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Trip Report A ramble around the Languedoc (and Roussillon, Provence, etc..)

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Recently returned from an eight night trip to southern France. We flew into Toulouse and out of Lyon. We covered a lot of ground, though the total mileage was really not very much (1100km) given the number of places we stayed (6 - 4 places for 1 night, 2 for 2). Most of the distances were quite short though so we were able to spend each travel day leisurely getting from hotel 1 to hotel 2 without having to double back.

First, some general impressions:
1 - The sheer amount of wine being made in this area of France is unbelievable. Nearly everywhere we drove, vines, vines, vines, everywhere you look. Much of it (at least what was served in the restaurants) was even pretty good!
2 - The roads in France are amazing. Yes, gas and tolls are expensive, but you can see where the money goes.

Favorites:
Sites - Peyrepertuse
Spectacle - Limoux carnival
Food - Cassoulet in Castelnaudary, excellent cheap dinners in Ampuis and Maury (bistro serine and Le Pichenoiulle, resp).
Hotel - L'Albiousse in Uzes (with Maison Laurent in Pieusse a close second)



Here goes:

Day 1 - Arrived in Toulouse, picked up the car, drove into the city, where we stayed at Albert 1er (standard issue hotel, clean, but nothing special). As we arrived on a Saturday, it was easier to get the car then as the rental car place in town didn't open Sunday til late afternoon. Driving around Toulouse was pretty easy. In fact the only town where I found driving really annoying was the outskirts of Montpellier. Spent the afternoon and the next morning walking around Toulouse and checking out the sights and shops. Some amazing cheese, wine, and charcuterie places, but the city as a whole didn't seem too interesting.

Day 2 - After leaving Toulouse, stopped in Castelnaudary for an obligatory cassoulet lunch at Le Tirou. Wow. She had an escargot in pastry appetizer and duck, I had goose rillettes and cassoulet. A+ all around. After that we went to Carcassone. Meh. An hour was plenty of time, and it wasn't even crowded. I can't imagine why anyone would waste time there in the summer. Drove on to Pieusse (right next to Limoux) where we stayed at Maison Laurent, which was an excellent British-owned B&B. We chose it in part because they served dinner, and it seemed that nothing in Limoux would be open Sunday, but it proved to be an excellent choice regardless. After dinner we drove into Limoux to see the Carnival. The Limoux carnival is quite a spectacle. A group of costumed and masked revelers slowly dance around the main square, followed by a band. Every 100 yards or so they stop at a bar. Nobody quite knows why they do this, but it's worth a visit if you are in the area in March.

Day 3 -
First stop was a winery, Domaine Baron'Arques, which is owned by Rothschild. A bit corporate perhaps, but they conducted a generous tasting and showed us around the place. In the afternoon we drove to Peyrepertuse. For me this was one of the highlights of the trip and was the complete opposite of Carcassone. Even though you had to pay to get in, and there were some maps and even an audio guide, it felt like we were exploring a completely abandoned, untouched place (which we basically were). It was cold, windy, wet, and beautiful. After storming the castle, we drove on towards Maury and visited the Mas Amiel winery for a quick tasting, and then continued on to our b&b in Tautavel, l'Abri Sous Roche. Dinner was back in Maury as every single place in Tautavel closes on Monday.

Day 4
Originally the plan was to stay in Tautavel for 2-3 nights, do more wine tasting, see another castle, and daytrip to the Cote Vermeille to visit Banyuls and Collieure. However, the weather was cold and gray (plus the b&b was not to our liking), so we decided a city would be a nice option for the next few days. Off to Montpellier! First, lunch and a visit to Sete (oh the seafood!), and finally braving Montpellier traffic and one-way streets to find Les 4Etoilles, right outside the city walls.

Day 5
Montpellier! Spent an excellent day and a half walking around and eating our way through Montpellier. The Musee Fabree was quite nice, though the shopping in the city was surprisingly dull. Nice place to spend a couple of gloomy days though.

Day 6
Early start and off to Arles. Spent the day walking around and visiting the Roman sites and the Alyscamps. French food fatigue was setting in so we ate at a great Moroccan couscous place. After Arles a stop to walk around the Pont Du Gard. One things to note - our relatively recent guidebook lists the cost as 5e for parking, and free to walk around, with the museum and movie extra. They are changing this though, and it will soon be something like 26e per car, all included, no cheaper option. Kind of stinks if you ask me. Anyway, after that we continued to Uzes, where we stayed L'albiousse, which was unbelievable (if a bit pricier than the other places we stayed).

Day 7
Wouldn't be a France trip for us without a stomach bug, and this time was no different. So spent the day recuperating and walking around Uzes, which is a great town. Big enough that there is some life (even in the off season) and a good choice of restaurants, but small enough to still feel like a small town. Lots of interesting art galleries and shops, great wine stores, and the Saturday market was wonderful. In the afternoon we finally felt a bit better and drove to Avignon, where we just had time to see the Pope's Palace.

Day 8
Walked around the Uzes market for a while in the morning (started to get very crowded by 11am or so), then checked out and drove to Chateauneuf-du-pape for wine tasting and lunch. After CdP, continued the wine pilgrimage, getting off the highway to see the famous Hermitage hill, before continuing on to Ampuis and our hotel, where our balcony directly faced the Cote Rotie. More wine tasting and dinner in Ampuis, before sleep and then off to Lyon and home...

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