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When Pigs Fly

June 19, 2017

When we travel I try not to over familiarize myself with our destinations to maintain the element of surprise and avoid preconceptions that might turn into disappointments. I’d never heard of Carcassonne, and was amazed at what we found.


We passed through the fertile Languedoc region before heading inland to the fortified town of Carcassonne. We’d already been to several medieval fortified towns and I was less than enthused to see this one, but I was pleasantly surprised when we approached the massive walls and ramparts. The spot had been occupied since Neolithic times, with the Romans using it as a base until the fall of the western empire, but the city became even more prominent as a Cather stronghold when the Pope waged war on this so-called renegade religious sect.


Photographs of Carcassonne, where parts of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was filmed:












Most of these ancient sites come with interesting legends and Carcassonne is no exception. A legend associated with the city is celebrated at the entrance. In 795 Charlemagne lay siege to the town. Dame Carcas was in charge of the castle while her husband Saraceen Balaak was away fighting to protect his land. As food was running out towards the end of a six month siege, Dame Carcas came up with an idea. She fed the last of their food (probably sweet corn) to the city’s last pig and had it catapulted over the wall. When the pig hit the ground and exploded, Charlemagne’s soldiers were so shocked to think the city had enough food to feed a pig and throw it away that they assumed their efforts to starve the town would never work, so they ended the siege.





Dame Carcas, who ordered the pig to fly.


This region is famous for goats, wine, foie gras and walnuts, with walnuts being considered the most romantic nut because it contains two perfect halves joined together under one shell. Our guide encouraged us to pause at lunchtime for the city’s specialty—cassoulet, a stew made of beans, duck and sausage slowly baked in duck fat. We knew we’d found the right restaurant to sample it when we saw our guide tucking into a cassoulet at a nearby table.




Sign advertising the town specialty.







I’ll admit it was good, even though it was hardly something I want to eat for lunch. It was extremely heavy, and the portion was massive. Mrs. Chatterbox and I were smart enough to share a serving, unlike others who struggled to finish, waddling about afterwards and craving naps. Mrs. Chatterbox and I passed on dinner that night.






This fellow probably attempted a dine and dash without paying for his cassoulet.




Next time I’ll share my favorite excursion from our trip to the south of France, something unexpected that blew my mind!



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Carcasonne has been on my list of places to go before I die for many years. However, we are only in our part of France in the summer and that is the one time it is very wise to resist the temptation -- and thus the very intense heat -- to go. Nevermind tucking into the famous Cassoulet! Really looking forward to your next installment!
By: The Broad on June 19, 2017
Good thing that pig broke the siege. Cassoulet sounds interesting--and apparently a good value.
By: PT Dilloway on June 19, 2017
What a beautiful, big castle!
By: Linda on June 19, 2017
Fascinating story about the pig! (and a risky maneuver)
By: Kelly on June 19, 2017
what a perfect castle. is it still occupied or only a tourist attraction?
By: Ellen Abbott on June 19, 2017
One dish meals are filling; you made a wise choice in sharing a healthy portion with the Mrs. A fattened pig flying through the air and exploding on impact is an image I soon won't forget. I wonder if the soldiers enjoyed the bounty the flying pig provided.
By: Daniel LaFrance on June 19, 2017
I would love to visit this place and the castle and it fortifications is so beautiful and I bet was in more than one movie (the movie you talked about is dreck:)) Love the legend of the flying pig and as for that food? ....I would pass as it looks gross to me but I don't like fat and I hate...Hate sausage:)
By: Birgit on June 19, 2017
Hah! I always wondered where that phrase came from! And now the town is on my list to see- thanks!
By: Kathe W. on June 19, 2017
You have a marvelous talent for condensing a rather magnificent visit into succinct and intriguing bits and bobs.
By: Tabor on June 19, 2017
Wow - that is an impressive fortification! I'd love to visit there. But I think I'll pass on the cassoulet.
By: The Bug on June 19, 2017
What a fascinating story! She was one of those brave women who did what she needed to in a day when women weren't allowed to do much.
By: messymimi on June 19, 2017
Now that is a castle!! Interesting and clever about the pig deception and felt a bit bad for the poor fellow though he did get a great last meal. That cassoulet looks like it would feed a family of 4. Brave of you to tackle.
By: Arkansas Patti on June 19, 2017
That cassoulet is delicious! Aren't you forever amazed at the history in the region. Seeing those ancient structures reminds us how "young" our emigre culture is here on the North American continent. Some first Citizen settlements have age, but their social settings were different than European court society.
By: Tom Cochrun on June 19, 2017
There are not only stories but very ancient stories. European history goes back a long way.
By: red. Kline on June 19, 2017
Poor piggy. He didn't get to enjoy much of his flight. Kind of like all of the airlines that service us in the U.S. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on June 19, 2017
I'm not much of a traveler, but out of all the places you've showed us over the years, this is one that I'd be interested to visit. Castles fascinate me, and with a pig story, could I go wrong?
By: Val on June 19, 2017
Very smart move with the pig.
By: cranky on June 19, 2017
Great story and photos. Dame Carcas?!?
By: Mitchell is Moving on June 20, 2017
Beautiful pictures Stephen, I keep thinking back to the flying pig, I'm with Joe that was a smart move.
By: Jimmy on June 20, 2017
The flying pig story is brilliant. There's no pig is the cassoulet, is there?
By: Robyn Engel on June 20, 2017
Beautiful castle, you had a great trip!
By: Sage on June 20, 2017
Dame Carcas was brilliant!!
By: fishducky on June 21, 2017
Ooooh! Now I want to go there.
By: Brett Minor on June 23, 2017
Now you have me wondering about that pig that was catapulted over the wall... I remember hearing a story just like that in third grade history class, about a German town saved by a rabbit being catapulted over the town's wall - and the occupying forces then retreated, thinking the town had plenty of food left and any attempt to force the starving residents to give up would be too much of a long shot. Hmmmm.
By: Pixel Peeper on June 25, 2017

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