Tour de France: City by Bike

In the UK we have seen highway signs proclaiming “Britain’s Tidiest Town”, “Tastiest Cuppa” for tea lovers, and even “Cleanest Loo”, all to indicate that a community had been awarded the nation’s top honor in a certain category. France has similar declarations that are proudly posted at the roadway entrance including “Most Beautiful in France”, “Village in Bloom”, “City of Art and History”, and “Active and Sportive”. The level of achievement, typically from 1 to 4, is indicated by the number of stars, flowers, Olympic laurels, or other appropriate symbols based on the theme of the award. Carcassonne has won many of these and thanks to the Tour de France that whizzed through town last weekend, we also have a bicycle emblem as a Ville à Vélo otherwise known as a City by Bike.

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Flower city

While the French government has a minister in charge of ecology and one for renewable energy, those jobs are combined in Carcassonne with the Deputy Mayor for the Environment, Monsieur Arnaud Albarel. He announced several projects that the city would be undertaking this summer “in its fight for the preservation of biodiversity”. This includes redeveloping all municipal green spaces around parking lots, river and canal sides, and city buildings by using plants essential to pollinating insects, especially bees, plus instituting water-saving methods. For public involvement there are workshops to raise the awareness of young people to the importance of protecting the environment and a contest for residents to decorate their balconies and home fronts with window boxes. In addition to the positive ecological impact, these measures should ensure that Carcassonne maintains its status as a Ville Fleuri, that is, a City in Bloom.

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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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