Wine and delights

When we moved to Carcassonne 6 years ago it seemed as if we didn’t have a free weekend. There was always something to do. Naturally there was the city itself to discover but also food and wine fairs, art shows, craft sales, concerts, exhibits, tours, and walks all right on our doorstep to enjoy. As we developed friendships the invitations came for drinks, dinners, and outings of all sorts. That continued for the next few years until Covid arrived and as in the rest of the world everything stopped. During the first of the 3 lockdowns that France went through, even our outdoor fresh fruits and vegetables market was closed. Fortunately most of the restrictions have recently been lifted and the Lions Club Carcassonne Remparts took advantage last weekend of our newfound freedom to hold a Salon de Vins et Délices (Wine & Delights Show) with 20 exhibitors split evenly between wineries and artisanal food vendors. We went three times!

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Honey, I’m home

Before “buy local” became a household phrase, people had long been doing exactly that in 10,000 open-air or covered marchés across France. We shop at our own market every Saturday morning as much for the fresh produce as for the environment—the smells, the bright colors, the excitement—and we always run into people we know. We see the same vendors week after week so now we have a rapport with them that allows for joking, a few words in English from the truly brave, and even a bonus handful of fruit or veg when they are feeling generous, as they always are. In addition to filling our refrigerator, we can also stock our shelves with eggs, cheese, nuts, olives, and bread, or pick up a rotisserie chicken for lunch. Much of what we see on display comes from the farms that encircle Carcassonne and now I see that there’s even honey from beehives that we pass when we walk along the river to get to the market. It doesn’t get much more local than that!

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Just relax

France has 35,000 communes (cities, towns, villages) so choosing just one to make your new permanent home can be a challenge. Fortunately for us we already had friends here who could help us narrow down the possibilities (And the winner is) once we knew the general area where we wanted to live. Having a train station, a market, and being on or near the water were some of the important considerations. Each year, various media outlets release their “Best Of” series where they classify locations into the most attractive, job hubs, ideal for retirees, among others. Although not a newspaper or magazine, a business called Emma, has compiled what they label as “The ranking of the French cities most conducive to relaxation.” This company manufactures the best-selling mattress in the country, so as sleep experts they undertook the study “with the hope that the results could help the agglomerations to improve the quality of life of their inhabitants.” Confirming what we already knew, the quality of life in Carcassonne is pretty good since it’s number 2 on their list.

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Why France is so popular

When two news sources in two different countries publish an article asking the same question, it tends to catch your eye. Based in Paris, The Local, and across the channel in London, The Telegraph, both wanted to investigate why France consistently attracts more visitors each year than any other country in the world. One story offered 6 reasons while the other almost tripled that with 17 ideas about why this country had a target of 100 million visitors for 2020 following on from a rising trend from several previous years. Obviously Covid had a huge impact on reaching that goal but the signs are good that people are returning. What is it that everyone wants to see?

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Josephine Baker and the Panthéon

On this coming Tuesday in Paris there will be a ceremony honoring the memory of American-born and French-naturalized Josephine Baker. Her remains will stay in the municipal cemetery in Monaco while a monument will be placed inside the Panthéon. The current building, completed in 1790, was designated the following year as the final resting spot for those who have made significant contributions to the nation including politicians, authors, scientists, and Resistance fighters. In August, French President Emmanuel Macron announced who would be joining Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Louis Braille, Marie Curie, and Simone Veil, among only 73 others.

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The almost perfect vacationers

One of the online French newspapers that I look at each morning always has a “View From…” section where they summarize an article written in a foreign newspaper about life in France. The topic is often politics but there are a fair number of discussions regarding food, wine, and culture. A headline that caught my eye was “The French, those almost perfect vacationers” in the section “View from the United Kingdom”. I was really curious to see why this writer from the London-based The Daily Telegraph would rate our new neighbors and friends as the ideal holidaymakers. I became even more intrigued when I saw that the title in English in the original newspaper story was actually “The beautiful corners of France that the French don’t want you to know about.” Lost in translation?

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France’s favorite monument


Monuments, do we have monuments! According to the Ministry of Culture there were 45,684 structures in 2020 that had protected status because of their “historical, artistic or architectural interest.” Television channel France 3 annually asks residents to vote on their favorite and this year’s winner was announced on Wednesday night. (If you scroll through the photos below to the bottom, you’ll see who won.) While visitor numbers might be an indication of popularity, that doesn’t necessarily translate into being chosen as number one. Crowds flock to the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Versailles, Mont St. Michel, and even to our own medieval walled city of Carcassonne which is the fifth most visited place in France. The Favorite Monument winner last year, however, was the Citadel and Lion of Belfort, about 55 km/35 miles from the border with Switzerland and in 2015 it was the Belfry of Arras, two hours north of Paris. Who were the candidates this year?

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