…In No Particular Order

This is our list of the Top Ten Things to do while at La Bomba

1. The Abbey at Villelongue

Despite their best efforts to market it wider, this Cistercian abbey remains well off the main tourist trail and we reckon all the better for it. Remote, serene and slightly eccentric, Villelongue makes for a very rewarding afternoon out. The 12th century cloister is perhaps the highlight but the ruined church is spectacular and the extensive gardens encourage the contemplative. A real medieval mindwarp – as one visitor said the perfect place to “pause for an instant and taste the calm of eternity”.

2. A Morning in Mirepoix

A stunning market town 45 mins to the south east of La Bomba, Mirepoix’s chief attraction is its gloriously higgledy piggledly central square. Home to a famous market on Monday mornings, the square is bordered by half-timbered houses all supported by ancient wooden arches that combine to create a beautiful cloistered arcade. The surviving houses of the richest medieval merchants are adorned with some splendid sculptures – look out for the tortoises, frogs and demons. The cathedral of St. Maurice also has the second widest nave in Europe at some 22 metres.

3. A Bowl of Cassoulet

What is really quite a simple dish of sausage, confit of duck and flageolet beans inspires nothing less than messianic devotion in these parts. Our local town of Castelnaudary presses its claim as the home of cassoulet harder than anyone else and has gone as far as starting a masonic-like society to promote the dish. They even host a 3 day festival to honour the stew at the end of every August. Even though its extreme heartiness is quite unsuited to the baking heat of a southern French summer it would be a crime to not try at least one plateful during your trip. In fact, given the local battiness about it, it’s quite possible it might actually be a crime to not eat it during any stay in the commune of Castelnaudary.

4. Pooh Sticks

If you go out the front door, turn left and walk 50 yards you will come to a little bridge crossing the Rigole – the perfect vantage point to admire the fields of sunflowers stretching out across the Lauragais valley, a great spot for an impromptu picnic but, most importantly, the venue for many a hard fought battle of pooh sticks. Twigs have been brandished, tears have been shed and blood has very nearly been spilt. Pooh sticks doesn’t get any tougher than this.

5. The Saturday Market at Revel

Without a doubt the best food market for miles around and regularly listed among the Top 100 markets in all France. It all takes place in the central square with many of the stall-holders pitched directly under the beautiful covered arcade.  It’s noisy, crowded and not especially cheap but the exceptional quality on offer is worth the trip. Locals make an early start but if you need a lie-in just make sure you get there before midday. And don’t forget to take your own bags.

6. A Boat Trip on The Canal Du Midi

The construction of the Canal du Midi in the 17th century was the technological equivalent of sending man to the moon. The idea of a waterway that would connect the Atlantic to the Mediterranean had been around forever – it would avoid the month long pirate-infested journey around Spain. Even Leonardo da Vinci was brought in by Francis I in 1516 to advise the best way to build it. It was not until 1662 when a visionary local farmer Pierre-Paul Riquet persuaded Louis XIV to cough up the funds that work began. Riquet himself died just months before the canal was opened in 1681. What is perhaps most striking about the project was the way it combined technical prowess with exquisite landscaping and architecture. Well worth an afternoon jaunt, 2 hour boat trips leave every day from the central bassin in Castelnaudary.

7. Day Out in Carcassonne

The Disneyesque medieval walled city of Carcassonne has become the stuff of legend – legendary mobs of weekend-tripping tourists flooding the narrow cobbled streets, scrambling over the ramparts to score the best photo spot and jumping the queues for ice cream. All that said, if you’ve not been before you must go. The pristine fortifications are breathtaking and put one quite at odds with the 21st century. Not a hint of medieval ruination here, just film-set perfect towers and ramparts. Of course it’s almost a cliche to mention it’s nearly all fake being restored by madcap genius Viollet-le-Duc  in the late 19th century. Just don’t go at the weekend.

8. Dinner on the Summer Terrace at The Auberge

There was uproar in SW France back in 2011 when Chef Claude Taffarello of the Auberge du Poids Public in nearby St. Felix-Lauragais had his Michelin star of 15 years standing taken off him. The region’s main newspaper called it an “incompréhension” and there were calls for an enquiry into how it happened. It’s had little impact though on trade and it remains just as difficult to secure a prized table on the restaurant’s magnificent open air terrace overlooking the Lauragais plains. We often have family reunions and “anniversary” guests staying at the house asking about somewhere to celebrate one special communal meal. This is the place to do it.

9. A Walk Down The Rigole

Follow in the footsteps of US President Thomas Jefferson who walked this historic stream back in 1789. We are very lucky to have this national treasure literally on our doorstep – being at the foot of the garden. The Rigole is actually the feeder stream of the Canal du Midi which brings the water from the Montagne Noire to the Canal at Narouze. There is a towpath along its entirety and it makes a lovely walk. The Restaurant Lac de Lenclas is a suitable 40 minute destination for ice cream and drinks. Jefferson said of his trip in and around the Canal du Midi “There is nothing in France so well worth seeing as the Canal and the country of Languedoc”.

10. Water The Plants

It’s certainly not a contractual obligation but it would be great if you could water the flowers! We love our geraniums and box trees and guests do too but they do get thirsty. So please go water them so everyone can enjoy them. The best time is early morning or early evening but always when they are in the shade. Plants in pots prefer to be watered at their base rather than directly on top. Merci!