31 March 2013

France: Getting My Hands Dirty And Visiting Thermal Baths

As mentioned in my recent posts, I'm currently abroad. I spent a couple of days in Barcelona before heading to France, where I spent twelve days helping to renovate Chateau Ventenac in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. As I explained in my previous post, I only had to work for five hours a day, five days a week in exchange for three meals a day and a bed. My volunteer work was very varied, but I am particularly proud of my gardening; I hadn't gardened since I was a child helping my parents, so weeding was quite a big thing for me. I got very into it, and really started to despise one particular weed which was very hard to dig up in its entirety and was all over the garden.

In my free time, I visited Carcassonne and Narbonne, as well as doing a bit of cycling around the villages that surrounded the chateau. I had been to Carcassonne with my parents on a family holiday, but had no idea that there was a bigger, bustling, modern city below the old city. I hadn't done the tour of the castle before either, and particularly enjoyed the audio tour by an actor pretending to be the architect who renovated the city 200 years after it fell during the Hundred Years' War. I would definitely recommend paying Carcassonne a visit, not only for the history but for the spectacular views. On a clear day (as when I visited) you can see all the way to the Pyrenees. Youths (people aged 18-25) from the EU can get into the castle for free, which was an added bonus for me!

Narbonne Cathedral
The day that I visited Narbonne it was not quite so clear and sunny; in fact it rained most of the time I was there. I still haven't repaired or replaced my umbrella so I got very wet. Narbonne was very pretty despite the rain, and I particularly enjoyed looking around the Hรดtel de Ville (City Hall) as it connected to the cathedral and you could climb a defence tower in order to get fantastic views of the city. Considering how poor the visibility was when I visited, I imagine that the views are even better in a clear day. I also squeezed a crepe into my visit: it was filled with caramel, grand marnier and orange, though I have to admit that the grand marnier was a little bit overpowering. For all the cake I eat, I'm actually more of a savoury crepe girl.

The Cafe Where I Bought My Crepe
I really enjoyed getting to know the other volunteers at the Cheateau, as well as the hosts themselves. The chateau was also right next to a wine cellar which sold excellent but cheap wine, so as I'm sure you can imagine we enjoyed the free wine tasting sessions provided there.

Chateau de Ventenac Wine Cellar
The day that I left the chateau the weather was a bit muggy and damp (as you can see in the picture above) so I wasn't too sad to be leaving for Perpignan, where glorious sunshine awaited. There I met a good friend of mine, who I studied French with at school and have known for years and years now. She's currently on a year abroad, so I thought it would be rude not to pay her a visit, especially since she's living in the South of France!
On the second day of my visit to Perpignan I took one of the 1 euro buses (an excellent deal since you can go to the end of the line for the same price as going to the second stop on the line) to Collioure. On the journey I recognised one of the beach towns, Argeles-sur-Plage; I'm sure I must have visited with my parents as a child, but isn't it funny how I can remember a place I visited once more than a decade ago?

Collioure is a very pretty seaside town, full of shops selling traditional Catalan food and drink. I was very taken with the harbour, as a church backs out into the water (the tower in the picture above) along with a chateau and several other buildings. The houses are all quietly colourful whilst all blending into the same colour palette, in the Mediterranean way. I would definitely recommend that you visit if you happen to be nearby.

Scaling The Mountain
The next day, we took another of the euro buses deep into the Pyrenees on a ninety minute bus ride, then scaled 2.5km of mountain to reach an outdoor thermal bath. The baths were all at 35C, so we found it very easy to spend three hours in there. It was definitely worth the trek!

This morning I took a train back to Barcelona, where I'm staying until Wednesday. I am itching to bake something again - a fortnight is a long time! I have no doubt that I will do plenty of baking when I get back, so if any of you are worried that this is becoming a travel blog instead, worry not!


  1. Sounds like you've had an excellent time in the south of France and managed to get out and visit quite a bit!
    PS – I'm a little jealous of the BN at the top. I haven't had any in forever – I miss them!

    1. I know! I hadn't had any in ages, and am ashamed to confess that they didn't hang around in the container very long. I had quite a few requests to bring some home with me. I haven't seen them in the UK for years.


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