France,  Travel

Canal du Midi Day 3: Castelnaudary to Carcassonne

After breakfast, I waited for the rain to stop before resuming my route along the Canal du Midi. Compared to yesterday’s mud bath, cycling through the odd puddle was a breeze. I skirted the quay across from the restaurant where I’d eaten cassoulet the night before, and soon left Castelnaudary far behind.

The weather was fair for most of the morning. With no large tree canopy for cover, this section of the canal was more open to the elements, but the views were far reaching across ploughed fields, vineyards and agricultural land. Although parts of the towpath were loose gravel, that made cycling a little trickier, I made good progress. I was keen to arrive at my next destination early enough to see a little of the medieval city of Carcassonne. However, by lunch time I was running out of steam and decided to stop at a small café next to the canal that was busy with cyclists: Grains d’ART

It was the first day of opening for the Arts and Nature House and they were overwhelmed with customers, to say the least. But the coffee and cake was excellent and there was also a fantastic bijou gallery with an exhibition of photographs and creative pieces to admire. Check out the Grains d’ART facebook page for a sneak preview of what’s on offer.

I sat outside at a table to enjoy my refreshments and met Bob and Micki from Boulder, Colorado. The American couple were also on a self-guided cycling tour, but had started in the mountains, rather than at Toulouse. We shared our experiences so far, including the dreaded mud, and hoped that the rest of the journey would be easier to navigate. They left me enjoying my coffee and cake, and the delightful atmosphere in the canal-side garden at Grains d’Art.

An hour and several kilometres later, as the heavens opened, I met them once more, taking shelter under a canopy by an old building. By this time I had already doubled up on waterproof layers, but I took the opportunity to avoid the worst of the weather and check the GPS. We compared our maps and estimated that we were only 8 kilometres from Carcassonne, so when the shower had passed, we set off once more, splish-splashing along the meandering towpath.

I lost them on the outskirts of the city in a torrential downpour.

Typical. Just when I needed to constantly check the GPS on my phone to navigate the final 2 kilometres across the busy city centre to my hotel. Somehow, I managed to find my way to Pont Vieux, the old bridge across the Aude River, which offered an incredible view of the medieval fortress. But I was absolutely drenched. On the other side of the bridge, a quaint street with cafés and bars was the perfect place to stop for a coffee under a large umbrella. When I checked my GPS, I was only 200 yards from my hotel. Who should be in reception but Bob and Micki! Small world.

The Hotel du Pont View epitomises boutique chic. It offers the perfect blend of traditional features, like the well-worn stone spiral staircase, along with contemporary lifestyle essentials like the multi-country-of-origin plug sockets and the incredible coffee making machine in the breakfast room! It also a boasts fabulous courtyard garden, complete with geraniums and bougainvillea, and a terrace with panoramic views of the ramparts of the Cité de Carcassonne.

My suitcase was not scheduled to arrive for another hour so I went to check out my room. It had a brilliant view of the fortress, and a bath! I took advantage, soaking chin deep in bubbles and soothing my senses with the complimentary sage-infused hair and body gel (sigh). When my suitcase finally arrived, I opened it to discover that I had left my plug adapter at the hotel in Castelnaudary. A real schoolboy error. Thankfully, when I went downstairs to ask Jean Michel where I could by another (on a Sunday), he pulled out a huge box of lost and forgotten adapters from under the counter and invited me to help myself.

Jean Michel also recommended a fantastic Spanish restaurant, Florida Blanca, just a few doors away. Keen to replace the calories I’d burned up on the journey to Carcassonne, I dined on tiny pieces of shark steak and a huge piece of Iberico pork with fries. It was exceptional. All served up in a quirky restaurant with a really nice vibe. I would definitely go back.

When I finally climbed the tiny spiral staircase back to my room and looked out of the window, the view was even more captivating. The medieval fortress was illuminated in spectacular fashion against a clear, midnight blue sky, displaying the stunning parapets, battlements and ramparts in all their glory.

Cité de Carcassonne

It was a magical end to a perfect day.

Follow my adventures on Day 4 here.

Let’s go
Hôtel du Pont Vieux
32 rue Trivalle
11000 Carcassonne
+33 (0)4 68 25 24 99 (French)

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