Day-trip Diary : visiting South West France
Looking for travel ideas near our camps in Southwest France? Take a page from the travel diary of our former camp and office staffer, Stacey. She splits her time between France and Denmark, and now looks forward to sending her daughter to an American Village camp!
Upon exiting Carcassonne’s Gare SNCF, you arrive along a beautiful stretch of the Canal du Midi, perfect for a stroll. Make your way to Place Carnot and enjoy a café and a chocolatine (pain au chocolat in the Southwest!) while people watching in the busy fountain square. Next, make your way to the pedestrian bridge “Pont Vieux” for excellent views of the medieval fortress. Here you’ll often see ducks, egrets or even otters playing in the Aude River under this bridge, and don’t miss the marks on the outside of the chapel marking historic flood levels. As you leave the bridge, don’t forget to snap a photo of the charming street Rue Trivalle with the Cité towering above. Several wine bars, restaurants, artsy boutiques and brocantes make this street a great spot for lunch or shopping. Finally, make your way up the hill to the medieval Cité: a sprawling maze of cobblestoned winding streets, tourist gift shops and snack spots. There is even a youth hostel within the fortification walls if you want to sleep amidst history, allowing you to explore long after the daytime summer crowds have left. If the weather is nice, splurge on museum tickets to access the ramparts – the view is incredible!
A ten-minute walk from the Albi Gare, you’ll arrive at the old town with its winding pedestrianized streets and specialty boutiques. Next is the 13th century Cathedral of Saint Cecile with its monumental bell tower and impressive arcade entrance. Make sure to visit the Berbie Palace gardens to take in the spectacular views of the river Tarn and Pont Vieux. Here is also where you’ll find a museum dedicated to the life and works of artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (think of the posters with Can-Can dancers advertising the Moulin Rouge).
Sarlat is a charming base for exploring some of the 1000 castles in the Dordogne Valley. This town itself is chockfull of stellar restaurants (try duck, foie gras, or look for “périgourdine” or “sarladaise” on menus) and picturesque streets. The 1997 Drew Barrymore film Ever After was filmed here and in the surrounding area. In peak summer season, a public bus (line 14) is offered between Sarlat and the cliff-perched castle town of Beynac-et-Cazenac, and to the hilltop gardens at Marqueyssac, featuring sweeping valley views and freely roaming peacocks. Learn more about American-born dancer, singer and actress turned French hero Josephine Baker at the stunning Chateau des Milandes.
A layer-cake of sightseeing, Rocamadour offers 3 unique visits in one stop. The train station is a 4.5-kilometer trek from the town itself, so be prepared for a long walk or to get a taxi for about 12 Euros. Start at the top of the cliff, and for a couple of euros (coins only!) you can walk along the roofline of a dilapidated castle undergoing restoration. Next you can choose to take the elevator or stairs down to the Cathedral of Rocamadour, uniquely built right into the cliffside. Don’t miss the gaping hole where they found the preserved body! Continue down either a series of free stairs or via another paid elevator until you reach the town, with a mix of artisan and tourist shops. Make sure to walk to the end of town to see the entry gates and don’t forget to try the local cheese: Rocamadour!
Voted the most beautiful village in France in 2012, this perched village above the River Lot is a masterfully preserved snapshot into medieval France. Though small, it boasts 13 historically classified monuments. In the 1950s it served as the summer home of poet Andre Breton and has become an artists’ haven for the past century. Today there are only about 200 people that live in Saint-Cirq year-round as it has gained popularity among tourists. Keep in mind that because it’s partially tucked down in a valley the light will grow dim up to two hours before actual sunset.