Once we got going in the morning, we walked from our hotel to the medieval city of Carcassonne (it's about 1/2 a mile from us, quite reasonable). Carcassonne is really a pretty remarkable construction, with a 3 km long ring of double walls that are fully restored (a little too over-restored, some say). Inside is a smaller castle, and a tangle of pedestrian streets, which are unfortunately pretty intensely touristy right now. It's actually a little amazing to me that there is enough business to support so many restaurants and cafes packed in cheek by jowl, but apparently the magic of capitalism has decreed it be so
. We walked around for a bit, had breakfast, poked at the walls, and went inside the castle, which featured a genuinely informative film (at the very least, it had some models showing the development of the castle), the usual assortment of plaques and statues, and allowed one to walk on a large section of the inner walls (funnily enough, I think I like being on the outer walls better, as those had a better view of the inner walls than when you're right on top of them. We had a quick crepe for lunch, heard a little polyphonic singing in the cathedral (oddly enough, by Russians; amusingly, when they stopped, one of them promptly sat down started playing a soccer game on his Nintendo DS, in the cathedral) and decided we had had enough. We walked back to our hotel, relaxed a little, and then headed out for wine tasting.
Languedoc is a huge wine producing region, so I had kind of assumed there would be lots of wineries opened up with an eye to the tourist trade around Carcassonne; in fact, I was a little worried that things would be unpleasantly touristy compared to our experience in Bergerac. Nothing could have been further from the truth. First, we had a fair amount of trouble finding good candidates. There do seem to be plenty of wine producers in the area, but very few of them seem to have done much rolling out of the welcome mat. We ended up heading out to a very small family-run vineyard close by with the slightly odd name of Domaine O'Vineyards
. It was clear from the website that it was a pretty casual operation (It includes gems like: "Hours of Operation: Almost anytime. We live on the vineyard, so we don’t really have opening or closing hours. Just drop us an email or a phone call any time, and we will make sure that we’re here to greet you.") We followed our GPS, going through the suburbs of Carcassonne, saying to ourselves "Hmmm, this doesn't really seem like somewhere you'd put a vineyard..." and then suddenly there it was. Poorly signed, admittedly, but it was hard to miss the grapevines. We drove up, parked and started looking around for an official entrance; it really felt like we had just driven up to a random stranger's house (which was actually kind of true). Luckily, we were spotted by a family member, coaxed in and given some wine. The vineyard doubles as a B&B, so it wasn't completely like being in someone's house, but it was a lot more like it than any other winery we've been to. We just sat at a small table in the dining room, tried a number of different wines (the most interesting being a triptych of 3 wines, precisely the same, except that one had been done in stainless steel, one in French oak, one in American oak; I (Ben) preferred the French oak, Jola the American, but they were all quite good), and ended up hanging out for 2 hours, talking to the proprietors and to an English couple who were staying there as hotel guests (they were interesting; the man ran an environmentally friendly window company, and usually did vacations like fishing for perch in Lake Nasser on the Egypt/Sudan border, while living in a tiny boat). It was a little surreal, but quite pleasant; we recommend it to anyone who happens to be in the Carcassonne area.
We weren't feeling quite ready for dinner yet, so we stopped by another winery and got another bottle of wine on the way home; this was also a little weird since the tasting was done at the actual bar of a restaurant (the guy pouring for us there was also an interesting type; he was extremely keen to move to Australia, but his girlfriend wouldn't let him). Finally, we back drove to the hotel, and walked to the town center of Carcassonne. We had a very pleasant walk back, which gave us a good chance to see the fortress lit up at night. So, a pretty successful day, I'd say. And then tomorrow, more driving!
Somewhat amazingly, today was our first day since leaving Paris that didn't involve at least a couple of hours of driving. We knew when we planned this trip that we were setting things up at a slightly crazy pace, but I think it hadn't quite sunk in what that would be like. Anyways, it was a good change.