Weekend day trips have commenced here in Toulouse. First stop: Carcassonne, a lovely medieval city in the southwest of France, close to the Spanish border and the Pyrenees mountains. The city is famous for the medieval fortress restored by the theorist and architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc back in 1853. It was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997.
Without a car, we decided to take the train from Toulouse to Carcassonne. In an express train, it takes about 45 minutes. On a local train, it’s closer to 1 hour & 15 minutes. This also marked our first trip out of the Toulouse train station (which we’re happy to note is a quick walk from our apartment).
From the Carcassonne train station, we walked through the modern day city of Carcassonne and into the main draw of the trip – La Cité (the old medieval city). Unfortunately the day was quite overcast and windy, but fortunately, it was pretty comfortable for walking around/exploring.
Upon starting our tour, we watched a film, which provided ample background information regarding the city and building. Honestly, it’s amazing how much was restored. It’s rather impressive what archeologists and architects can uncover, even hundreds of years ago.
With that said, Carcassone was an area with strategic importance, as it linked the Atlantic to the Mediterranean with Romans, Visigoths, and French occupying the city throughout history. I thought one of the most interesting tidbits from the movie was the religion that seemed to start there, but was squashed by the current Pope with quite the siege.
If you happen to head there, I recommend the tour (with the audio guide). There are amazing views of the city/countryside/mountains along with great breezes and architecture. In some ways it reminded me a little of Sienna. One regret was that you couldn’t go in the cathedral (it was the first building restored by Viollet-le-Duc). Otherwise, it’s pretty pristine.
I must say, however, my favorite part of the visit was the food and wine. After our tour, we wandered about the city and found a wine bar as well as a place to eat dinner. Let me just say, if you all find yourselves in Carcassonne, please go to to Barrière Truffes – l’Atelier de la Truffe – Restaurant – Bar à Vins – Consultant. It is 200 percent worth it. In fact, I think he served us the best wine we’ve had in France as well as some of the best cheese (at least my favorite cheese). It’s also a truffle destination, and the owner (Philippe) is a bit of a truffle expert (he was cleaning a HUGE basket of truffles while we drank/ate). He also seems to have a bit of a penchant for American Classic Rock (we heard Bob Dylan, Steve Miller Band, Bad Company, ELO, and the Rolling Stones to name a few) along with a TV playing Wimbledon and then Euro 2016 (never seen that in a wine bar before).
There is a HUGE selection in his restaurant. An entire wall is dedicated to various types of wines (which you can also buy to take with you). We were the first folks to enter after the afternoon service at 6:30pm or so. We took a seat at the bar and ordered a glass of red wine. He served up a taste of one (it was amazing) then had us try a second (it was even better). We explained we really liked it, and he said it’s from the CABARDÈS region. Basically, it’s a lot of Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvingon (kinda reminded us a little of Teldeschi’s wine in the Dry Creek Valley, but much younger).
Once we finished our first glass, we decided to get a plate of cheese along with a second glass of red wine, which we told Philippe we’d like to go with the “choix du barman.” He kinda laughed at us and pulled out another two wines to try (they were also amazing). As such, we gushed quite a bit as we waited for him to return with our cheese plate. There was a mix of cheeses, with my favorite being a sheep cheese (unfortunately I didn’t catch the name, as he just told us it was brebis). Not surprisingly, sheep cheese continues to be my absolute favorite in all countries. I think I told him maybe 4 times I loved this cheese, which again seemed to kinda entertain him.
We had dinner a few storefronts down at Restaurant Le 37. Armed with our new regional wine knowledge, we ordered more Cabardes wine (and it was also fantastic). We both had a stake a point (which is supposed to signify cooked perfectly), and it actually was maybe little more well done than usual (or expected). I think that’s the sign that we’re really becoming French. The only downside to the evening was I spilled the dark purple wine on my white shirt. It’s been sitting in salt and now baking soda since we got home last night.
All in all, I’d go back, but I’d like to spend more time at that wine bar and REALLY try a bunch more wines, cheese, along with truffles! Definitely makes me want to find something like that here in Toulouse…