There is a little town called Carcassonne, in South France. You can get there via domestic plane or a train. The nearest city is Toulouse. Carcassonne’s main star is its old medieval castle, unmissable as it is located on high ground with strong brown walls, and a whole medieval city built within it. Here is a simple itinerary of things you should not miss even if you only have a day in this gorgeous little French town.
9 am – 11 am:
Go to the Ville Basse, North West of the castle. It is the center of the town, with small intersecting lanes lined with shops selling various things. Have breakfast at La Rotonde, where you pay €8 for a breakfast of a basket of bread, croissants, FRENCH BUTTER, orange juice and a hot beverage of your choice (your choice should be café au lait, if you know what’s good for ya). Then take a walk around the shops. Things worth checking out would be the morning market, the pharmacies selling French beauty products and local perfumeries. There are also small, old churches in between the streets that are beautiful to behold.
11 am – 3 pm:
Slowly head towards the Medieval Cite, the large castle on top of the hill. You will pass a beautiful French village on your way to the large fort. Within it you will find a whole other world of medieval city, with crooked paved lanes going in circles, small shops selling fresh baked goods, souvenirs and chocolates, L’occitane (it was born in the South of France), and cafes selling decent lunches. You can easily spend hours in here, and when you’re done, get a good view of the whole town from the walls of the castle. It will not get more French than this, I shit you not.
3 pm – 6 pm:
Go to the Canal du Midi, at the edge of the Ville Basse. Rent a bike and cycle along the beautiful, quiet canal, and savour the lush greenery, passing vineyards, bridges and the beautiful French countryside. On a more ghastly side, be prepared to cycle for 25 km back and forth. You will probably displace your pelvic joints and come back sweaty and on the verge of passing out if you’re not fit, but it will be an unforgettable experience. If you wear boots while doing this like I did, you’re an idiot.
Have dinner at La Pergola, a restaurant next to the main park. After the accidental workout, you will probably devour a whole pizza or a fat bowl of pasta, which is a good idea since this restaurant serves some wonderful selections. Have a go at the cheese platter, found in almost every decent French restaurant. Don’t rush it. Enjoy your meal and your company. Watch the town slowly emit lights and the dinner crowd start swarming in.
7.30 pm – till whenever you’re done.
Go back to the Medieval Cite. The palace is not the same at night. The lights somehow makes it even more magical. As the shops are starting to close, you can now enjoy the quiet scene of the small alleys. The brick buildings will remind you of period movies, and true enough, movies have been shot here. In fact, did you know that there is board game created based on this place? Yep, you guessed it. It is called Carcassonne.
The last leg of the trip was a bit of a trip down memory lane, for two different reasons. Cardiff was a place I stayed as a child while my Father was attending the University of Wales, and Costwalds was the quaint little English village I had always fantasised about as a child, as I read books from Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl.
Wales. Aside from the fact that it valued its Welsh heritage (you can see Welsh translations for every road sign), it is a beautiful region in the South West of Britain. In particular, we spent most of our time in Cardiff, to reminisce some wonderful childhood memories growing up. The city centre around Queen Street is where it is most alive, and tucked at the corner of the street is the large stone walls that hid the Cardiff Castle. Cardiff Castle had stunned me as a child, and still does to this day. The grounds made you imagine English warriors in heavy steel suits, and the old castle high above the ground makes you fantasise about being a princess in a tower and rescued by a knight in a shining armour. And that’s how you begin to have absurd expectations for real life, kids.
When night falls and it’s time to be adults again, Cardiff Bay is pretty nice place for a quiet hang-out. There are varieties of restaurants by the sea, and a particular good night would be to have a sunset dinner in one of the better restaurants, and have a stroll afterwards with some gelato in one hand. The wind smells of the salty sea, and the loud drunks are pretty fun to watch.
Once upon a time, there was a small village with grey solid stone houses lining the small paved streets. All of the houses had chimneys, and as you walked past the little tea shops and antique boutiques, you swore you could smell the heavy scent of fresh baked cookies in the air. You walked towards the bakery, and along the way you passed a small creek with ducks swimming around in organised chaos, with a puppy barking enthusiastically at them.
That’s probably what you will find written in an Enid Blyton book, but it is most definitely something you will see in Costwalds. Costwalds is the perfect place to go and do nothing. The little village fed every single childhood fantasy I have ever had when I read books of faraway English lands. I have been on a silent quest to seek possible retirement places when I grow old and cranky and smoke cigars, and this place is the first one on the list. It is a place where you wouldn’t mind having cups of tea all day, and stare at the clear creek waters while sitting on a bench all evening.