Déjà’-vu is not an uncommon feeling even on ones first visit to Arles. As you meander the winding streets and find yourself at the foot of the colorful houses and enjoy a cafe in the squares, it is as if you have wandered into a painting by Vincent Van Gogh.

This captivating city perched on the Grand Rhône River bears the footprints of previous occupants, During the Bronze Age it was a Celtic settlement before becoming a Greek colony then in 49 BC the Romans settled in and its prosperity and political standing soared when the powers of the day backed Julius Caesar. Caesar had never experience defeat throughout his illustrious career. Marseille had made the error of not supporting Caesar choosing to back Pompey the Great. For this error in judgment, Marseille was seized and pillaged. It cost them the power that is associated with being the region’s major port.

Along with power came growth and within the next century it accumulated both an amphitheatre which would seat 20,000 and a 12,000 seat theatre. The citizens were invited to partake in the entertainment of the day which included chariot races and contests among the gladiators. Amazingly, these two structures are still intact and in use. However, the gruesome sports of the past have been replaced by events such bullfighting (in France, the bull is not killed) and concerts. Regardless of the change in what is offered there is still the air of excitement when the season begins again each spring. The venues are packed with locals and tourists alike.

 While Arles was memorably rendered by one-time resident Vincent van Gogh. Sad to say, not one of the 200-odd canvases Vincent painted here, in just over a year, remains in Arles, but the town has made him a starring attraction nonetheless. From the re-creation of his bedroom to exhibitions in the former hospital where he had his ear stitched up, there’s a whole lot of Vincent to enjoy. Don’t miss the Van Gogh trail, a walking tour of sites where the artist set up his easel to paint canvases such as Starry Night.




Nîmes Part 2: The Fountain Gardens

Nîmes is located in The Languedoc-Roussillon in the south of France. This city dates back to The Roman Empire. The Fountain Gardens were built by the Romans to create Holy Water from the spring which was available year round. In the early eighteenth century, the city’s need for water brought about the discovery of the gardens which were then excavated. Unfortunately, much was destroyed or sold off. Despite that fact, what remains is stunning and well worth the visit even if there were no other ruins in the area. However, Nîmes is an ancient Roman City and its great wealth of treasures is not to be missed. It is the perfect place to stay for a week or so to explore the ruins and the many treasures of this part of the region.




Tour Magne


In approximately 50 BC, Nîmes became a colony of The Roman Empire. Coins bearing the abbreviation NEM. COL. or Colony of Nîmes bear testimony. Eventually, a church and other buildings were erected at this location. While the colony was already under Roman occupation it was not until the reign of Augustus that it achieved its glory and became the capital of the province.    He created a fortified city with fourteen towers and six kilometers and the walls connecting them ran for six kilometers. Of the gates, there are still two remaining: Porte Auguste and Porte de France. Other structures he caused to be built included the Forum and perhaps the aqueduct. Some monuments no longer remain but architectural fragments and inscriptions have been found in the course of excavations that have taken place. There is evidence of a gymnasium, a civil basilica and possibly even a circus.

Tour Magne is at the summit of Mt. Cavalier: here the city began, and from its top, there is a panoramic view over the Fountain Gardens and the city. Today the tower is thirty meters high. It is believed to have been at least ten meters higher originally.

Today the tower is decked out with banners and information boards that provide that explains the monument, its history and cultural significance. There is access to the top with panoramic views across Nîmes.

This ancient watchtower, stood sentry over the Via Domitia which linked Italy and Spain. This great tower is the last remnant of the ancient city constructed by Augustus. Erected at the pinnacle of Mont Cavalier it dominated the entire plain. Its size and position showcased the prestige and supremacy of the colony over the city.

As recent as 1337-1453 Tour Magne was pressed into service against the English during the 100 year war.

Bisous,  Léa


Crowning a dramatic island off the shore of Normandy, in the Gulf of Saint-Malo, is perched the abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel. It sits in a bay, which is assaulted by some of Europe’s uppermost tides. The island is connected to the mainland by a causeway that is known to disappear when the tide returns. The Benedictine abbey is the pinnacle and beneath it are small houses and shops on its lowest levels. The monastic buildings are considered exceptional examples of Gothic architecture. The Romanesque abbey church was founded in the 11th century over a series of crypts the first of the monastery buildings were built against the north wall. The monastery buildings were extended to the south and west in the 12th century. The abbey church crowns the entire islet about 240 feet above sea level.

In the 13th century, the king of France, Philip Augustus, in the wake of his occupation of Normandy, enabled a start to be made on the Gothic section of the two three-storey buildings, crowned by the cloister and the Refectory.

In the 14th century, the Hundred Years War made it essential to safeguard the abbey wrapping around it a series of military buildings, enabling it to hold out against a siege, which lasted 30 years. The Flamboyant Gothic chancel replaced 

In the 15th century, the Romanesque chancel of the abbey church, broken down in 1421. 

With Rome and Saint Jacques de Compostela, this great sacred and academic center, was one of the most important places of pilgrimage for the West in the middle ages. For nearly one thousand years “pilgrims” went there by roads known as “paths to paradise” guided by the promise for the assurance of eternity, given by the Archangel of judgment who was the “Weigher of souls.”

During the French Revolution and Empire, the abbey was turned into a prison so that restoration was required in the late 19th century. In acknowledgment of the monastery’s 1000th anniversary, a sacred community once again took possession of the abbey.

In 1979, UNESCO classified Mont-Saint-Michel a world heritage site. Over three million visitors a year are welcomed to this magnificent example of architecture and history.



Centre Ville – Narbonne Part II

Narbonne – While its status today has lessened considerably, Narbonne is still a vital link by road and rail for those traveling in the region. A tremendous boost has come from the wine industry and the tourists who come for the sea, sunshine, food, culture and more. Despite the fact that it is larger than Carcassonne, Narbonne has a leisurely, festive atmosphere.

The Canal de la Robine runs through the heart of Narbonne and connects to The Canal du Midi. Boats full of tourists stop to spend the day and it is a lovely backdrop for dining at a waterside cafe or shopping. Les Halles a large covered market was opened in 1901, is packed with vendors of local produce, wines, cheeses, baskets of spices, vats of olives and anything one could desire for a meal or picnic. There are also open air markets on Thursday and Sunday mornings and a Bio (organic) market every Saturday morning.  

Places to visit:

Cathedral. The medieval Cathedral of Saint-Just with its 40m-high apse and choir making it the third tallest Gothic structure in France. The reredos, which had been hidden for 250 years, was restored and put on display in March 2000. You can climb the 251 steps of the north tower for a view over the rooftops of Narbonne. On a clear day you can see the Pic du Canigou in the Pyrenees from here. The Cathedral treasury contains two fine Flemish tapestries of the early 16th century. (More below)

The Basilique de St. Paul, the oldest Christian building in Gaul, is also worth a visit.

Palais des Archêveques (Archbishop’s palace). Three square towers of the fortified Palais date from the 13th and 14th centuries. The Gothic-style town hall was added to the palace in the 19th century. The building now houses two museums containing collections of Roman artefacts, paintings, and ceramics.

Roman ruins. Including L’Horreum the only extant Roman building. . Roman underground merchants’ warehouses.

Basilica of Saint-Paul-Serge. Mainly 12th century. An example of southern French early Gothic architecture.
Archaeological Museums. The Musée Archéologique is housed in the Archbishop’s Palace, restored by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, the architect responsible for the restoration of the fortifications of Carcassonne. The museum has a large collection of statuary, pottery, and examples of Roman wall paintings and mosaics from excavations in the city.

Musée Lapidaire. Stone Museum – an impressive collection of Roman stones from around Narbonne, housed in an empty church.
The Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, next door to the Archaeological Museum, has a collection which includes Dutch, Flemish and Italian paintings, and some 18th century French painted ceramics.

Via Domitia. Recently, work in the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville, the main square, uncovered part of the Roman road, the Domitian Way (Via Domitia). This has been conserved and is now open to view.

La Poudrerie, a 17th-century powder house, has been converted into a museum of winemaking.

A pleasant way to see the surrounding countryside is to take a cruise along the canal, either to the coast (at Port-la-Nouvelle), or inland (to Le Somail on the Canal du Midi. You can join a boat which leaves from the Pont des Marchands; originally a Roman bridge carrying the Via Domitia into the port, it is now lined with medieval buildings housing small shops.

For more information, visit the tourist office in the Place Salengro, behind the cathedral (Tel. 04 68 65 15 60; fax 04 68 65 59 12).
Narbonne lies on the Canal de la Robine, an extension to the Canal du Midi, built by Pierre-Paul Riquet a notable Languedoc resident. The Canal is popular for boating holidays and through France’s extensive canal network provides a way to get to the Languedoc from the Atlantic Ocean, Northern France and Mediterranean Sea. 

The annual Braderie
Each summer, at the beginning of August, the braderie gathers in the town center, a large fair and a massive wholesale (stock clearance) of all the shops of the town center, joined by some 300 stallholders. If you shop until you are ready to drop, this is also the place to be revived!



Centre Ville: Narbonne Part I

Narbonne is located in the Aude département, approximately 8 miles from the the Mediterranean Sea.

Via Domita

The earliest settlement here was a defended Iron Age village at Montlaurès, about 4km north-west of the present city. Narbonne was the site of the first Roman settlement beyond the Alps in Gaul founded in 118 BC.

The Roman colony soon became the wealthiest city in southern Gaul, and was nominated by the emperor Augustus as capital of a province extending from Toulouse to Geneva.

During this time it was already a wine growing region. In AD92, the emperor Domitian ordered the destruction of half of the existing vineyards.

Narbonne lay on the Domitian Way and became the capital for all of Southern Gaul. While it had been a major port at the time  it now lies some 20 km from the sea.

413 – Narbonne was defeated by the Visigoths. Later they made it capital . In 719 the town was captured by the Moors and who maintained there hold on it until 759 when the city had become part of the Frankish kingdom under Pépin the Short who was the father of Charlemagne.

The Counts of Toulouse (as Dukes of Narbonne) ruled the southern part of town during the Middle Ages. In the northern part was under the control of the Episcopal Church.

11th and 12th centuries – Narbonne becomes the centre of an important Jewish exegetical school, which played a role in the growth and development of the Zarphatic and Shuadit languages. The Kabbalah was rediscovered and developed here. Jews had settled in Narbonne from about the 5th century, with a community that had grown to around 2000 in the 12th century.

The Gothic cathedral – Work begins in 1272 . In 1347 the work was stopped by a lawsuit by the city council. To this day the cathedral remains unfinished. This action was crucial to protect the ramparts. The city wall protected the city during the Hundred Years’ War. 

A flood in 1320 created a build up of silt causing the River Aude to change course and thus this major fishing port now is a vineyard covered plain.

1348  Black Death struck the Languedoc as it spead across Europe through Italian trade routes. Nearly half of the population died. Like they did in other cities across Europe, Christian leaders created tales that the disease was caused by infected well water and that wells had been poisoned by Jews. Like other cities, surviving members of the local Jewish community were burned alive for these invented crimes.

The Hundred Years’ War added to Narbonne’s misery and by the late 14th century.

1507 – Narbonne now part of France.

17th century – Attempts were made to restore Narbonne’s former grandeur by Paul Riquet, architect of the Canal du Midi. Frustrated by the manuvers of antagonistic officials of neighbouring villages. His grand efforts did not come into fruition until the completion of Canal de la Robine (connecting  Narbonne to the Canal du Midi) in 1786.



Driving in France Part 2

To assist me in my journey south, Liliane wrote down the names of just a few different villages in the direction I was heading. That short list made all the difference. You need to know some of the smaller villages you will pass through in the direction you are going. This information will serve you well anywhere in France that is not on the péage (toll) autoroutes.

However, nothing on the map or list prepared me for The Millau Bridge/Viaduct. Driving along and minding scenery and the road it was quite a surprise. I had no idea what I was about to experience until I looked off to the side of the bridge. Fortunately, I have never had a fear of heights and have driven across many bridges both in The U.S. and abroad.

Alaine and Liliane loaded me down with maps and gave me some direction for my trip back to La Cassaigne. Liliane made me sandwiches for the road, some fruit and a bottle of water. The car was filled with gas and I was off on my own. The hardest part of the trip was not stopping constantly to enjoy the delights of the countryside. If I had the resources, I might have embarked on an endless exploration of France.

Liliane’s directions made the drive a breeze. It was breathtaking to drive through Parc Nationale as the fog lifted, everything around me was white. The snow in the mountains was stunning as dapples of light broke through the treetops. The temptation to stop and take photos was powerful but I kept going. As I neared the dessert north of Montpellier I noticed the town of Roquefort. It would be interesting to see how that delicious cheese is made. Perhaps they have samples? Now that is a place I want to return to. The neighbors who were watching the cat in my absence were promised that I would return this day and I was not going to let them down. Roquefort will have to wait for another trip.

From Moulins to Carcassonne, they said it was about 600km. I arrived in Carcassonne around 4pm without any difficulty. From Carcassonne to La Cassaigne (about a 20minute drive) took me until about 7pm and that was after getting lost several times and finally called a neighbor to drive out and rescue me and bring me back to the house. I followed him really close. Bless Russ’s heart!
The house was freezing. These old stone houses will hold the heat for awhile. However, the fire had been out for several days and there has been no heat since then. I am so grateful that the house I was staying in had electric blankets on the beds.

For some time, I continued to have a problem with the roundabouts. It feels like they change the names on the signs right after I drive through one. It took me about 20 minutes to get to Carcassonne and about an hour to get back in the early weeks. There are so many beautiful vineyards, farmhouses… that I had difficulty finding landmarks and coming back in the evening or a heavy fog does not help the situation. Perhaps there was a link to the desire to remain in Carcassonne that I was not admitting to at the time? Or was it that I am, even now, so mesmerized by the landscape?

To date, I have made seven trips across the Millau Bridge and now have a healthy respect for the roundabouts and have no further difficulties with them.

I shall post more about the viaduct in the future. In the meantime check out the following: These days, I only get lost when I want to.



Carcassonne: La Cité- Part2

Carcassonne: La Cité- Part2

La Cité

The Historic Monuments Commission agreed to undertake the restoration of La Cite in 1844. 

Two concentric rings of curtain wall surround the city, the ramparts cover a total of 3km. Parts of the inner wall show remains of Roman times. The second wall is separated from the first and was constructed in the 13th Century.

There is a total of 52 towers surrounding the city and the Chateau Comtal, the heart of the fortifications. Originally palace of the viscounts, it was reinforced and protected by a semi circular barbican and a moat.

The genisis of Carcassonne goes back to pre-Roman time.The Cité’s structure today derives from the 11th and 12th centuries. Throughout this time, Carcassonne was ruled by the Trencavel family. The Trencavel’s were central to the development of the Cathar religion.
The Cathars were generally known as “bons hommes” “bons chrétiens” and “parfaits”, they were regarded as heretics by the Catholic Church, and the ensuing conflict was characterised by unspeakable violence and persecution. In the summer of 1209 forces led by the papal legate Arnaud-Amaury, consisting of “crusaders” and armies of the King of France, laid siege to Carcassonne.

Despite this, in August 1209, Carcassonne fell. The young Vicomte, Raymond-Roger Trencavel, was thrown into his own prison and died there aged 24. Simon de Montfort was installed as the new Viscount.
Today the Trencavels’ Château Comtal is a powerful reminder of the mediaeval need to protect one’s home – a fortified sector within a heavily fortified town. Only one gate was wide enough for carts to pass into the Cité

La Cité is a must for most tourist to this region and children all find something to fascinate them. Money generated by the businesses there, insure that the attraction will be there for future generations.



Carcassonne: La Cité – Part 1

The origins of Carcassonne are traced back to the 4th C BC.

In the 2nd Century BC it served as a strategic outpost fortified by the Romans, who gave it the name Carcassonne. The Visigoths succeeded the Romans and overran Gaul in the 5th C AD. When they converted to Christianity, it became a diocese. In the 8th Century the fortress fell to the Franks who later defended the city against attacks from the Saracens.

The Emperor Charlemagne besieged the town in 795, and was held by Dame Carcass, a Saracen princess. After a five year siege, the only food left was one little pig and a bag of corn. Dame Carcass gave the bag of corn to the pig and sent it out to the ramparts. Charlemagne raised the siege, since he thought there was enough food even to feed a small pig. Before the Emperor left, Dame Carcass rang out the bells making them sound the word Carcassonne.

In 1209, Crusades from the north came down the Rhone valley to stamp out the heretic Cathars.
The Viscount
Raymond Roger Trencavel publicly offered protection to all those being hounded by the northern invaders.

After sacking Beziers, the crusading army besieged Carcassonne. Despite the leadership of a youngl Trencavel, in his early 20’s, the town was forced to surrender after only two weeks through lack of water.

The Army council appointed Simon de Montfort, Viscount of Carcassonne in place of Trencavel.
River Aude
Within a year Trencavel was found dead in the tower where he was being held prisoner.

In 1240 Trencavel’s son tried in vain to recapture Carcassonne by siege. Although his mines and missile breached the walls, he was forced to retreat by the royal army.

St Louis IX had the small towns around the ramparts razed and the town’s inhabitants paid for their rebellion with seven years in exile. Upon their return they were permitted to build a town on the opposite side of the river Aude- the present Ville Basse. The walled city was repaired and reinforced. When finished, it was so well fortified it was regarded as impregnable.

Successive kings reinforced Carcassonne because of its strategic importance close to the border with Catalonia. However, in 1659, the Treaty of the Pyrenees restored the region of Roussillon to France. The new border was now 200kms away, The city of Perpignan now guarded the frontier. Carcassonne’s military importance dwindled and was eventually abandoned and left to decay.
La Cité
When I first visited France in the spring of 2006, I spent a week in La Cité staying at the hostel and exploring the area. Before arriving, I began reading the book Labyrinth by Kate Mosse. Her descriptions of the area were so vivid and I felt I had stepped into the pages of the book.



has less than a thousand inhabitants yet this small village is the home of more than 20 book shops. Perhaps it will come as no surprise that it is well known for its writer’s workshops.


The village square, adjoining the massive cathedral, has a delightful fountain and is a marvelous place to read, write, or watch the locals play péntanque.

Village du livre

There is a museum of the printing press with a myriad of presses and other printing equipment that has been used to create the printed word. The collection is extensive and quite impressive.
The village is located in the Midi-Pyrenees region and north-west of Carcassonne in the Montange Noir (Black Mountain). This lovely village has a proud reputation as being “Ville du Livres” Village of Books. In addition to the bookstores and the museum, there is a large stone complex of buildings that are devoted to the art of book and paper-making.
On the south slope of Montagne Noir, in the mid 1600’s, the paper mill Brousses was the most famous stationer in the province of Languedoc. By the mid 1800’s, Brousses was operating 12 mills. Currently, the mill continues to produce paper within the same complex of buildings as it has for over four centuries. It is a living museum with classes offered in all aspects of paper and bookmaking.
Montolieu is worth the trip regardless of a passion of the written word.

There are lovely places to stroll or hike, picnic and a camera would have no end of lovely views to record. It is a place that is on my list of must sees for first time visitors to this area.     

My love affair with books and writing takes me back to Montolieu again and again. Perhaps one day, I shall see you there.