Cheap seats: Spring in southern France
April 22, 2009
Explore two of southern France’s picturesque locales — Perpignan and Carcassonne.
The city of Perpignan features the Castillet, a 14th-century red-brick fortress that houses the Casa Pairal museum. Exhibits of Catalan regional artifacts, folkloric items and local crafts are its specialty.
The fortress’s tower offers an impressive view of the town and Mount Canigou.
Walk from the fortress to the impressive Gothic Loge de Mer, with its gargoyles and fussy balustrades. Across the courtyard is the 15th-century Palais de la Députation, once the parliament of the Roussillon area.
The Place de la Loge brings a respite from sightseeing with its many bars and restaurants.
Farther down, Rue St-Jean leads to the 14th-century Cathedral St. Jean, which has an elaborate interior of Catalan altar pieces and a magnificent wooden crucifix.
Perpignan’s medieval Palace of the Kings of Majorca is partially restored. Tours are offered four times a day, or you can explore on your own. Its square tower awards a fine view of the Pyrenees.
The medieval walled city in Carcassonne is a U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage site on the right bank of the River Aude, according to the city’s official tourist Web site.
The nearly two miles of fortification include 52 towers and two rings of walls and is home to around 120 residents. Within the city, tourists can explore specialty shops and see local craftsmen at work.
The city’s Musée des Memoires du Moyen Age offers exhibits on costumes, weapons, architecture and defense techniques used in medieval castles. Also within the walls is the 12th-century Comtal Castle, offering guided tours and gallery talks and the Musée Lapidaire, with an exhibition highlighting the restoration of the city.
Take a sightseeing ride on the little train or tour by horse-drawn carriage, both departing from Narbonnaise Gate and offering comprehensive commentary in multiple languages.
On the left bank of the Aude is the country estate Bastide Saint-Louis, home to monuments, parks, private mansions and the beautiful St. Vincent’s Church. Also within the estate is the Gothic-style St. Michael’s Cathedral, featuring many fine examples of art. The Carcassonne Tourist Office says tours can be arranged to any of the sites within Bastide Saint-Louis.
No trip to this town is complete without a visit to one of the local vineyards to sample the wine and enjoy a local meal at some of the finest vineyard restaurants. Leave your diet at home and try the local cassoulet, a heavy dish featuring a mixture of beans, duck and pork.