Art

Castles, Caves and Street Art in the Pink City of Toulouse

Escaping the British drizzle

And so I returned to France! The weather in the UK was not the best this past summer and so a late getaway to the South of France was a welcome escape from the English drizzle. The promise of great street art from my good friend, Lou, was an added bonus and didn’t disappoint! I spent a week; exploring castles, caves and the street art in Toulouse, as well as eating amazing food and drinking French wine- santé!

Just some of the scenery in South West France

Beautiful scenery and endless vineyards are everywhere in the South of France. Its easy to immerse yourself as theres so much to see and do. You can visit 15,000 year old cave paintings, explore the ruins of Cathar castles set high on the hillside, roam the medieval streets below or slow the pace and explore contemporary street art.

The ‘cake’ stalagmite in the Niaux Cave system 

First up were the famous caves in Niaux, home to 15,000 year old cave paintings. After a very up and down route, through stalactites and stalagmites and crawling through small openings in the rock formation, we arrived in the famous ‘black chamber’. So called because lights have to be switched off in order to preserve the work. The time you are able to spend in the black chamber is limited to 25 minutes. This is to prevent the condensation from our breath, and light from the one permitted torch- used by the guide, from impacting on the work. Excess time can damage the work, as it causes mould to grow on the walls in the damp environment, erasing the artefacts. No photography is permitted in the Black Chamber, so the photos below are the first on my site that aren’t my own! They were kindly sent to me from the tourism site associated with the cave, to use in this post (I have put a link at the end for further information).

Images from the Black Chamber, Niaux Cave. Property of  sites-touristiques-ariege

These paintings are over 15,000 years old. This blows my mind to think of people coming so far (1k+) into the cave, completing their painting and then leaving, most likely never to return. AND, all of this in the dark, by fire light! Simply incredible. There are many theories as to the reasoning behind the paintings, the most viable are to do with shamanistic ritual, although we will never know for sure, however, this element of secrecy and ambiguousness just adds to the intrigue of the Caves. I loved visiting Niaux and it made me want to research them, and other caves like this, further.

Image one- Lastours, Image 2- Carcassonne

Second, we figured a day exploring castles was in order! We headed to Carcassonne to wander about the functioning and still very much lived in citadel, where we stopped for a delicious ‘plat du jour’ lunch (with wine of course!) and to take in this medieval city, before heading to Châteaux de Lastours (also known as the four towers), 30 minutes north of Carcassonne. This site is is home to four towers, built in the 12th and 13th centuries and and provide a sample of some of the few remaining Cathar castles in existence. In some of the most picturesque scenery, we walked between the history steeped ruins, taking in spectacular views and as it was outside of the peak tourist season, we pretty much had the whole site to ourselves!

The Medieval city of Mirepoix

On the way home we stopped by the medieval market town of Mirepoix to take in the beautiful square, complete with carved gargoyles and traditional french medieval architecture. During our stay we also ate out at the most incredible restaurant, called La Maison, near Laroque-d’Olmes, where there was a seafood buffet that was out of this world delicious! Worth a visit if you are in the area!!

Seafood from La Maison

Third on the hit list was a visit to the ‘Pink City’ of Toulouse. Here we met up with a friend of mine, who showed us around and introduced us to some of the best street art sites in the city, which was pretty cool. If you’re familiar with my posts, you’ll know that I love LOVE love checking out street art so this was (literally) right up my street!

Image 1- Painting with light by the river, Image 2 onwards- the beautiful street art in Toulouse

After walking through the centre and getting our fill of ornate buildings and contemporary street art, we headed to the banks of the river where, in the evenings, local students of the famous Le Lido – Centre for Circus Performing Arts, gather in groups and wait for the sun to set, then put on a spectacular light show using fire. It was the perfect end to a visit to a great great city.

MORE street art, there was just so much to choose from!

It was a lovely trip, with a full assault on the senses. From underground caves to castles high on the hillside and all the street art in between, it was a whirlwind visit and I can’t recommend it enough!

 

Tourism site where more information on the Niaux Cave complex can be found;
http://www.sites-touristiques-ariege.fr

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