A Postcard from Carcassonne

Last summer, we visited Southern France and stopped off for a few days in the beautiful medieval city of Carcassonne. It’s taken me a while, but at last, I have finally got round to writing this long awaited postcard….

Fate brought me and Carcassonne together. Several years ago, while visiting family in the UK we found ourselves with babysitters for a couple of hours one evening so we visited a nearby pub. The establishment in question had shelves of second hand books for drinkers to read and Mr Postcard perused the books as we waited for our drinks. He handed me a rather dog-eared green book with a golden circular labyrinth image on the front and said “I think that’s up your street”.

He was right. I read the blurb on the back and was immediately drawn in (we were at the pub with Mr Postcard’s brother and I was very antisocial I’m afraid, because I became absorbed by the book which had found its way into my hands). I felt a bit  disappointed when the time came to leave and go home, reluctantly I replaced the book on the shelf and made a mental note to hunt down my own copy.

Fortuitously, as we walked through the airport to catch our flight back to Gibraltar, I spotted a brand spanking new copy of the book in a shop and had just enough time to buy it before catching our plane. The book was Labyrinth by Kate Mosse.

I loved it, both the characters and the setting of Carcassonne. It sounded like such a magical, special place. For the first time ever, I felt compelled to visit a place I had read about. I had no idea when that would happen, just that I really wanted to go there. I went on to read the next two books in the Languedoc trilogy (Sepulchre & Citadel) and thoroughly enjoyed them both. I even got the members of the book club I belong to to read Labyrinth (I had to spread the love). Then, in 2015, I had the good fortune to be able to see a talk with the author, Kate Mosse, when she came to the Gibraltar Literary Festival.

I went to hear her talk about her latest book, the Taxidermist’s Daughter, but unfortunately I couldn’t stay on afterwards to meet her (as I had to dash off to collect a child). I rushed back later with said child in tow in the hope that I would be able to get my book signed.

I couldn’t believe my luck. As we arrived at the front door of the hall where Kate had been speaking, there she was, about to leave, alongside another literary heroine of mine, Joanne Harris. Totally star struck, and full of apologies for detaining her further I asked if she would mind signing my book. She was very gracious and obliged.

And so, several years had passed since I first laid eyes on Labyrinth and last summer we were planning a trip to France. There were two direct flights available from Malaga airport, to Paris and Toulouse. We opted for Toulouse as we fancied exploring somewhere we hadn’t visited before.

It was only after booking the flight that the penny dropped that Carcassonne wasn’t far from Toulouse. [I may have applied a little pressure for us to hire a car so we could have a day trip out to Carcassonne ;-)]. As it turned out, Mr Postcard surprised me by booking a gîte just outside the old city walls for a few nights so that we could explore Carcassonne properly. I can’t tell you how happy that made me!

I’m not sure I have enough superlatives to describe the medieval Cité. It’s just beautiful and as atmospheric as I imagined. We had a day or so to potter around the narrow streets by ourselves, before going on a pre-booked tour with a guide, so that we didn’t miss anything.

It’s taken me a while, but at last, I have finally got round to writing this long awaited postcard….

The ‘old’ Carcassonne sat on the hill above where we were staying, beckoning us up to explore…

The first thing I was struck by, was how well preserved the medieval Cité was. Sitting atop a hill with a clear view of the River Aude, it looked magestic. It hasn’t always been so though. After its heyday, the Cité fell into disrepair and locals moved out into the modern city on the opposite side of the river. Over time the stones of the Cité walls and its buildings began to be taken by scavengers who needed the stone for new buildings in the new city, effectively turning it into a quarry. It wasn’t until 1853 that Eugène Viollet-le-Duc was given the job of attempting to restore the Cité to its former glory. It is his Carcassonne which you see today when you visit.

DSC_0745.JPG

Although we did have plenty of time to explore the ancient streets and buildings ourselves, we decided to pay to join one of the official guided tours which left from the tourist office on a regular basis.

We gathered together under the giant horse chestnut trees outside the main entrance of the Cité to begin our tour. One of the first questions our guide asked was whether any of us English speakers had read Labyrinth. I was the only one and put my hand up. I just happened to have my copy with me (it was at this point that the Little Postcards died in embarrassment and ever so slightly disowned me! Cue the cry of “Muuuum! I can’t believe you brought that with you!”).

DSC_0663.JPG

We were led in over the drawbridge (which isn’t original, it was created during the renovation works).

Our first port of call was the Lices area between the two sets of ancient walls which encircle the Cité. Once filled with housing for the less well off in society, but now cleared to make a pleasant green area.

We then headed into the rabbit warren of streets and alleyways. Full of hidden corners and nookie holes and history. The architecture is really beautiful.

I won’t give you a blow by blow account of our tour, as I couldn’t do it justice. I’ll just share a few bits with you…

DSC_0702.JPG

I’m so glad that we did take the tour, the significance of certain buildings were highlighted and it put the Cité into a much clearer context both in medieval times and the intervening years. The most interesting thing I learned was that it became the Southern French HQ of the Gestapo during WWII and they took over the 5* Hotel de la Cité as they explored the surrounding mountains of Languedoc in search of buried Cathar treasure. In more recent times a host of celebrities from Michael Jackson to the Queen Mother have stayed there.

DSC_0831.JPG

The Basilica of Saint-Nazaire nearby is surrounded with some very ominous looking gargoyles. They must have seen some sights over the centuries!

DSC_0723.JPG

DSC_0725.JPG

Inside the Cathedral are the most stunning stained glass windows.

DSC_0709.JPG

DSC_0719.JPG

We bought tickets to go into the 12th Century Château Comtal, which is the only part of the Cité you have to pay to enter.

Another interesting fact is that the Château Comtal (which is where Alaïs, the heroine of Labyrinth lives at the start of the novel), was actually used as a location in the making of the Kevin Costner film; Robin Hood Prince of Theives. The exterior of the Château became the outside of Nottingham Castle, home to Alan Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham.

While much of the Château is just a network of empty rooms which tourists wander through on a trail from one section to another, the views were pretty spectacular from the windows. (There may have been some really interesting stuff in there but I had a slightly impatient 5 year old with me, who’s patience had run out, so it was a bit of a whistle stop tour for us).

DSC_0816.JPG

Inside the Château is a collection of archaeological exhibits from the Cité’s past.

The end of the Château tour led us out onto the inner ramparts, which afforded us lovely views across the valley and to the more modern city beyond the River Aude.

Every day we were in Carcassonne, it was busy with tourists. However, as we were staying nearby, we were lucky enough to be able to come back up to the Cité in the evenings and enjoy it while the streets were a good bit quieter, and really soak up the atmosphere among the medieval buildings.

I had high hopes for Carcassonne before I had arrived, and it didn’t disappoint. The atmosphere and the architecture are just lovely. As an old romantic who would love to live in a castle, it was marvellous to spend some time there. So that was last summer, and as luck would have it just two weeks ago this beauty was published….

…. another Kate Mosse novel which is partially set in Carcassonne. This time I can read it knowing exactly what the places are like which are described in it’s pages. I had to patiently wait for my copy to make it down to Gibraltar, but now it’s here, and I’m off to put the kettle on and start reading!

Thanks for stopping by, and if you made it all the way to the end of this particularly long postcard – thank you! You deserve a pat on the back!!

2017 Weekly photo challenge (Week 51) Window

I was a bit spoiled for choice for this week’s challenge. We had an amazing summer this year and were lucky enough to do some traveling. The above photograph was taken as we took off from Gibraltar at the start of our summer adventures.

The following window pictures were taken in the beautiful Saint-Nazaire Basilica in Carcassonne in Southern France. They were the most beautiful stained glass windows I have ever seen and the photographs sadly don’t do them justice.

Seeing all these reminds me that I still have a trillion photos on my camera which are crying out to be featured in blog posts about our summer trips. They will follow at some point – I promise!

I’m linking with Nana Cathy and Wild Daffodil for this weekly photo challenge throughout 2017.

Summer Craft Challenge 2017 (week 9)

Welcome to the slightly late final edition of my Summer Craft Challenge 2017. A return to school for the Little Postcards and the wonderful MTV Gibraltar Calling music festival this weekend slightly threw me off track… here goes!

Day 57 : Saturday 26th August

Saturday was our last night in beautiful Carcassonne.  I will always remember Carcassonne when I wear this shawl once it’s finished.

Day 58 : Sunday 27th August

Back in Toulouse on Sunday the colour blue began to emerge in the yarn. I’m really enjoying the colours of this Scheepjes Whirl yarn.

Day 59 : Monday 28th August

With a few hours to kill between checking out and heading to the airport it meant a little while in one of Toulouse’s gorgeous public parks crocheting on a bench…

….and then more time for hooky on the plane. I ended up sitting next to a lovely Spanish lady who loves to crochet too. She showed me her bag which she had made herself.

Day 60 : Tuesday 29th August

Back at home in Gibraltar now, with just the chance for a couple of rows between the multiple loads of post holiday laundry!

Day 61 : Wednesday 30th August


Time for a change today and a return to this lovely ‘Jenny’s Mandala’ from Little Box of Crochet. I know I have said it before but I just love how the pattern and look of the mandala changes with each new row.

Day 63 : Thursday 31st August

More mandala time, and as the sun went down on Thursday, it went down on the school summer holidays and indeed my summer craft challenge for this year. I felt a glass of wine was in order to celebrate over 60 days of craftiness (I missed just 2 days this year) and to spare a thought for all the wonderful teachers who will be nurturing all our kiddiwinks over the next academic year.

My Summer Craft Challenge this year has been such fun and has come with us all over the place on a mini European tour. Europa the Unicorn, who I made on the very first day of the challenge back on 1st July has been to the U.K., France, Portugal, Spain and Italy. I have been getting weird glances from not just my children, but passers-by as I have been attempting to take photos of her in various locations, I have been disowned on more than one occasion.

Thanks so much for joining me! 

Sunday Sevens #98 27.8.17

Bonjour and welcome to this French edition of Sunday Sevens. We have been enjoying a week in the south of France, beginning in Toulouse…

Green Toulouse

I’m really impressed with Toulouse, it’s a beautiful city which is full of fantastic architecture, the public transport is clean, reliable and just great. Even the bridges are beautiful and floral in Toulouse… have you ever seen anything as lovely as this?? This was one of the bridges which link several parks together. What a great idea.

Don’t look down…


I’m not a fan of heights (staying in a holiday apartment on the 17th floor of a tower block meant issues for me) but I overcame my fears and went for a ride with the whole Postcard family on this lovely Ferris wheel. Situated on the bank of the River Garonne, it was a perfect vantage point to watch the sunset over Toulouse on Monday evening.

Astronaut toilets


On Tuesday we took a trip out to the Cité de l’Espace, a museum for the European Space Programme on the outskirts of Toulouse. There was a fascinating IMAX film about the international space station and another about the Aurora Borealis. We even got to see Venus through a huge telescope in the observatory. The highlight for the Little Postcards was most probably finding out about how astronauts go to the loo… 

Planes, planes, planes…


On Wednesday we paid a visit to the Airbus factory in Toulouse. They do guided tours and take you inside to see where the giant, double decker A380 planes are assembled. We have a huge transport fan in the factory, so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get up close to these amazing planes. 

For security and to prevent their trade secrets being leaked you aren’t allowed to take any photos on the tour. It was really interesting (even for someone like me who doesn’t really even like flying ). The photo here is of an A350 just after take off on a test flight.

Carcassonne 


Straight after our Airbus tour, we set off for Carcassonne, the highlight of the whole trip for me. After reading the Kate Mosse book, Labyrinth a few years ago, I have wanted to visit this medieval city which is one of the main venues in the story. It was a beautiful as I imagined. 

We loved it so much that we changed our plans and decided to stay for 4 nights. That way we had the chance to really explore properly.

A riverside walk


The Cité of Carcassonne sits on a hill beside the River Aude. We took a lovely wander down by the river and sat on the bank watching the ducks and a little terrier diving in to retrieve his ball!  It is such a lovely spot. 

Window shopping in Carcassonne 


Away from the medieval Cité, Carcassone has a lot to offer. We stayed on the same side of the River Aude as the Cité but across the river is a bustling modern city. Some of the shops were amazing. I love window shopping when I’m abroad, you see so many interesting things. This cheese shop really caught my eye, you’ve got to love a heart-shaped cheese!

Thanks for joining me again this week. I’m linking with Natalie at Threads & Bobbins who first created the Sunday Sevens weekly blog series. 


Summer Craft Challenge (week 8)

I am almost at the end of this year’s summer craft challenge and I can’t believe how quickly it has flown by. We have been so lucky to be able to travel so much and visit such beautiful places this year. Among our destinations have been English & Welsh countryside, the sunny Algarve, Rome, and southern France.

Last year, in order to save my sanity during the long 8 week school holidays I set myself a craft challenge to do something crafty (even just for 5 minutes). I had such fun doing it and recording it last year that I’ve done it again this year. Here’s this summer’s latest installment:

Day 50 : Saturday 19th August


Another week, another flight! Europa the Unicorn and my crochet hook hopped onto another plane on Saturday and we headed up north to France. Toulouse to be precise. She is one jet set Unicorn!

Day 51 : Sunday 20th August

Exactly one week on from posting an almost identical photograph taken in the shade under some trees in a park in Rome, I was doing the same thing in one of Toulouse’s beautiful parks. My word, the French authorities know how to maintain a public park – they are so beautiful. 

Day 52 : Monday 21st August


Europa had a trip on a Toulouse tram today to the Airbus museum Aeroscopia. It was loads of fun, we got to go on Concorde and a Super Guppy! (For the uninitiated, Super Guppies were used to transport parts of Airbus airplanes to the assembly point in Toulouse). 


Oh and I finished this scarf which was started in Manchester at the beginning of our summer adventures. I now have one happy Little Postcard who’s chuffed with his new scarf.

Day 53 : Tuesday 22nd August

“Oh dear, Mummy’s got her Unicorn out again!” was the cry that went up at the Cité de L’Espace on Tuesday. Not only has Europa been on several flights this summer, she has now also been on a MIR space station. Not many unicorns can say that can they?


We enjoyed a leisurely evening on the bank of the Garonne on the Toulouse Plage (Toulouse beach). It’s a wonderful area with games, yoga, dancing, Paddle tennis, table tennis and all sorts going on. They also serve rather nice beer in plastic cups, which goes excellently with crochet as the water skiers and kayakers go past!

Day 54 : Wednesday 23rd August

Wednesday was a washout as far as craftiness is concerned – a morning tour around the Airbus factory to see where the giant A380 double decker planes are made (for the benefit of a Little Postcard with a fascination for all things transport) and then the highlight of my trip, a drive to the medieval Cité of Carcassonne. 

Day 55 : Thursday 24th August


We loved Carcassonne so much that we decided to stay for a few days… how lucky. At last Europa has the fairy tale backdrop to her photograph that she deserves!

Oh and I found time today for a bit of this…

Day 56 : Friday 25th August


Time for a spot of crochet in our holiday home before heading off up to the Cité of Carcassonne for our guided tour.


And a quick row under the gargoyles outside the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire within the city walls. The building in the background is the 5 star Hotel de la Cité, former guests have included the Queen Mother, Michael Jackson and Johnny Depp. We have been so lucky to be able to spend a few days in this very beautiful part of the world.


Thanks for joining me for this weekly craft round up, next week will be my last one this year as school starts again in Gibraltar on Friday. It’s been such fun to have you along.