Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Castles, Churches and the Cookies of France

To get the full picture and "flavor" of a country one must take part in a few tourist attractions.   In France, there is the cuisine, of course, along with the wine, however, the castles and churches have so many stories to tell.  Most produced a feeling that life was certainly not easy.   Constructing a castle took many lifetimes with one generation starting "the project" while the next generation or two would fulfill the dreams of their ancestors.   Most castles were built with protection in mind, thus the fortress, and were usually perched on top of lofty hills or mountains affording great views, not to mention a superb vantage point to spot encroaching marauders and barbarians.

Carcassone, a sprawling castle compound surrounded by the lower city, was extremely Disney-like.  Built and rebuilt over the centuries, it was more or less a refuge for the believers of Catholicism and a city within a city.  Due to its easy access, roads, river, etc. it has survived the battles and test of time quite well.  It helps to have a good tax base with all of its restaurants, hotels and souvenir shops in the mix.

One of a multitude of towers in Carcassone

St Nazaire Cathedral in Carcassone

On the other hand, the Cathar compound of Montsegur, did not fair so well.  It's easy to see why not!  You have to applaud their efforts to schlep food and supplies up this steep grade in the first place.   The beauty and serenity of the surrounding area was overshadowed by the fact that over 200 Cathars were finally overtaken and marched down to the waiting flames, because of their religious beliefs.  


Hugging the Pyrenees Mountains further North from this site was the town and Chateau de Foix.   This was closely affiliated with the Cathars.   It was one of our "day trips" and quite the hike to the top.   The Chateau was a stand alone castle unlike the self contained Carcassone, but was still rather impressive.  Before the climb we dined on more tasty salads de France with gizzards or anchovies and goat cheese medallions.  You can never get enough cheese in France.

Which brings me to the next subject, the cookies in France.  Pastry shops are plentiful and the sweet aromas purposely lure you over to the entrance (and inside) these beautifully displayed shops.  One of our favorites was in the town/city of Poitiers on the way back to Paris.  We spent one night there but Poitiers had me yearning for at least another night.  Centrally located, it was a short drive to the coast and quite near to the gentle hilly wine regions of the  fertile Loire Valley.  Maybe, on the next trip.  More about this area to come....Just a few more installments and I'm done!

Cookies in Poitiers  Too many to try!  What's that handsome Italian doing in that French shop?

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