3 enchanting places to visit in Occitanie…

You may well be thinking ‘why only three?’ In fact, I could be easily writing about thirty three enchanting places to visit in Occitanie, if not many, many more. But I’ve decided on three because our eldest son and his girlfriend came to stay for a few days, recently, and these were places we visited with them.

First some history! Occitanie, the administrative region, was created on 1st January 2016 from the former regions of Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées.

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Graphic from Pinterest

This large area has it all – varied landscapes, fascinating architecture, interesting culture, stunning sights and of course, sunshine!  Festivals, markets, gastronomic delights…shall I go on? In that case: the Pyrénées, the Canal du Midi, Mediterranean beaches… I’m beginning to sound like a walking tourist board but I’m obviously biased because this is the area we chose to buy our house!

The first must see place is Toulouse. We have visited several times and I only wish I had got to know Toulouse sooner. It really is the most fantastic city and is often referred to as ‘La Ville Rose’ (The Pink City) because of the colour of the bricks that are used in many of the buildings.

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I would certainly recommend Toulouse for a long weekend or a city break. Whatever your tastes, there is something for everybody: retail therapy, culture, history, art, cafés and so much more. I love walking and there are several self guided walks one can enjoy around the city. All you need is a good map (available from the tourist office) or leaflet. The leaflet we used last year cost about 1 Euro with a choice of five varied walks. We managed three of them; one focused on the historic centre of Toulouse, another took us to the green areas of Toulouse, including a section of the Canal du Midi, as well as several beautiful public gardens and, last but not least, possibly my favourite, along the banks of the Garonne, from one side to the other.

More on Toulouse in the future.

My second enchanting place to visit, in Occitanie, is Carcassonne. In particular, la Cité. We first visited a few years ago, in August. Big mistake! It was unbelievably hot within the city walls and unbelievably crowded.

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However, when we visited with our son and his girlfriend everything was perfect! The first view of the citadel is breath taking. It resembles a fairy tale castle and it is rumoured that it was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.  In reality, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage in 1997.

There has been a settlement where the Cité now stands since before Roman times and it has certainly suffered through the ages. It has been besieged, burnt and neglected. Although you wouldn’t think so when you see it now. This is because it was restored by Viollet-le-Duc in the nineteenth century. Some people are of the opinion that he ‘over restored’ the citadel, as several of the features he included, such as the pointed roofs on the towers and arrow-slits would not have been there originally. You will have to visit and decide for yourself!

In the meantime, do have a look at this video which was put together by Crème de Languedoc

My third enchanting place is possibly overusing the adjective ‘enchanting’ but I still feel the need to include it – Castelnaudary! My son and his girlfriend had no choice but to visit this small town because this is where we have our home. Obviously I am biased but it was standing looking at the views over the Canal du Midi, towards the port, that really enchanted me in the first place.

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Have you ever visited this part of France or any of these places? If you had to name three enchanting places that you have ever visited, anywhere in the world, which would they be? I’d love to know!

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Bérets…do you?

Like them? Wear them? Associate them with The French? It was this headline that caught my eye:

‘Berets, Unapologetically French And Unapologetically Chic’ (Elle UK).

No surprises there, with the inclusion of the words French and Chic!

I’ve written before about stereotypes associated with France and the French, including wearing striped Breton tops, carrying baguettes and, of course, wearing berets. Over the years, I’ve seen very few French people wearing berets ( although I have seen plenty of striped tops and baguette carriers!!) and on those occasions I have they’ve tended to be sported by older gentlemen!

Bérets have been around  for a very long time. Depending on which source you read, the béret can be accredited to Noah or the ancient Greeks but the ‘modern’ beret is said to have originated in the Basque region.

I asked my youngest son what he associated with the word ‘béret’. He came up with worn by ‘the military and pretentious artists (!).’

He’s probably right up to a point. Picasso, Marlène Dietrich, Faye Dunaway and so many other painters, actors, singers have been pictured wearing berets. Whether this makes them pretentious, I have no idea! There are many other celebrated beret wearers.  Too many to mention in one blog post!

The beret has also been used to symbolise revolution; as worn by Che Guevara for example.

My first encounter with a béret was as part of my Brownie uniform. Haha! Luckily, I don’t have any photos of me wearing, what I considered to be the most hideous outfit. For someone with olive skin, a brown dress, accessoried with touches of yellow, did me no favours at all!

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I managed to find this image on Pinterest. It is almost an exact replica of my Brownie uniform. I believe that the Brownie uniform is much more practical now.

What about bérets as a fashion item? I must have been scarred by my Brownie Uniform Beret as I have never worn one since I was eleven. Apparently bérets are back in fashion. I know for some people they have never gone away. Penny, who writes the blog:

http://frugalfashionshopper.co.uk/french-style-and-two–berets/

wears a beret (and other hats!) with aplomb. Do have a look!

I’m actually thinking that I might be brave and try a beret. I’m sure I’ll be able to find one in  charity (thrift) shop. I’ve found a video that might help me with styling my béret:

Sadly, there is only one historic beret factory left in France: Laulhère. The Laulhère company has become something of a French institution… It’s the last remaining  factory producing distinct and 100% homegrown French berets, which it’s been doing for 200 years. Having survived the threat of bankruptcy, the company is now growing and its berets are even worn by princesses and movie stars.

I’m looking forward to hearing from all those beret wearers out there!

Fancying France: looking ahead

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Photo by Myriams-Fotos. Pixabay

Happy New Year! Bonne Année!

I don’t make New Year resolutions. Do you? But I do have some plans for my blog. Before moving forward, I thought it might be interesting to look back over the last year of Fancying France.

Just to clarify, I am not a professional blogger – as you may be able to tell! I’ve always enjoyed writing and this blog fulfills my creative side. This blog is not my business, it is written purely for pleasure – mine! Although I have to admit that nothing thrills me more than knowing that someone else has taken the time to read my ramblings. A mega thanks, too, for all the comments I have received. This is one of the most delightful aspects of blogging, connecting with other people, all over the world.

Top three posts of 2017: in reverse order!

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  • C’est chic…?!

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This post has had many more views than any other I have ever written, since I began this blog. Interesting!

Blogging plans for 2018?  I must update my ‘about’ page. This was written when my dream was to have a home in France and now we do! I really should get a new (better) profile photo too.

I tweet and pin! What next? I’m thinking Instagram. After all, it’s important to keep learning and trying new blog related things. Do you have any recommendations?

Currently, I’m starting each morning with a cup of warm water and lemon and trying to drink more water but I’ve had these intentions so many times before that I’m purposely not calling them resolutions!

I’d love to know any NY resolutions you may have, blog related or otherwise.

 

 

 

French Perfume Commercials – oui ou non?

Has anyone else noticed the weird and, not necessarily, wonderful perfume adverts that abound on television at this time of year?

I’ve written before of my love of fragrance:

https://fancyingfrance.wordpress.com/2017/08/01/fragrance/

but this love doesn’t always extend to some of the bizarre perfume commercials that are all over our screens at Christmas.

By the very nature of perfume, it is difficult to convey its essence without actually smelling it! I have read  descriptions of perfumes which describe them beautifully but when you actually get to try them they may not live up to expectations.

French perfume adverts are particularly ‘over the top’ in my opinion. Although it’s not only the French ones. Gucci Bloom, I’m talking about you!

Many of these fragrance commercials feature celebrities. My favourite perfume, of the moment, is ‘La Vie est Belle’. Julia Roberts is the star of the advert for this fragrance which is set in Paris. Neither of these facts have any effect on my perfume choice. I actually sniffed the fragrance on someone else, liked it and decided to see if it would work for me. My ‘research’ (looking on Debenhams website) tells me that the ‘stunning glass bottle’ , which contains the perfume, represents the shape of Julia Roberts mouth. Really?? I had no idea.

Another perfume commercial, also shot in Paris, is Coco Mademoiselle which stars Keira Knightly. It involves her riding on a motorbike through the empty streets of Paris – that must be a first! I mean empty Parisian streets, of course! Without getting into too much deep analysis, I imagine that KK is representing a strong, powerful, independent and beautiful woman. Is the inference that if we buy this perfume, we are demonstrating our similar characteristics? Or am I overthinking this?!

Finally, I’m singling out the latest Jean Paul Gaultier perfume: Scandal. This is a relatively recent advert which – guess what! – is located in Paris. The story, behind this commercial, is of Madame la Ministre. She works for the government during the day and parties (or worse?!) in Pigalle at night. My research tells me that this perfume ‘embodies day and night’ and that the star of this commercial is a Hungarian model. I have yet to try this.

There are so many other perfume adverts I could have included but three are probably enough for one blog post!

What do you think? Do perfume commercials encourage you to try or buy? I’d love to know…

What animal is this?

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Is it an otter, a beaver, a giant rat or something else?

Well done, if you said ‘coypu’ or ‘ragondin’!

Neither of these possibilities were actually on my radar until I saw them swimming in the Canal du Midi. I thought they looked quite cute. However, further research would suggest that for many people this is not the case.

Coypu are native to South America and were originally introduced to France and the UK for their fur. They have webbed rear feet and orange coloured front teeth.

They are  semi aquatic rodents who  feast on vegetation and burrow into river banks. Both these actions can cause serious damage to the environment.  They also carry leptospirosis. These are just some of the reasons they are viewed as pests.

There are a variety of ways in which these animals can be culled but I won’t go into the various methods in this post.

I have never seen it on any menus but my research came across several possible recipes for ragondin. These included pâté and stew… Not sure myself.

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This is a photo of a local coypu I took recently. This coypu was alongside the Canal du Midi towpath and very close to the port in Castelnaudary. He – or she – didn’t seem at all perturbed by the passerbys on foot or boat.

Have you seen a ragondin/coypu? What do you think about them: a pest or cute? I’d love to know.

It only took a year …

To get to visit the workshop-gallery of an artist whose work we have admired from our first stay in Castelnaudary. His name is Jean Luc Lafitte but his artistic name is Lu.

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Art is subjective, as is taste. We first saw Lu’s work in our favourite restaurant. As we go there most weeks, we have had plenty of opportunity to look at his work. They are the sort of canvases in which people see different things. They are also have texture. I always want to touch them. This is because the paint is applied with a spatula, trowel or whatever else might come to hand.

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The gallery is in a village on the way to Carcassonne. Jean Luc recently  moved into his new premises and is still at the organisation stage, as you can see from my photos! He is a larger than life character. We took to him immediately. He runs workshops too, including some for children with special needs and adults with disabilities.

 

It took us ages to decide which canvas to purchase. And here it is!

The photo and lighting don’t really do it justice. Neither does having it propped up on the radiator. It looks much more effective on the wall! Can you spot the unicorn?! That’s one of the shapes I can see…

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We bought it back to the UK and whenever we look at it, we have a reminder of our French home. It’s certainly very different from our more traditional Canal du Midi photograph or Eric Ravilious print.

I am linking up with the very brilliant #AllAboutFrance. If you want to read a wide variety of posts, all with a French theme, do have a look here!

An unplanned visit…

You might be wondering where I went. Could it be to an undiscovered Cathar Castle, a fabulous wine domaine for some tasting or a Michelin starred restaurant?

Infact, it was to the vet. This was a first for me. I have never been to a French vet before. Our foster cat had a sore paw and, after contacting the lovely Moira from the SPA, it was felt that we should hot foot (!) it to the vet, in Carcassonne.

This particular veterinary surgery is linked to the SPA and treats their animals when needed. I was so impressed with the set up of the surgery and, dare I say, with the rather lovely vet who had, in my opinion, the kindest eyes…Strangely enough this wasn’t noticed by my husband!

As we suspected, our foster cat had an infection in her paw. She was given an antibiotic injection, plus a follow up course of liquid antibiotics and an antiseptic spray for her poorly pad.

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I am pleased to report that she is already on the mend. However, I had forgotten how difficult it is to give medicine to cats. I think we are now regarded as the ‘spawn of the devil’!

Fortunately, she is a very laid back cat and holds no grudges.

I also need to point out that if you foster a cat for the SPA, all bills from the vet are covered #prettyamazing

As you can see, Mischka is back to assisting with my blog …

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