Heading West Again

August 3, 2017 - Carcassonne, France

We had always planned that Capestang would be our turnaround point this year.   We took several days to journey slowly from Narbonne to Capestang, and then once skipper had done his bus-and-train trick to pick up the car we were  able to do some exploring by car.   The highlight was definitely our day at the Abbey of Fontfroide. This former Cistercian Abbey lies in a beautiful valley south west of Narbonne   The Cistercians left at the beginning of the 20th Century and as the Abbey began to fall into disrepair there was a suggestion that it might be bought by Americans and transported brick by brick to the USA.   This threat was enough to cause a local family who had made their fortune from wine, the Fayet family, to buy the Abbey and restore it to the beautiful state we found it in.  The family retain part of the property for their private use, but the huge church, cloisters and monks' accommodation can still be visited.   We downloaded the App in advance, so were ready supplied with information about the Abbey and its restoration on arrival.   There were surprisingly few other visitors, and nearly all of them were British, German, Belgian etc.   We had booked a table for lunch and when we reached the restaurant we found we were almost the only non French!   I am not sure what this says about us, or indeed the French idea of a good day out!  The gardens were a wonderful way to end the visit, though I was relieved to see that we had to pass through the gift shop to get back to the car.   I no longer buy anything other than consumable souvenirs, and from Fontfroide I found some moisturising lotion made from "lait d'ânesse" - yes, donkey's milk!   And very good it is too!

Cassandra was in Capestang for a month, but for a fortnight of that time we were back in London catching up with family and friends. This was our first time returning home from this far east and meant that we took the motorway which goes straight through the Massif Central and, thrillingly, over the Millau viaduct.  This is a really beautiful piece of design and engineering.  We took the time to stop and admire it on our return journey.  Once back in Capestang we were joined by Helen and Alastair for five days.   We had booked  to drive over for an evening at Carcassonne music festival before we knew their dates, but they bravely agreed to join us at a Bryan Ferry concert!   Actually, it is worth going to Carcassonne music festival just for the venue in the amphitheatre in the cité.   We were very lucky because the support act (LP from New York) was excellent and by the end of the evening we found ourselves wondering which performer was, in reality, the support, and which the main act!   Bryan was fine once he got round to singing our favourite Roxy Music numbers, but he is now 71, and did seem somewhat lacking in the charisma department after LP had totally seduced the audience and even done a pied-piper walk through the crowd whilst singing one of her songs.

The last couple of days of Helen and Alastair's stay we were travelling on board Cassandra:we stopped at both Le Somail and Homps, both villages with interesting history and nice restaurants!   It is now the busy time of year on the canal du midi with hire boats at every turn, so we were very glad that our guests turned out to be not just good crew but also lucky mascots: we did not have long waits at any locks with them.  This can be very disheartening and can easily make a journey that should have been a perfectly manageable four-hour trip into a seven-hour one.

On our own again we stayed at more isolated rural moorings as we made our way to Carcassonne where we had our chosen mooring below Marengo bridge booked with the ever-efficient Stephanie at the capitainerie.  For the second year running we were moored behind a péniche full  of excited and excitable children helmed by the best skipper I have ever seen.  She can manoeuvre the boat with such precision and confidence, and such apparent ease!   Bravo!   And I feel proud that she is a woman, though I know that I personally can never hope to reach her high standard of boatmanship.

Whilst in Carcassonne, as well as the obligatory trip to the Musée des Beaux Arts and a very pleasant evening at our nearby Italian restaurant we ( or do I mean skipper) decided to take the opportunity to tidy up the boat which had got a bit dusty. It had rained a little overnight and with rain in these parts often comes so-called Sahara sand!   But No, it was much worse than that.   Once again we have been struck by some vegetation markings which were impossible to remove last year, and so will be this year too.   Last year, in the end, we left them  ( on the advice of our home-port  capitaine, Bruno) and sure enough the  winter temperatures and rains were enough to dissolve them!   At least, this year we are resigned already, though a boater on a nearby boat here in Carcassonne has set about his profuse vegetation staining with a kitchen scourer and oven cleaner!  Oh No!



Pretty Sallèles d'Aude mooring by lock
Riquet water management system
Fontfroide abbey
Fontfroide abbey cloisters

1 Comment

Sharlene Coss:
August 4, 2017
Hi! So glad to read your latest blog. Pictures are beautiful. Having a car to wander the surrounding countryside is such a good idea. You get to really enhance the cruising experience. Something we are considering the next time.

It is extremely hot here - all time record highs - but slightly better than the August we spent in Carcassonne. It was just too hot to cruise, so we sat in the shade as much as we could in Stephanie's marina.

Happy cruising - look forward to the next instalment.

Sharlene and Phil
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