Under The Languedoc Sun, Another Side to the South of France

Under The Languedoc Sun, Another Side to the South of France

“Are you sure this is it?” I remarked to my husband. “It doesn’t look very fancy.”

“We have a weekend without the kids. That’s luxury in itself.” He responded.

We had found Maison Laurent on the main road in the town, a four-story cloud grey townhouse with sage green shutters and an unobtrusive sign announcing its name. We were in the Carcassone area sans children to take advantage of a long weekend stay my husband had won at Maison Laurent as part of a charity auction. Maison Laurent is a boutique B&B in the Languedoc countryside in the southwest of France.

Maison Laurent facade.

Maison Laurent, A Luxury Boutique B&B

The smooth grey of the flagstone floor and whitewashed interior was a welcome relief from the heat outside. A wrought iron and grey stone staircase beckoned us up to the main living floor. We were greeted by the cheery English owners, Anthony and Rachel, and their exuberant English Spaniel, Bella.

Maison Laurent bella

Bella, the undisputed star of the show

They ushered us out of the large French doors leading to a landscaped rear garden. Under the intense French sun, the greens and pinks of the lush planting in full bloom were a kaleidoscope of colour. The gravel-covered paths crunched under Bella’s paws as she trotted off at regular intervals to inspect her domain.

Maison Laurent garden

Sheltered under a canopy, we relaxed in the dappled sunshine with glasses of the local white wine. The plain-fronted buildings in Pieusse had held their secrets close – beautiful interiors and large private back gardens!  There’s a pool in the back of the garden perfect for relaxing in the sunshine.

Maison Laurent from the rear garden

Maison Laurent garden and pool

Our room, located on the top floor, was a perfect mix of traditional decor with modern conveniences. The open windows let in a gentle warm breeze which ruffled the pale linen curtains. We could see over the orange-tiled roofs of the town and, in the distance, the vineyards and the church steeple. You always knew what time it was because the church bells chimed the time on the hour 24/7.

We sank onto the restored Louis XV bed and, hurrah, our WiFi reception was great! I knew any concerns I had about the quality of our boutique B&B were unfounded.

Maison Laurent refurbished bed

maison laurent bedroom

maison laurent bathroom

Maison Laurent is a traditional Maison d’Maitre in Languedoc close to Carcassone, the Pyrenees and the Spanish border.  Anthony and Rachel bought the house from the previous owner, Laurent Sanchez, whose family had held it since it was built in the 1870’s. They painstakingly restored and modernised the house five years ago. The house was christened Maison Laurent because Maison Sanchez didn’t sound very French!

maison laurent refurbishment book

Breakfast in the morning was an elegant affair. The smell of toast hung in the air of the open plan kitchen dining room. Although I was tempted by the freshly baked croissants and baguettes on offer, I opted for a small bowl of grapefruit and orange slices with creamy local yogurt. I knew breakfast would most likely be my lightest meal of the day! Anthony made me a happy woman when he brewed me a pot of English breakfast tea with teabags imported from Yorkshire.

Apparently, one of the reasons Anthony wanted to run a B&B is his love of cooking.  His hobby is to your benefit because Anthony and Rachel offer dinner at the hotel several days a week if you are so inclined.

The Carcassone Region of the Languedoc

The hamlet of Pieusse has one main road with pastel-coloured houses bleached by the sun standing like soldiers to attention. The buildings were stark in their wood and stone simplicity adorned only with colour-coordinated wooden shutters.  At the end of the main road, there is a triangular roundabout spruced up with flowers, a bench and a monument of Jesus hanging on the cross.

pieusse languedoc france

The roundabout lead to the road out of town in one direction and fields of wine-growing grapes the other way. I wondered how many teenagers had sat under the Jesus statue with a bottle of local wine and prayed to get out of this one cheval town.  Unlike those teenagers in my imagination we thought Pieusse was the perfect escape from our hectic lives.

Between Maison Laurent and the roundabout, the main (probably only?) restaurant in town, La Taverne a Bacchus, serves up rustic French food cooked on an open spit.  I think the delicious food, quirky restaurant and opportunities for people watching deserves a post in itself.

Armed with helpful tips from Rachel, we set off every day after breakfast in our rental car to explore the nearby vineyards, canals, rolling hills and stone villages. Maison Laurent was perfectly located to take advantage of all that this gorgeous pastoral region of France has to offer.

If you are after sophistication and cultural things to do in the south of France, there are plenty of things to do in Nice and its environs. If you are after a quieter, more relaxed charm, go a bit further Southwest and bask under the Languedoc sun.

Good To Know:

Maison Laurent, in the village of Pieusse, is located bout 15 minutes from Caracassone and 90 minutes from the international airport in Toulouse. The accommodation comprises of 4 double bedrooms which range in price currently from Euro 105 to 145 a night. There is a pool and loungers available for use during the summer season. Children over the age of 12 may be accommodated upon request.

This post is linked up with #AllAboutFrance.

How The Inquisition Made Friends and Influenced People

How The Inquisition Made Friends and Influenced People

And, the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

Although Thomas Hobbes was writing about the conditions of war in 1651 not much had changed since medieval times.  Life was even nastier and shorter if you caught the attention of the Inquisition.  The ecclesiastical body set up by the Catholic Church to weed out those people who did not conform to its teachings, the Inquisition, was ruthless.  They effectively had declared war on heretics, homosexuals and supposed witches. The Inquisition had the authority to question thoroughly (i.e., torture) its suspects.

The Inquisition in the Languedoc

On our recent trip to Carcassone in the Languedoc region of the South of France, we visited the Inquisition Museum.  Unfortunately, the Inquisition held a heavy grip on the area the mid-13th century to the early 18th century.  The region was a stronghold of the Cathars, a Christian sect which dared to defy some of the teachings of the Catholic Church.  The Inquisition showed no mercy to the Cathars as it swept through the area.

inquisition museum carcassone

The Inquisition Museum was truly disturbing.  I had no idea there were so many different ways to harm people.  I usually deal with discomfort with humour and so I got to wondering how the torture would stack up in the modern world.

When I think of torture in the present context, I can’t help but think of ex-Vice President Dick Cheney and Guantanamo Bay.  He, of course, would not understand why.  After all, Cheney has insisted water boarding is not torture.

The Instruments of the Inquisition

From a scale of 1-5 with with 1 not being torture to 5 being a grudging acceptance that it is, I bring you the Cheney torture scale for 7 medieval torture instruments.

The Judas Chair

The Judas Chair was used on witches.  They were sat down on a chair of nails and the boards were slowly tightened until it really hurt.  Death was slow because the nails would stem the flow of blood loss from the punctures.

Cheney Torture Scale:  2/5 It’s only a slightly uncomfortable seat.  High back wooden chairs are never as comfortable as say a La-Z Boy recliner.  Get over it.

Nail Chair Torture Inquisition Museum

The Hell Cage

These cages were usually found on crossroads to serve as a warning to others.  Suspects were left naked in the cages.  People would die from hunger or thirst if they were left in there long enough.

Cheney Torture Scale:  1/5 Naturists hang out in the fresh air all the time.  How is this torture?

hell cage torture instrument carcassone inquisition museum

The Axe

These were relatively easy deaths saved for important people.  You know how it works.

Cheney Torture Scale:  1/5 How is this even torture?  The person just dies with the briefest time of pain.

The Axe Torture Inquisition Museum Carcassone

The Stretching Ladder

This ladder was used to stretch limbs to extract a confession.  Usually the suspect would dislocate a shoulder.

Cheney Torture Scale:  1/5 It gives you a good stretch.  Much better than yoga.

The Ladder Inquisition Museum Carcassone

The Saw

The saw was a cheap and easy way to torture on the go because usually the Inquisitors travelled without their instruments.  Every village would have a saw.  Either people were sawed in half completely or only half-way so that they died of blood-loss and pain.

Cheney Torture Scale:  5/5 This method is pretty sick.  But somewhat pointless as two halves of a person will not divulge any information.

Saw Torture Inquisition Museum Carcassone

The Breaking Wheel

The person was tied to a wheel and beaten until the bones were broken.  Then the victim was left to be eaten by crows.

Cheney Torture Scale:  2/5 At least the person was lying down. Moreover, the nurturing of wildlife is an important government duty.

Breaking Wheel Inquisition Museum Carcassone

The Neck Violin

The neck violin was attached to a person’s neck and arms.  They had to march through the streets with a sign proclaiming their misdeed.

Cheney Torture Scale:  1/5 Exercise does a body good.

neck violin inquisition museum

Believe it or not, these methods are only a small sampling of the devices used by the Inquisition.  Their creativity and cruelty seemed to know no bounds.

Visiting the Inquisition Museum

The Inquisition Museum is located in the medieval walled Cite of Carcassone.  It is comprised of two parts located in two different houses- the museum and the jail.  The Museum has displays and detailed photos of torture instruments and their use.  The jail has waxed figures depicting how the accused would be accused and brought to questioning.  Draped in cloth, you walk through the dark house and listen to the whispers of accusers and the howl of the accused.  I thought it was completely creepy.  I would advise caution in visiting this museum with younger children.  Teenagers who have seen any number of horror movies will not be bothered by the implied violence and mutilation.

 

 

Not Just Pretty Medieval Faces in Carcassone

Not Just Pretty Medieval Faces in Carcassone

I was fascinated by the stone medieval carvings in the city of Carcassone, the largest and best preserved walled city in Europe.   The faces were so expressive that you could only marvel at how talented the stone masons must have been.

This statue is Lady Carcas who supposedly fended off an attack on the city by Charlemagne.  She used ingenuity to convince Charlemagne that Carcassone was stronger than it actually was so that he retreated without attacking the city.  Nice story but it actually is completely fabricated.

Lady Carcas

This statue is a replica of the Virgin Mary which graces the entrance to the Narbonne Gate, the main entrance to the medieval walled city.  She looks pretty ecstatic doesn’t she?  In the original statue which is now located in Carcassone Castle, she is holding baby Jesus.  Maybe she’s just happy about having her hands finally free.

Madonna on the Narbonne Gate

I love these gargoyles on the Basilica of St Nazaire located in the city.  The expressions make me laugh.

Gargoyle

“OMG! Why are my ears bigger than my hands” cried the first Gargoyle.

Gargoyle

“Did you see those fugly shoes?” gasped the second Gargoyle.

Gargoyles are glorified stone water spouts. When the statues were just decorative and didn’t serve any drainage function, they were called chimera.

chimera on Basilica of St. Nazaire

The medieval version of the Three Stooges.

chimera on Basilica of St. Nazaire

Even dental intervention wouldn’t have made this face attractive.

The statue of this lady in the Basilica of St. Nazaire is simply beautiful.  Of course, it could be a very pretty man with flowing locks as well since I think maybe the statue is wearing a suit of armour. I don’t know though – those hands look too pretty to ever have grasped a sword.

lady in st. Nazaire Basilica

“Moi? Beautiful? Why thank you kindly sir.”

In the Castle of Carcassone, there is an exhibit of statutes and other decorative stone work that has been salvaged from nearby ruins.

Doesn’t this man look like he is wearing a bad wig?  Or maybe it is a medieval combover.

face at carcassone castle

I am not amused.

This person looks really happy with life, or maybe they are just happy to be having a particularly good hair day.

Face at carcassone castle

Smile, you’re on stone.

Who knew medieval faces could be so expressive?  I expect those stone masons had fun creating these faces.  I definitely had an amusing time ascribing thoughts to their faces.

Which one is your favourite?  My favourite will always be the gargoyles.