Star Date: May 23, 2016: Today, we go where no American has ever gone (OK, maybe only a few) … this morning, with our Tauck tour officially over, we got a transfer to the Lyon airport, where we picked up our rental car, and headed back to the south of France. This time, our destination was the Languedoc region.
The trip from Lyon to Carcassonne, in the southwest part of France was projected to take about 5 hours. Therefore, it seemed somewhat prudent to schedule a midpoint stop. Being “Our Lady of the Aggressive Schedule”, I deemed it a good idea to stop in the town of Orange–about halfway between Lyon and Carcassonne — to partake of more Roman ruins we would not have otherwise seen. Ergo, we decided to see the town of Orange, and visit the Roman theater there.
We pulled into Orange in between rain storms, and immediately found the giant theater. It is amazingly well preserved, and HUGE! The locals still use the theater for musical and stage productions 2000 years after it was built, which is pretty cool. We’re really glad we made this detour, and after lunch, we continue on to Carcassonne.
During the drive, I formed some observations on French drivers:
- The highways are very well marked with road signs, and the toll road system is very easy to use.
- The French like to go camping, so there are always campers and RVs on the roads, and there are lots of really nice camp grounds!
- Virtually all French drivers drive too close to one another, and pass with really dangerous margins between cars!
- French truck drivers are, shall we say, overly aggressive. It also appears that the amount of aggression shown by the driver is inversely proportionate to the size of the truck, with the little tiny delivery trucks determined to drive in both their lane and your lane at the same time just to show you who is boss.
As we drove south, the skies cleared, and we entered some incredible agricultural territory, replete with fruit trees. vineyards, and wheat fields. The Languedoc region grows about 1/3 of all the wine grapes produced in France, and we are looking forward to learning more about this grape-growing region.
We checked into our lovely boutique hotel, Hotel du Chateau, right outside the old city walls of Carcassonne, we enjoyed a glass of local rosé while we sat on the hotel patio and gazed at the old city. This beautiful town was settled as early as the 6th Century B.C., then was a Roman town, before becoming fortified in the 4th Century A.D. and then expanded and doubly fortified in the Middle Ages. The town and its ramparts have been recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site. Probably more tourists visit Avignon every year, but Jim and I thought this town was even lovelier, with its turrets and complete walls, and extensive medieval architecture.
We walked around the town a bit before we arrived at our restaurant, le Table de Alois, for our exploration of another local cultural heritage: the cassoulet. Because Languedoc is home to such agricultural bounty, and also has abundant forest and wetlands, the cassoulets made here, replete with local sausage and plump duck confit and white beans, is recognized as the best in France. But first, Jim tried to commit suicide by foie gras!
The entire meal was epic, but after such a bountiful repast, we felt the need for another walk through the old town to settle our stomachs. It’s a good thing we have some major hiking planned for tomorrow!