Beyond Paris: Toulouse and Thuir

If I am being completely honest, Daniel and I had no idea about where to go in France, besides Paris, of course. Though, luckily for us, an accepted Trusted House Sitter’s application determined our destination for us. We were off to Thuir (pronounced, Tweer) where a nineteen-year-old cat, Nina, awaited our arrival (and, yes, she’s still alive).

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One of the entrances to the small, walled township of Thuir, South of France.

A quick Google search revealed that Thuir, in the popular South of France, was, in fact, eight and a half hours away from Paris! So, planning commenced for a half-way stop to break the journey from the City of Love to the Mediterranean coast. After much deliberation, it was decided that Toulouse would be our best bet.

Arriving in Toulouse was like the arrival of summertime. Coming up onto the street from the metro, the sun’s rays blanketed our skin and the warm air engulfed us in a heady wave. It was hot. Dumping our bags, we headed straight for Toulouse’s Jardin des Plantes – a retreat of shade and shelter from the scorching afternoon sun.

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The typical terracotta colours and apartment aesthetic of Toulouse, France.

After a sweaty, distressing night’s ‘sleep’ in our Air B’n’B mezzanine bedroom, we were, once again, ready to escape the heat, opting to first explore Toulouse’s Church of the Jacobins – a Roman Catholic church whose construction began in 1230. Inside the structure, cool air grazed our skin and revitalized our interest in city exploration.

My shameless, denim short-shorts clad, exploration of the church had led me to the realisation that I needed to buy some summery pants, or a long skirt, for future – respectable – church visits. So, off we headed to the shops – Daniel bleating on about our budget, me wondering why I had agreed to such frugality. In the end, a pair of breezy accordion-style pants were selected, leaving both parties happy.

Quickly, our time in Toulouse came to an end and it was time for another bus journey. Upon our arrival at Thuir’s nearest bus depot, Phil* and Margaret* – Nina’s friendly and generous owners – were there to meet us. A new, furry adventure was about to begin!

* * *

Before long, we were farewelling Phil and Margaret who were headed for Spain and leaving us in charge of their beloved cat and home. But we weren’t complaining. A glistening pool was ready for us in the backyard and Nina was already fast asleep on the sofa. Diving into the pool’s silky, aqua waters, we knew we were in for an enjoyable two-week break.

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Daniel diving into the poolside life at our house-sit in Thuir, France.

Of course, our travel mentality did mean that our time in Thuir wasn’t all poolside relaxation, card games and reading. We did make sure to get out and see some of the area’s major attractions – and there wasn’t a shortage of these either.

One of the most popular tourist attractions in Thuir is the Caves Byrrh, or, Byrrh Cellars; so, naturally, we went into town to check it out.

Down at the Cellars, we learnt that Byrrh (pronounced ‘beer’) is actually a spiced red wine that was incredibly popular prior to World War II. According to the company, Thuir’s Byrrh was on par with Coca-Cola as an internationally recognised beverage! I’m not sure if this was the case, but I do know that Byrrh tasted good!

Walking into the cellars, a sumptuous fragrance filled the air – a heavy-bodied wine, swilled with notes of orange, cinnamon and cardamon. It felt like we had stepped into a winter kitchen where a mulled wine sat brewing on the stove top. Divine!

Aside from tasting the heavenly, historic beverage, Daniel and I were also very impressed with our tour of the site. A provided English-speaking audio guide meant that we weren’t left out when it came to learning about the company’s history and the collection of Art Nouveau Byrrh posters was an additional intrigue.

Once we’d had another few ‘pool days’, our next stop was Castelnou – a wonderful wee commune in the foothills of the Canigou Massif. Having been advised to bike to the village, we proceeded to pedal uphill toward the location and its medieval castle. 45 minutes of uphill slog was no easy feat in the searing summer sun. By the time we had arrived at the quaint village, we were a hot mess! Though, despite our red faces and wet backs, we were delighted with our expedition to Castelnou.

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The small commune of Castelnou, nestled below the medieval Château de Castelnou.

Another day, when we couldn’t face a day of biking, Daniel and I decided a visit to Perpignan would be ideal. Roughly thirty minutes from Thuir, Perpignan is the capital of the Pyrénées-Orientales region of France (which Thuir is also a part of) and, once upon a middle-aged time, was also the continental capital of the Kingdom of Majorca.

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Looking down a street in Perpignan, the capital of France’s Pyrénées-Orientales region.

So, suitably, one of the key locales we visited in Perpignan was The Palace of the Kings of Majorca. Despite leaving the royal quarters still unsure about where the queens’ palace was, we came away from the medieval building having enjoyed a fantastic view of the city from its high vantage point. The visible mountain ranges of the Pyrénées in the distance were also a pretty addition to the view.

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Daniel and his ever-present backpack in front of a view of Perpignan (as seen from The Palace of the Kings of Majorca).

And so, through cycling trips, Byyrh tastings and royal sightseeing excursions, very quickly our time in Thuir drew to a close. The cover was set over the pool and our backpacks were refilled as we prepared to cuddle Miss Nina for the final time.

Though, as much as we had loved our time in this sunny, French paradise, we knew it was time to move on. There was to be no more bonjour-ing from us. Headed for Spain, we prepared ourselves for the late nights and tapa delights of Barcelona!

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