Six and the Cite: Geraldine O’Callaghan on travelling with Strangers
Travelling with strangers, GERALDINE O’CALLAGHAN was living on the edge of her comfort zone. She tells how a trip to Carcassonne in the South of France brought perspective, allowing her to appreciate the beauty in life.
After seeing some photos of the medieval citadel at Carcassonne, known as “La Cité”, I was on a mission to get myself there. As I love meeting new people, I decided to be spontaneous and uploaded a post to a Facebook group called Girl Crew. My post stated that I was booking a three-night trip to Carcassonne and flying in to Toulouse airport on a set date, so if anyone wanted to join me to comment underneath my post. Within a week, we were a group of six strangers all booked onto the same trip. A bit random, yes, but didn’t someone once say that “life begins at the edge of our comfort zone”?
I gave the group the name of the lady in the travel company I dealt with. She organised everything from accommodation, transfers, walking notes and guide books, and gave us all each other’s phone numbers so we could make plans for meeting in the airport. I met up with my new travel friends at Dublin airport and off we went on a four-day walking holiday in the south of France.
On arrival, we were struck by the size and stature of the citadel or cité as it’s known locally. It is a massive medieval castle perched on top of a hill looking like something from a fairytale. When you enter inside the formidable fortress the pleasant surprise is that it’s still alive and bustling with shops, socialising squares, coffee shops and restaurants. It’s basically as if you were invited to the court to dine and, of course, drink wine. Medieval costumes are in every souvenir shop on the cobblestone streets and the whole atmosphere really takes you back in time.
Carcassonne didn’t disappoint either when we ventured out into nature hiking on the mapped-out trails. We walked through lush green wooded areas, wide open meadows of lavender, sprawling vineyards and golden rapeseed plantations that meet the horizon. We walked the yellow trail which is 14km long and full to the brim with views of the castle, photo opportunities of stunning scenery that is just a feast for the eyes, and the best way to clear the head in the morning after more than a glass of the local produce.
On Saturdays there is a market in the new city between 9am to midday where you can buy fresh-baked bread and croissants, fresh fruit and vegetables, an array of nuts, olives and loose spices straight from the sack. Here we stocked up on a picnic of French cheese, garlic artisan sausage and crunchy bread before we went off walking. Sitting along the trail eating a picnic with my new-found friends, I thought to myself that there is good in the world. How lucky was I to have landed such a nice bunch of people in my little group of randomness?
Our hotel was outside the walls of the castle so in the evenings when lounging in the front garden chatting and sipping wine at €2 a glass, we were also soaking up front row views of the magical cité.
Situated in south-west France, Carcassonne is perfect for a getaway. It’s ideal for either a walking holiday or a romantic couple’s weekend. But don’t go to Carcassonne if you are hoping for a wild party as you won’t find it. For drinks slightly later than 10pm, you’ll need to go to the Irish bar in the new city, aptly called The Celt. The new city is also good for some shopping and people watching, my favourite thing to do when enjoying a coffee outside a restaurant. And the pretty houses have pastel-painted shutters on their windows that absolutely let you know you are now in France.
We flew to Toulouse with Aer Lingus and paid €320 return, which wasn’t exactly cheap. Ryanair now fly directly to Carcassonne which will cut out the one-hour transfer we needed to take. Our hotel was a charming 3* that cost €220pps. Breakfast was not included so we went each morning to the cité and had breakfast at a small café, which cost just €5 for a continental.
We booked everything, excluding our flights, through OneFootAbroad.com