Archive for August, 2010

Awakening to Carcassone, France

Posted in French Affair, French Travel, South of France with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 31, 2010 by Therese Waddell

Bonjour mon amis,

I’d love to give you an insight into the French countryside city of Carcassone, today. Some of you are thinking about a holiday non? For those of you like my friends Leanne and her francophile hubby Keith who are planning to visit that beautiful part of  the world very soon or those of you like my blogger friend Hope Ava of the frenchmouse blogspot who delights in medieval castles- I entreat you all to come see Carcassone.

One glimpse at Carcassone albeit from a distance turned my french awakening into seduction and I couldn’t get nearer fast enough. Located in one of my favourite regions of France-the Languedoc-Roussillon, it forms part of  the Aude department of south west France and is such a fabulous juxtaposition of the old and new. With so much to see and do here, you really will be surprised as to how quickly your time flies in one of the oldest fortress cities in France or Europe for that matter!

Lovers of Cathar history and defence, will first realise that the Carcassone is constructed around two medieval cities and is indeed old-some of it dating back to Gallo-Roman times.  Around 100BC, the Romans built a fort after the Celts and remnants of this fort exists within the foundation of The Chateau Comtal or’ Count’s Castle’ today.That’s why it remains listed as a World Heritage Site.

Get up close and personal and run your fingers along aged intact stonework (when nobody is looking) as you wander through Carcassone’s castle and ramparts (with 53 towers)  and its magnificent medieval walled city.

You can also visit Carcassone’s many museums, library, private mansions and churches (the Saint Nazaire Cathedral has very impressive stainglass) or perhaps if the mood takes you can wander up to the local graveyards on the outskirts of town where the memorable and infamous Carcassonians are buried deep in French soil.

Carcassone remains intriguing to both young and old. No wonder it provided the perfect back drop to the film Robin Hood, ‘Prince of Thieves’.

Stand back and photograph Carcassone at dawn or dusk and even at night when the city is illuminated with lights and you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into a fairytale. Did Walt Disney really choose Carcassone as the inspiration for his beloved, “Sleeping Beauty” I wonder? See for yourself…

Take it all in from a horse drawn carriage (with or without commentary) or on a bike (Are you listening Richard Tulloch?) or for those of you like myself who want to rekindle that quintessential  ‘Wind in The Willows'” feel and fancy “messing about with boats” will love an up the river experience lavished with a picnic basket of local french produce. Look no further than a river cruise on L’Aude to really get the feel for the place.

If time is of no real concern to you (and miracles do happen),  go to the artificial lake ( Lac de la Cavayere ) outside the city where you can sunbake on the beach and swim or lay back and dangle your tired white touristy legs over the sides of a hired boat and peruse French skies. With a little more energy you can traverse the Tyroleans across the lake in the Forest Acrobatic Park or try your hand on the golf course (or at the club bar), do a few laps at the local Sports Complex or simply contemplate your reflection under dappled shade from the banks of the Canal du Midi (which links the Mediterranean with the Atlantic), while enjoying a spot of fishing. It’s all good.

If fishing doesn’t lure you, then a tip toe through the tulips at Carcassone’s parks and Botannical Gardens such as the Andre Chenier Gardens may be just your thing. If all else fails and you have very little time in Carcassone, there’s always shopping and cafes if you must…(As you know there’s ALWAYS time for shopping and coffee!)

You’ll no doubt love the shops inside the walled city even in a whirlwind! There are only about 120 residents to date living inside the walls but they will never be lonely because of their visitors! Carcassone is a popular destination for tourists and you can wade happily through the compact eclectic maze of shops selling jewellery, tapestries, pressed metal signs…

and kitchenware, lingerie, perfumes and medieval paraphernalia. While shops swell with people and products, restaurants ooze the aroma of cassoulet. Did I mention lunch?

Carcassone is magic. And with you being there, dreams really do come true!

Au Revoir,
Best Wishes, Therese Waddell

Copyright@2010 Therese Waddell

Awaken to Pompadour, France

Posted in Central France, France Central, French Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2010 by Therese Waddell

Bonjour mes amis,

Travel through the beautiful pastoral scenes of the Limousin region of France and you’ll know you’ve reached the village of Arnac-Pompadour when the skyline becomes cluttered with high slate tiled turrets of eighteenth century gleam.

These will be part of the Chateau de Pompadour, which was presented to the mistress of King Louis XV, the Marquise de Pompadour (Madame Pompadour). As if it were not enough to be father of his ten surviving children (and probably many more illegitimate ones) and King of France- the largest Kingdom of Europe at that time, King Louis XV took Jeanne Antoinette Poison as his mistress, having been taken with her at a fancy dress party one evening.  I wonder what she wore that night? She must have looked impressive, although my french awakening can’t help question his judgement as I read somewhere that King Louis was dressed as a topiary (hedged plant) at the time!

Hmmm…some men give their women flowers, others jewels or trips to exotic places but the fact remains that King Louis XV gave the entire land and title and Chateau of this beautiful piece of countryside to his beloved mistress who then became the Marquise de Pompadour.

Today, the Chateau of Pompadour dominates the village at its centre. Its roof line is gloriously grey, basking in French sunshine…

and even though much of the Chateau was destroyed during the Crusades and French Revolution, it has been subsequently reproduced over time and is definately worth a visit. (Richard the Lion Heart thought so!)

The towered outside boundary wall has stood the test of time and is imposing…

The front door, encrusted with iron locks and carved royal tags of French Royalty will transport you back in time. The minute I heave this mighty wooden front door open, my french awakening was undeniably impressed and curious to see more. You will be too.

Today, the Chateau de Pompadour belongs to the French State and it has been transformed into the French National Horse Stud.

Take your time to visit the terraces of the Chateau and walk outside…

across the square to discover the ecuries des etalons (housing the Anglo/Arab stallions) and the jumenterie de la riviere (mares stables)-horse breeding facilities of world class standards.

Along the way you will see many impeccably mannered horses strutting around the village…

Equestrian events, show jumping, National Dressage Competitions and horse racing take place in all its pomp and splendour on the green…

opposite the Chateau from March through to October. Consider yourself lucky as many of these grand horse events are free to the public and exhilarating to watch! Such control…such pizazz!

Pompadour is about sixty kilometres south of Limoges or twenty kilometres west of Uzerche. It is tucked away between beautiful rolling green hills nurturing cattle and foal and surrounded by abundant apple and chestnut orchards.

It’s a charming and unique village in the Correze which breathes refinement. I’m certain that The Marquis de Pompadour would have been most impressed had she been living (oh so grandiosely) today.

Au Revoir,

Best Wishes, Therese Waddell

copyright@2010 Therese Waddell

Awakening to French Monuments, Paris

Posted in Decoration & Design, French Travel, Paris with tags , , , on August 5, 2010 by Therese Waddell

Bonjour mes amis,

While you’re wandering through beautiful Paris on your next trip, you’re going to no doubt fall straight in the line of monuments and fountains. These will usually be sculptured in marble or bronze, decorated in varying degrees of  ornamentation- perhaps even coated with gold or at the very least gilded in parts. Many of them will be massive in stature. Why stop?

There are all sorts of monuments in Paris-such as those who commemorate patriotic soldiers, monuments to mark the place of historical significance, of middle class respectability, even monuments to human ingenuity. Some people walk by them. I tend not to.

My French awakening has come to realise that these monuments have one thing in common- they each tell a story. And I love stories…

So I’m sending you my photo of one of my favourite statues from Place de la Concorde- the biggest public square in Paris which was designed by Gabriel aaround 1755 for Louis XV( in his popular days). This same square (which is actually octagonal in shape and once surrounded by a moat) was the guillotine site for over thirteen hundred  French (including Louis XVI) during the Revolution.

You will find it just outside the eastern gate of the Tuileries Garden. Massive and standing above a high pedestal base, this magnificent winged horse carrying his rider always seems to remind me of the fact that we should get back on our horse when things have not been that easy and clip clop along again. Or perhaps really kick our heels in, with one arm outstretched into the air and fly?

P.S. May we all become monuments in our lifetime, with more “concorde” than “revolution”!

Au Revoir,

Best Wishes, Therese Waddell

copyright@2010 Therese Waddell

Awaken to Cordes sur Ciel, France

Posted in French Affair, French Travel, South of France, South West of France with tags , , , , , on August 1, 2010 by Therese Waddell

Bonjour mes amis,

It’s so good to be back with you! I hope you’re all doing well. I’ve had my fair share of drama this last month with more than a sprinkling of stress thrown into a large family who generally run on a hectic schedule of wants and needs. But this month was “exceptionelle” we admit and although I like the roller coaster, I felt like disappearing into some sense of hibernation on more than a few occasions. Which brings me to my favourite hiberating spot in France. Cordes sur Ciel or just plain, “Cordes”.

Beautiful, solid Cordes which can enclose the weakest of hearts and the most indecisive of spirits.  It’s located in the Tarn Department in the beautiful South of France and is a must see while on your next trip to France.

Cordes was built under the Count of Toulouse way back in 1222. It hasn’t changed much over all this time considering the turbulent history and the ravages of plague. Many grand maisons (houses) are still very much intact, such as La Maison du Grand Ecuyer.

It’s hard to believe that those protruding gargoyles are seven hundred and eighty eight years old!

You’ll certainly appreciate Cordes stability too…

when you take its petite train up passed toughened walls of  stone…

to amazing views at the summit. My french awakening was initially alarmed along the steep incline of the path which leads to its cool peak, but the view of the valley from the low lying clouds makes it all worthwhile. Calm.

Other people besides myself have hibernated in Cordes. Many artisans-painters, brilliant glass blowers, craftsmen and musicians and even wandering minstrels are in residence here celebrating their passion. Many of you my friends who I know appreciate the Arts and Crafts, will thrive here. Cordes is filled with the fresh blood of creativity and passion, in a rock solid framework.

Arh! Something many of us can only wish for.

Regularly, both local and International musicians and creative geniuses  come together in the famous Cordes festival- resonating their beautiful soothing tones over the valley below. And if that doesn’t get you up and dusted, Cordes Museum of ‘The Art of Sugar and Chocolate’ will surely entice any hermit out of his or her created shell. The sweet aroma works every time!

Sometimes when we’re at our most rocky heights, we need places like Cordes- these great  solid bastides of medieval times have always been there to protect its inhabitants from marauders and give us all some peace and quiet in times of conflict.

I’m so glad to be back!

Au Revoir,

Best Wishes,

Therese Waddell

copyright@2010 Therese Waddell