Category Archives: Occitanie

Saint Bertrand de Comminges, a Day Trip from Toulouse, Episode 177

Saint Bertrand de Comminges


If you are staying in the Toulouse area long enough to look around at some of the other hidden gems of Occitanie, we recommend you consider a visit to St Bertrand de Comminges, a bucolic and inspiring village in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

In today’s episode, Elyse tells us how the gorgeous Cathedral came to be built and about other interesting sites nearby such as the Basilica of Saint Just Balcarère, the painted neolithic cave of  Gargas, the spa resort of Bagnères de Luchon and the Roman ruins at Montmaurin. 

Would you like to tour France with Annie and Elyse? Visit Addicted to France to choose an upcoming tour.

St Bertrand de Comminges Episode Highlights with time stamps

About Join Us in France

[00:00] This is Join Us in France Episode 177. Join Us in France is the podcast for where we talk about France, it’s many quirks, it’s history, it’s language, and of course, destinations in France you might want to visit since you’re probably someone who loves to travel. This episode is brought to you by Patreon supporters and Addicted to France, the Tour Company that specializes in small group and custom tours in France. And we’ve a great tour coming up in May, check it out here.

 

Saint Bertrand de Comminges city sign and illuminated Cathedral
Photo Annie Sargent

On Today’s Episode: Saint Bertrand de Comminges

[01:05] Bonjour Francophiles, I’m Annie, and on today’s show I chat with Elyse about a really small and charming village an hour south of Toulouse called Saint Bertrand de Comminges. Definitely out of the beaten path but at the same time a center of French history and culture. This episode goes entirely to the depth of knowledge we aim to bring to you about France because this is certainly not a place lots of people Google about! But we talk about it anyway because it’s interesting to people who love France and want to understand it better.

French History Brief: Richard Coeur de Lion

[01:44] The French History Brief at the end of the episode today is called Richard I of England aka Richard the Lionheart aka “Richard Coeur de Lion”. But did you know he also had a nickname? They called him “Oc e no” which spoke to me because that’s an Occitan expression, and as you know, that’s where I’m from too! More on that after the episode. Here’s the song I mention in the episode.

The Show Will Go Dark Between Dec 20th and Jan 10th

[02:14] The next episode coming out next week on Dec 20th is going to be the last of the year and then I’ll take a couple of weeks off and will come back with new episodes in the new year starting on January 10th. And now, on to my conversation with Elyse on Saint Bertrand de Comminges!

A Great Day Trip from Toulouse

[03:10] Why Saint Bertrand de Comminges makes for a great day-trip from Toulouse.

An Organ Festival at the Foothills of the Pyrenees

[04:35] The Saint Bertrand de Comminges organ sounds great and the concerts there are top quality.

St Bertrand de Comminges Historical Background

[06:10] St Bertrand used to be on a major trade route under the Romans

Roman Villas Established in the Area

[07:48] Roman traders established lavish villas in the area

Herod the Kind from the Bible in the Comminges

[09:00] Herod the King was kicked out of Palestine with his wife and he took his retirement in the Comminges.

From Roman Baths to Early Christianity

[10:00] St Bertrand de Comminges went from Roman settlement, to early Christianity settlement, to a County overseen by a Count

A Large Cathedral For Its Time

[12:24] The Cathedral at St Bertrand de Comminges is surprisingly large for the time

Geology and Archeology in the Area

[13:54] The area has interesting geology and several active archeology research sites

St Bertrand Is a Low Population Area Today

[14:57] The village has a lot of empty houses today because there are many home owners who only go on week-ends. We recommend you visit on a week-end or during the festival when it’ll be more lively.

Roman Ruins

[15:57] Besides the Cathedral, you also have a site of Roman Ruins to visit nearby with beautiful frescoes.

Saint Bertrand de Comminges in the year 1000

[20:00] Bertrand de l’Isle Jourdain was a bishop in the Gers, then went to Rome, built the Cathedral on top of the hill, then as made a Saint.

It’s Hilly!

[21:28] Watch out for narrow streets! Most of the houses look really nice.

Best Time to Visit Saint Bertrand de Comminges

[22:50] Go on a week-end or in the summer or on a day when the festival is on.

Saint Just de Valcabrère

[23:45] This is Saint Just de Valcabrère, a beautiful and World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, it was closed when Annie Arrived.

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Either Eat on French Time or Bring a Picnic!

[24:35] This is not the sort of place where you can grab a bite to eat any time of the day. Either eat on French restaurant time (arrive at 12:30 PM or 7:30 PM) or bring your own food! We’re not even sure there are any restaurants open year-round in St Bertrand

The Cathedral and Cloister

[27:17] The Cathedral and Cloister were commissioned by one of the French Popes in Avignon called Clement V. He had been bishop of the area and when he became pope, he built a large Cathedral there (large for the area, you’ll see bigger ones lots of places!). The Monastery has been gone for a long time. The organ and wooden choir is gorgeous.

The Summer Music Festival

[30:19] The Festival is over 40 years old, started out with Organ music, but now they also have chamber music and sacred music. It attracts music connoisseurs who are usually older and better off.

What to Do Nearby: Gargas Painted Cave

[32:04] You can visit the painted cave of Gargas where you get to see the actual ancient paintings, lots of hand prints. (http://www.grottesdegargas.fr/)

[34:19] You can also stop at Martre Tolosan where there are ceramics with nice designs.

[36:09] For an over-nighter you could go to Banières de Luchon where they have spas, thermal baths, go hike in the mountains. Luchon is a lot bigger than St Bertrand de Comminges and has a lot more happening.

Saint Bertrand de Comminges Cathedral at dusk
Photo Annie Sargent

 

 

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Collioure Travel Tips, Episode 174

Collioure Travel Tips


Our discussion about Collioure starts at [28:24].

On today’s episode, Matthew Gamache takes us to Collioure, a lovely beach town at the very bottom of France next to Spain. Like the French Riviera, Collioure is rocky and picturesque, but being far from the Riviera, the destination is not as pricey or exclusive.

There are a lot of beach towns between Montpellier and the Spanish border, most of them you’ve never heard of because they only attract French families.  The one I went to all the time as a kid is called Valras plage, next to Béziers. It’s a nice long sandy beach, playground on the beach, free concerts several times a week during the summer. It had everything a working class French family on vacation wanted and I had a great time there.

Kids don’t care if it’s scenic or not, they love the sand, the water, the sun. And you’ll hear Matt describe how his daughters loved that part of the vacation. Collioure is also a stone’s throw away from Spain, so if you want to take a little detour into Catalonia, it’s a great place to be. our conversation on Collioure starts at [28:24]. 

On this episode we also talk about: 

  • The Dordogne [07:19]
  • How you’ll find the same vendors at lots of food markets [18:37]
  • How Matt and his family took the TGV between Perpignan and Paris[42:00]
  • Les Grands Buffets in Narbonne [54:00]
  • French History Brief about a powerful man and a woman who didn’t really want him [58:45]

Places Mentioned in this Episode

Beynac, Sarlat, Fond-de-gaume, Niaux, Collioure, Modern Art Museum in Ceret, Les Grands Buffets in Narbonne

Attractions Recommended in this Episode

Les Grands Buffets in Narbonne

Would you like to tour France with Annie and Elyse? Visit Addicted to France to choose an upcoming tour.

Collioure city and port taken from the hills

Episode Highlights with time stamps

[05:15] Matt told us about his 2017 trip to Brittany on Episode 166.

Not All Toll Booths in France Will Take Your American Credit Card

[05:50] Only 20% of toll booths took Matt’s American credit card, they went to the booths where they knew they could also pay cash. When you pull up to the booth, choose one that has shows a picture of coins or a green arrow. Those are the ones that are least likely to give you trouble.

Rest Stops of French Toll Roads Are Great

[05:51] Matt thinks that rest stops at French toll roads are great, he’s tried 4 different ones and liked them all! French people complain about rest stop food, but they never tried American ones!

7-Day Stay in Beynac, Dordogne

[07:19] Matt and his family stopped at a house they’ve rented before in Beynac, Dordogne. He told us about it on Episode 82. The Dordogne is Matt’s favorite region in France. It can be crowded at times, but compared to Paris it’s nothing. While in the area, they also went to the Gouffre de Padirac and the Forêt des Singes.

[11:32] They visited Font-de-Gaume, which is a must-see and must reserve in advance. They also saw the Grotte de Rouffignac, the one with the train, which is meh.

Great Food and Wine in the Dordogne!

[14:50] The food in the Dordogne is outstanding, they loved the pork, the duck, the pastries, Bergerac wine. They like to make Kir with the sweet white from Bergerac and a Crême de Cassis. Matt’s daughter is allergic to eggs, so they cook most of their meals and that lets them discover all sorts of great things they don’t always serve at restaurants.

Sarlat Market and How Markets Work in France

[18:37] They went to the Sarlat Wednesday Market, which they realized is about the same as other markets. From one market to another you will find the same vendors. Guide books often tell you to go to the market on this day in this town. That’s silly because if you go on a different day to a different town, you will find the same vendors! The scenery changes a bit, but it doesn’t matter so much which one you go to.

Lascaux IV Is a Must-See in the Dordogne!

[20:25] You must see Lascaux IV. Go to Lascaux during the day and visit Sarlat at night. Sarlat is a good central place to stay in the Dordogne if you’re going to a hotel because you can enjoy it in the evenings and mornings when it’s not as crowded. No river in Sarlat.

Compare Fond-de-Gaume and the Grotte de Niaux

[21:44] Based on recommendations heard on the podcast, they decided to go to the Grotte de Niaux and enjoyed it. Niaux and Fond-de-Gaume are both great because they are the real thing, not reproductions. They are so different, but both great for reasons we discuss in the conversation.

Overnight in Foix

[25:57] They stayed at a bed & breakfast recommended on Episode 114. The kids loved the pool and the trampoline there. The kids particularly loved that day. That’s where they tried Gazpacho cold soup. It’s delicious, their daughter ate 11 quarts of it once she discovered it!

A beach with bathers in Collioure

One Week in Collioure

[28:24] Matt and his family rented an apartment with AC, a terrace and parking. The town is small and fills up fast, it’s important to have your own parking. There are 4 beaches, but they mostly went to the sandy beach because that’s what kids love.

[29:32] Catalan Country. Why so many names? Catalan, Roussillon, Languedoc? This is an area of France where they share a lot of traditions with Catalans from Spain and that’s the oldest designation for this region. Roussillon and Languedoc are newer names applied by the French.

Catalan Food

[31:29] Popular foods in this area are tapas, cured hams, anchovy, gazpacho, vermouth, tapenade, octopus. In Catalan country they serve the fresh anchovy with olive oil on top. It’s not super salty like what you might have in mind. They also make a brandade with anchovy there.

Dali Museum in Figueres Too Crowded. The Modern Art Museum in Ceret Was Great!

[34:15] The Figueres Museum was extremely crowded, so that was a disappointment. But, it is easy to get to from Collioure. They loved the Modern Art Museum in Ceret. It features art from all the artists who lived and painted in the region. Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall painted the area a lot. They also had some Dali there.

Aqualand Water Park

[36:30] Nora tells us about the Aqualand Water Park

[39:12] Is France a good place for a vacation for a kid? Yes, lots of fun things to do, lots of new things to eat. She got to play with some French kids at Foix and they could speak some English.

July 14th Celebrations in Collioure

[40:42] Bastille Day was a regular day other than there was a parade with a band and a few politicians walking around the city. It’s a small town with maybe 12 streets. There was live music but no fireworks.

Perpignan to Paris on the TGV

[42:00] They rode the TGV between Perpignan and Paris and it was easy, fast, much better than driving.

Quick Visit to Paris

Matt and his family usually skip Paris, but this time they decided to make a quick stop there before they headed home. They wanted a quad room walking distance from the Eiffel Tower at a reasonable price, so Montparnasse was great for that.

[43:06] After they got into Paris, they took a taxi between Gare de Lyon and Montparnasse. They had a big room that fit all of them. They just wanted to go to the Eiffel Tower that day. There was no wait for the 2nd floor because they had their tickets in advance.

Flying Out from Orly on Iceland Air

[47:00] They flew out of Orly on Iceland Air. Iceland Air doesn’t have dedicated space in Orly, so you can’t queue up until just a few minutes before take-off. The tickets are cheap and the service not stellar.

How Much Does it Cost to Rent an Apartment in France?

[49:00] Matt rents apartments for a week most places they go, it costs about $100/night for 4 people. Provence is significantly more expensive than that. They paid $50 per room in the Loire. They had a Suite on the Gulf of Morbihan  and that was $150 for the 4 of them. The ability to rent apartments at inexpensive prices has completely changed the way families can travel. If you rent an apartment, self-cater, and stay away from super touristy places, traveling is not that expensive.

Conclusion

The ability to rent an apartment for a week in France makes it possible to families to enjoy “slow travel” at affordable prices. Families take their time and visit various off the beaten track places in France without breaking the banks.

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Narrow colorful street in Collioure

Narbonne, City at the Crossroads, Episode 163

Narbonne, City at the Crossroads

Narbonne City at the Crossroads

Narbonne is a city at the crossroads due to its geographical location in France.  But we think it’s a great place to visit, especially if you are looking for a lovely beach city at a reasonable cost.

If you’re interested in Narbonne, you should also listen to Episode 117, a Detour into Catalonia and Episode 105 about nearby Montpellier, and Episode 107 about The Best of Sète, also a favorite in this wonderful area of my region: Occitanie.
French Tip of the Week [62:45] Ma carte ne marche pas, je ne sais pas pourquoi. My credit card isn’t working, I don’t know why.
Places Mentioned in this Episode: Narbonne, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Canal de la Robine, Via Domitia, Narbonne Horreum, the Archbishop’s Palace, Abbey de Fontfroide, le Pont des Marchands, the unfortunate Cathedral of Beauvais, Massif de la Clape, Gruissan, Port-la-Nouvelle, Baltar-style covered markets.
Would you like to tour France with Annie and Elyse? Visit Addicted to France to choose an upcoming tour.

[00:00] About this podcast, host, and how you can participate.

[03:00] In today’s episode, I bring you a conversation with Elyse about Narbonne, a city that doesn’t get a lot of love, yet has been at the crossroads since ancient times. If you’ve ever crossed France north to south, chances are you at least drove past Narbonne. And that’s the problem with this city: most people pass by and don’t stop. But maybe they should, as explained by Elyse on today’s episode.

[04:00] Narbonne is a place that a lot of people go through (major train station and freeway hub), but rarely stop. Other cities nearby get a lot more tourism, for instance Nîmes,  Béziers, Pézenas, or especially Carcassonne.

[06:30] We think we need to talk about Narbonne because it’s a major historical center. There are 52,000 people there today and the old city center is very interesting to visit, and of course it’s a beach town.

[07:30] Narbonne is one of the sunniest cities in France and well off the beaten track. Narbonne has not been able to turn itself into a destination but has remained a pass-through city. The beaches nearby are a destination especially for French vacationers. No mistral wind here but rather the tramontane wind.

[08:40] The population of Narbonne has been growing because a lot of retirees want more sunshine and there’s plenty of it there. Also, and this is going to sound counter-intuitive to people who don’t live in France, but people who live in Paris can’t wait to get out of Paris.

[10:40] Narbonne is a city at the crossroads, many people have heard of it, but most would be hard-pressed to tell you what’s there.

  • Great city center with Roman and Medieval history
  • Canal de la Robine (a section of the Canal du Midi)

[12:12] Narbonne is the first city the Romans established in Gaul with all the commerce that goes along with that. The 10th Roman Legion was established in Narbonne, so it was also an important military city. Then in 22 BC Narbonne becomes the capital of Gaul. The port of Narbonne was the second biggest port of the Roman empire 2000 years ago.

[18:16] After the 400s, just like the rest of France, there are a number of crazy groups that come through and take over, including the Visigoths  who stayed a little longer than most. Visigoths were pushed out by the Franks who stayed.

[20:22] In the 700s, the Moors from Andalusia take over Narbonne for 40 years. When the Moors took over, they did not force people to convert to Islam, they simply taxed non-Muslims. Narbonne became a place of great intellectual and philosophical activity. The Troubadours were really important in Narbonne.

[22:48] Vikings also got to Narbonne in 859 and they pillaged the area and left. Then we get into the bulk of the Middle Ages, the age of Monasteries and Churches. There are still a few Roman ruins that you can see in the center of Narbonne (some of the Via Domitia in front of the Archbishop’s Palace for instance), but most of what you see there is left from the Middle Ages.

[24:12] You can see a piece of well-preserved Via Domitia in Narbonne.  You can see the ruts for the wheels of the wagons and the rise which makes the curb and the walkway for pedestrians. This is the way Romans made their roads everywhere. You can also see some digs where they are working on excavating some Roman ruins.

[26:12] The horrea or horreum in Narbonne. Those are underground galleries and storage, experts speculate that they were probably used as public storage. There are several buildings that still have this horreum. It was both underground storage and a way to get places under ground.

[28:00] At one point Narbonne had all the buildings you would find in a major Roman city: Forum, Coliseum, Circus, Theaters, etc. All of those are gone today. Arles has a lot of that left, Nîmes has some, cities like Toulouse and Paris have almost nothing left. Stones were re-used to make new buildings.

[30:00] Around the year 1000 they build a monastery 12 km away from Narbonne, and that is one of the major things to see if you spend a day in the area, it is called the Abbey de Fontfroide. It is a Cistercian Abbey and Church. This is a Mediterranean climate where it smells and feels like Provence even though technically it is not. Very much worth a visit!

[32:09] The Cathedral of Narbonne is called Saint-Just Saint Pasteur (Elyse mis-spoke and called it Saint-Just Saint-Paul, she got the wrong saint!). It is a large Cathedral (4th largest in France) and what is unusual is that you can go up the tower and stand outside on the parapets. You can see out towards the sea and get lovely views.

[33:38] The story of the Cathedral of Beauvais which collapsed 3 times when they tried to make it too tall. As a result, the Cathedral of Beauvais is half of a Cathedral!

[35:04] Narbonne is 41 meters tall and still standing! And it is gorgeous and impressive. You can see the cloister, there are many buildings attached to it, some of which have been turned into museums. The only Cathedral that has the Bishop’s Palace right up against the Cathedral (it’s that way in Avignon too) and you can visit some of that too.

[36:54] Other Churches you can visit in Narbonne. The city center of Narbonne is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so it is getting taken care of very well. It is not a very large city center. There are a few lovely pedestrian streets. There is the Canal. There are pagan times remnants as well.

[38:20] If you walk around Narbonne, you have a couple of old buildings like a 1600s or 1700s Synagogue and others that may be of interest to you.

[38:53] Narbonne went into decline after the Wars of Religions (XVI Century) because it’s an area that mostly produced low quality wines and you can’t make a fortune on that.

[39:40] Recap of what you can see in Narbonne:

  • Horreum or underground tunels
  • Via Domitia
  • The Cathedral and the Bishop’s Palace
  • Le Pont des Marchands on the Rabine, the only bridge left in France that has actual houses on it
  • Narbonne is a great place to stop for lunch, either near the Cathedral or near the Canal
  • You can take a ride on the Canal
  • Go to Fontfroide and there are often concerts there, especially in the summer

[42:16] Cistercian monasteries were not painted to keep them austere and they have wonderful acoustics.

[43:12] From Narbonne you can go east to the Massif de la Clape. It’s a lovely place for bike riding and hiking, this is also where you’ll find the Gouffre de l’Œil Doux a sink hole with turquoise water.

[45:29] The beaches around the Massif de la Clape are not high-end beaches. It has been kept natural for the most part with some campgrounds, a few vendors, including wine vendors.

[47:07] The AOC Languedoc-la-clape wine is a good wine, similar to Corbières or Minervoix, full-bodied.

[47:42] Other places you could go nearby are Gruissan Plage with houses built on stilts. You could also get to Port-la-Nouvelle, a bigger  and more modern town.

[48:30] Narbonne also has two Baltar-style markets (like the old Halles de Paris which were destroyed) with beautiful glass and iron work. One of those markets in Narbonne (Les Halles Centrales) is a great place to have lunch, there are restaurants.

[49:12] Narbonne food specialties: food, grilled fish, sausage, seafood dishes, and oysters. There are oysters and muscle beds nearby.

Conclusion

The Romans put Narbonne, city at the crossroads on the map. It’s not super famous but it’s a lovely place to visit if you’re in the area and want to explore the Languedoc and parts of the Mediterranean that are lovely and not too expensive. Narbonne is the closest beach to Toulouse, so it’s a place where Toulouse teens like to go. There are flamingos in the lagoon too!

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