Today was a lazy day of wandering around Carcassonne, with intentions to maybe visit the castle, possibly go to the art gallery and potentially visit a couple of churches.
What was definitely intended was a series of coffee stops, a nice lunch and possibly a mid afternoon cake after the trauma (yes, trauma) of the biscuiterrie being closed after lunch on Sunday.
Not that I have really been in need of cake on this trip. The landlady at my guest house bakes cakes on a daily basis. So far, I’ve enjoyed raspbery madeleine, brioche, blueberry muffin and this morning’s breakfast cakes were a sweet rarebit and a cherry crumble muffin.
What I have struggled with is finding vegetarian food. To be honest I will eat anything (which is just as well in places where the avocado and poached eggs arrive with half a kilo of wafer-thin ham on top) but I choose a vegetarian diet – sustainability concerns and also because, without meat, I find that I can eat as much cake, cheese and bread as I like. #Priorities
So far in Carcassonne, the vegetarian options in almost every restaurant appeared to be mozzarella and tomatoes. I love this but not for EVERY meal. Today I was determined to see if there was more variety on offer.
The restaurants in Béziers had appeared to offer far more variety but, being a Monday, half of them were closed. I did find a gorgeous Spanish restaurant that offered a good range of vegetarian tapas options.
I was a little overwhelmed when the plates arrived – the servings were considerably larger than the portions I’m used to in Manchester. In this case, I’d ordered padron peppers, patatas bravas and hummus.
“You are hungry this evening,” smiled the waitress as she deposited the plates.
“I hope so,” I replied.
I was slightly nervous that I would turn into the entertainment as Woman vs Food but, upon looking around, I realised every table and patron was about to embark on their own duel.
And it wasn’t only because they resembled bumblebees that the patatas bravas were the best I’ve ever tasted. Actual potatoes, rather than mini triple-cooked chips drowned in garlic mayonnaise.
The hummus was more of a tribute to Coronation Chicken (without the bird) and was fabulous.
I left my guesthouse today with a couple of lunch recommendations and checked the menus as I passed on my way to the art gallery. I had commented to a friend that it seems that any meal without meat is viewed with deep suspicion here. It’s the land of cassoulet after all.
I was tickled by one particular menu – the meatfree option being described as for hippies. It’s a bit like when “Cranks” opened in the UK in the 1980s/90s. One for the weirdos, obviously.
Before lunch, I thought I’d do a little sightseeing…
The Carcassonne Art Gallery is free to visit and offers exhibitions of old and modern art – all jumbled together. It didn’t take long to visit and I quite enjoyed the story of how the city gained its name.
In the 8th Century, Carcassonne was under Saracen rule and Charlemagne’s army was at the gates to reconquer the city for the Franks. A Saracen princess named Carcas ruled.
Charlemagne wasn’t having a lot of success. The siege lasted for five years. Early in the sixth year, for the citizens, supplies of food and water were running low. Lady Carcas made an inventory of all remaining reserves.
The villagers brought her a pig and a sack of wheat. She then had the idea to feed the wheat to the pig and then throw it from the highest tower of the city walls.
Charlemagne lifted the siege, believing that the city had enough food to the point of wasting pigs fed with wheat. Overjoyed by the success of her plan, Lady Carcas decided to sound all the bells in the city. One of Charlemagne’s men then exclaimed: “Carcas sonne!” (which means “Carcas rings”). Hence the name of the city.
This is, of course, all absolute cobblers.
Lady Carcas didn’t exist and Charlemagne’s dad had already conquered the city but why let the facts get in the way of a good story?
I headed off for a coffee and, I have to say… it’s a bit hit and miss as to what you’ll get when you order a cappuccino here.
I’ve had cappuccino as a cocktail. It was hot at least but I felt would be risking a burnt tongue if I used the accompanying straw.
I’ve been served something that looked like it had washing up liquid added to it. That was never a milk froth.
And today… it was the turn of the squirty cream.
Lunch was at a cafe that was reviewed as being the closest to having lunch with Bilbo Baggins as you were likely to achieve this side of Hobbiton. This I had to see. Plus the food was “to die for”.
Shrubs had room for no more than eight people, tops – sitting at benches with place settings that could actually have come straight from Narnia.
It offered a simple menu – three, four or five servings of variously prepared vegetables, with or without various meat, poultry or fish options. All of the food was fresh prepared on site and the owner was incredibly friendly serving lunch with friendly chat and an excellent ABBA soundtrack.
It definitely tasted like the 1990s.
Dessert wasn’t too far away at Meery Cake. If lunch was around at Me Tumnus’s house, cake was served at the Mad Hatter’s place. Mismatched, shabby-chic furniture and pastel shades with, naturally, jumbled crockery.
The cake counter was majestic. The cakes – whether cupcakes or slices – were huge and the meringues were as big as your head. Or maybe face.
When I didn’t know what to choose, the proprieter wondered if adding pavlova to my options would help. (Reader, it didn’t).
The cakes all looked utterly delicious but I went with a chocolate brownie. I know. How terribly exciting. It was the smallest of the options and it was melt-in-the-mouth delicious.
It’s been a tough day, obviously.
NB Minimal photos because of technical issues.