This is my response to Michele’s Soundtrack Tuesday question over on Songshine, where she asks us:
What’s your favorite city (besides home)?
Everybody thinks I’ll say “Paris”, don’t they?
But Paris has one major drawback. The climate. It’s about the same there as the UK, and ideally I’d want somewhere warmer. I’ve walked on the beach by the side of the Med in March, wearing nothing more than a long-sleeved tee – that’s the kind of weather I’d want.
When I was healthy, one of our most-visited cities was Rouen, in northern France – it’s only thirty miles from the coast and was an ideal place to weekend – but again, that’s the Channel coast. Same climate as here. Or, places like Saint-Malo, also on the north coast of France. Sublime in the summer but I’ve been there in December, and… trust me!
I’ve visited other cities with potential but I don’t know them well enough to label them favourite. These include New York City, Gent, Alkmaar, Luxembourg too, I guess, although it was very expensive. Plus all of these have the same climate issues.
There is a common thread of France, with many of them. I probably know it better than I do the UK. The climate improves as you travel south. So, favourite cities, which do have the climate might include Toulouse or Montpellier, down in the south-west. I’ve also had wonderful times at Carcassonne and a place called Brive, but by European standards, these are towns, not cities.
There aren’t many places that I took a dislike to – most of the time I’ve left before I had the chance – but one was Washington, DC, when I worked there back in the Nineties. I have friends there now who assure me that I didn’t see its best side. Florence was a beautiful city but I couldn’t stand how everybody was running around like a mad thing. I expect they’d say the same about London. Anyway, I got out quick. Perpignan was in my favoured part of France, but I was always disappointed by the city. I suspect I’d like nearby Barcelona, just over the border, but I’ve never been.
I think if I were pushed, I’d say Carcassonne is my favourite. It’s superb, just of itself. A gastronome’s dream – I have to eat quite bland food now, so that makes food all the more important. And is about an hour away from everywhere. Big cities like Toulouse, to the north, and probably, to the east, not much further to Montpellier. An hour from both Atlantic (west) and Med (east) coasts – Biarritz, nestled right down in the corner, boasts a former emperor’s summer palace, and you can see why. And, to the south, the incomparable greenery as you make your way to the foothills of the Pyrenees. Not to mention, the superbly-preserved medieval “old” city just a few kilometres away.