From Carcassonne to Paris

November 22, 2002

Martha Marino

Days 10 to 15: Carcassonne, Olonzac, Narbonne, Paris

As I was cycling through Carcassonne, a huge hilltop fortress

loomed up in front of me, its silver-topped towers glistening in the

afternoon sunlight. I'd seen many films of this citadel in my French

classes, but I never anticipated it could be so spectacular. Also, I

never imagined that I would be seeing it for the first time by bike.


Life's surprises can be fantastic!

After rolling along below the fortress for a while, I turned off

on a shady, dirt path beside a creek. Unfortunately, by the time I

arrived at the campground, all the sites were taken. But the friendly

receptionist gave me permission to pitch my tent on the soccer field

-- that is, if I promised to stay close to the fence and not

interfere with the games.

Since I liked my "campsite with a view," I didn't mind dodging a

few soccer balls. Directly above me, on the plateau, sat the

magnificent fortress. At night, bathed in soft lights, it appeared to

be sitting magically up in the black sky. Even now, I become excited

when I think about this fairy-tale-like scene.

The next morning, though, I had to abandoned the soccer field. The

sun's rays were too harsh. So, after breakfast in the cafe and a swim

in the pool (it was a five-star campground), I moved to a spot among

the bushes where I found pools of shade and a few branches to hang

out my soggy laundry.

Later, I pedaled to the foot of the high plateau and hiked up the

steep incline to the fortress gate. Inside the thick walls I joined

swarms of tourists, sauntering through a labyrinth of crooked,

cobbled alleyways. I loved being in this medieval village among its

tall stone walls and ancient towers. Only when the heat became too

oppressive did I cease my wandering and seek refuge inside the cool


After eating lunch in an outside cafe, I took the castle tour.

With a guide, we strolled along its three-mile-long ramparts and

climbed inside several of its 50 towers, occasionally peeking below

through the narrow slits that warriors once used to shoot bows and

arrows, dump boulders or pour hot oil on their enemy's head. Grim,


Since there were no campgrounds on the next stretch of the canal,

I phoned ahead for reservations in a countryside hotel. What a

surprise when I arrived! The hotel was in an immense castle,

luxurious enough to be the Ritz, with lush green lawns, a swimming

pool, tennis courts and rolling hills in the distance.

Awestruck by its opulence, I eased through its ornate, iron gate.

Coastline Pilot Articles Coastline Pilot Articles