Monday, 19 July 2010

Castelnaudary France, Home of Cassoulet

Castelnaudary is the capital of the 'Pays de Lauragais region and a town of charm and history. It sits astride the Canal Du Midi and is famous for its haricot bean dish Cassoulet, the festival for which (Fete Du Cassoulet) is held each year during the 7 days that make up the last week of August (in 2010 that is the 23rd to the 29th August) and you can get the details via the link.

If you want to sample an authentic cassoulet, first of all you have to have one that has been prepared in a locally manufactured 'cassole' and as tradition had it the cassole had to be one made by the pottery in Issel. A bit difficult these days as the pottery has now closed for business. The best alternative is to use one of the hand made ones from the 'Potterie Not' which sits on the side of the Canal Du Midi just short of Segala, a good destination for a Canal Du Midi cycling trip from Castelnaudary. The 'Potterie Not' is the last survivor of what was a major local industry for the area from around the 19th century. There are more potteries in the area which are also very good, just not as old as this one.

I had my first ever cassoulet in the restaurant of the same name the 'Maison Du Cassoulet' and I really wasn't disappointed. It came with the traditional Toulouse sausage, a nice piece of very tender pork and an equally tender leg of duck. It was delicious but you need to be hungry to take on this traditional dish, there is a lot of it.

Castelnaudary is the home to the largest port on the Canal Du Midi, the 'Grand Bassin' which is some 7 hectares in size. A good time to see it is on the 13th July when Castelnaudary celebrates 'National Day' with it's own fireworks display launched from a boat in the middle of the Grand Bassin.




I love the fireworks display at Carcassonne, and didn't think this one would be able to come even close to that display. But I am glad to report that I was proved wrong, it was a fabulous display and well worth the visit. Plus being so local i.e. within 10 minutes of our house, made it a little bit more special.

It's been a busy few weeks for Castelnaudary, aside from the normal hubbub of being a popular tourist destination, there has been the National Day celebrations, with marches and bands playing, this week saw the Tour De France passing through and in a few more weeks we will have the Fete Du Cassoulet starting. We are determined that this year we will make it there for one of the cassoulet dinners and might even try on a stripey blue and white jersey. Well maybe not, don't think it would be a flattering look for someone with my natural physique.

So what else has Castelnaudary got to offer besides the Canal Du Midi, cycling, boat trips, wine tasting at the Cave du Canal,  loads of restaurants, hotels, B&B and gites.

Well you will be pleased to hear that the Corn Exchange in the main square has now been completely refurbished and so has the Quai du Port where you will find the Cave Du Canel, the launch place of the daily boat trips and the snack bar that offers itself as a 'Location des Velos' as a sideline.

History of Castelnaudary


Castelnaudary featured quite significantly in the history of the Cathars. Simon de Montfort, persecutor of the Cathars and leader of the Albigensian Crusade, held occupancy of the castle in Castelnaudary (which means new castle by the way) in 1211. He was marched upon by Raimon VI, who was the Count of Toulouse, aided by the Count of Foix and the Count of Comminges.

Simon de Monfort only had about fifty knights with him, so when he was besieged in Castelnaudary he sent for reinforcements from Carcassonne.

When the convoy from Carcassonne arrived it was attacked by the Count of Foix, who in return was attacked by De Montfort and his fifty knights when they ran out of the castle and put him to rout. Raimon didn't take part in the fighting although being very close with part of his army settled in 'Le Pech' which is where the Moulin de Cugarel now sits. So now when you visit the mill you can imagine the area occupied by a 13th century army with designs on putting an end to Simon De Montfort and his crusaders. Things could have been very different had they succeeded.

The Moulin de Cugarel is the last of what used to be 32 windmills that were located strategically around the town in the 17th century. So not actually there when the siege was going on, but a good location marker with a certain amount of its own history. The inner workings have been preserved and you can see how it all operated on certain days.

This is also a lovely viewpoint for the views across the Carcassonne plains and towards the 'Montagne Noire'. from the 'Table de Orientation' which details all the different towns and villages.

There are one or two placards there that will tell you a little more about the history of the town, including the Riot of the Languedoc' and the battle of 1632 which saw Henri de Montmorency, the governor of Languedoc captured and subsequently beheaded at Toulouse in the Capitole's courtyard in October 1632.

For even more information, you could visit the Musée de Lauragais to get a lot more detail on the town, its history and that of the region.

This sits at the top of the hill just along from the church of Saint Michael which was built in Gothic style and is impressive in its own right, as you can see in the photograph. It holds an imposing position on the skyline overlooking the rest of the town.


The museum would be just to the right of the church had I panned a little further around when I took this photograph, hindsight is a wonderful thing.


You can find a few of the places I have mentioned and quite a few other places of interest on this map of Castelnaudary which will hopefully help you find your way around this delightful little town.



The Quai du Port and the corn Exchange




Fete Du Cassoulet In Full Swing

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