I have absolutely nothing negative to say about the two cities I had the opportunity to visit in Languedoc. The realist and admittedly occasional pessimist that I am, this does not happen every day. Nîmes and Carcassonne surprised me. They were both unsuspectingly magnificent.
I had never even heard of Nîmes before so to suddenly arrive in a city boasting a Roman amphitheatre, a remarkably complete Roman temple and one of the most beautiful parks I have ever visited, was surprising to say the least. It is also one of the cleanest cities I have ever visited in France, though watch out for the occasional canine gift left on pavements. Evidently, Nimes is a dog-loving city. The city is dotted with outdoor cafes on wide boulevards and in spacious plazas. The central area is full of winding small streets with shops and restaurants. Leading out of the central area, a long canal dotted with trees takes you to the entrance of the Jardin De La Fontaine complete with beautiful classical sculptures and a dramatic staircase leading to the park itself. Driving a little ways out of the city there is an enormous Roman aqueduct, as if another jaw dropping attraction is needed. I could have happily spent a month in that city – despite the fact that a barista ripped me off. Nothing could have spoiled that day.
My next stop was Carcassonne. Having read Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth, I knew about Carcassonne. But nothing could have prepared me for the reality. A double walled medieval city sat atop a hill complete with around fifty turrets, it is easily one of the most romantic and spectacular sights I have ever seen. If you are a lover of fairy tales like myself or, lets face it, of Disney since they seem to have monopolised fairy tale retellings, your imagination will run wild in Carcassonne. And did I mention the entire castle with its walls and towers gets completely lit up at night? If ever there was an Instagram moment that was it (unless like mine your phone’s camera takes poor quality photos at night – note to Apple). I cannot tell you very much about the new town across the river because I spent very little time there. There is an excellent homemade bagel place called Le (B) which I would recommend but aside from that it did not seem worth a trip. And if you are ever lucky enough to see the main attraction, you will understand why.
Inside the old city walls are small winding streets (no cars allowed) peppered with cafes, restaurants and shops - and not just cheesy tourist shops. My sister and I stumbled across a wonderful teashop. The owner did not seem to speak a word of English but kindly offered us a complementary cup of tea as soon as we walked in the door. The castle or the keep itself is nondescript. If you are expecting a castle akin to that in Beauty and the Beast with sweeping staircases and intricate carvings you are in for a disappointment. It is more like a fortress than a storybook castle, but the overall effect of Carcassonne is breath taking. And the experience from atop the walls themselves is equally so, though it gets quite windy. Note to future travellers; be careful not to get blown off the walls – it is no laughing matter.
Top: Nîmes, France
Photography by Savannah Hayes