the hills to the left of the train tracks. More are packed together towards the sea.

Old and new, unkept and clean; the contrast of tan, yellow, reddish-brown and, occasionally, green stucco and concrete structures seem to blend together in perfect harmony.

 

Traveling to Nice by train

Traveling to Nice by train

 

Arriving in Nice

This is the real deal: The French Riviera


Traveling to Nice by train

The beach in Nice

Traveling to Nice by train

 

Traveling to Nice by train

City of Nice

 

Traveling to Nice by train

The beach — the Riviera

 

 

Traveling to Nice by train

Reliable transportation. Rent a bike.  Nice France

 

More about Nice

Nice is Nice. Marc Chagall Makes It Nicer

Heading for a Beach in France? Nice!

City Side of Nice: Favorite Finds

Uzes to Nice: Nice!

Traveling to Nice by train

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