Looking for a great "rustic and traditional" place along the 6h drive from Paris to Carcassone
In June I'll be doing a 6.5h drive from Paris to Carcassone in a day. I have two questions.
(1) Are there any great "rustic and traditional" places along the way? (about midway,2h-4h in, would be nice)? (i.e. not fancy Michelin food, we're already doing Arpege and Ambroisie in Paris, and need some contrast).
(2) Are there any recommended activities along the way that can be done in 3-4h? (We can reach Carcassone by nightfall, so we have a fairly wide berth if there are some great activities to do in the middle of the journey)
"6.5h drive from Paris to Carcassone"
Sorriest, no way.
It will take much longer. You won't be able to stop for lunch if you want to drive it in one day. The best you can do is picnic by the roadside.
On your way there are two main road axes splitting from the single one from Paris to Orléans: the Châteauroux-Limoges (A20) and the Bourges-Clermont-Ferrand (A71). However, as Parigi writes, that certainly won't be a 6 and a half hour drive.
I would recommend the second one, which takes you through one of the most scenic parts of France (Auvergne and Cévennes) and, particularly, allows you to stop at L'Auberge de la Mère Castel in Saint-Gervais-d'Auvergne, a 20-minute drive from the A71. If you're looking for "rustic and traditional", that's your meat. The setting is breathtakingly unspoiled and beautiful.
Driving through Auvergne, you are spoiled for great things to see and do. Most of them you'll spot as you drive, like the chain of extinct volcanoes (yes you can drive atop the Puy de Dôme and admire the view over the entire region), or you'll have to go slightly out of your way for them (the beautiful village of Orcival, classic black lava architecture in Riom and Clermont-Ferrand, a trek among the volcanoes, Saint-Austremoine church in Issoire, Saint-Nectaire, the fantastic village of Conques to the South, etc.), but personnally I'd be content with a walk through the Auvergne forests for a big soulful breath of air.
If you do stray out of your way, you can probably lunch at the Hôtel de la Poste in Saint-Sauves d'Auvergne. One of my all-time favorites.
Viamichelin.com is a far more reliable map source than Google (Google does fine in the US, but Michelin is a French company mapping French roads....they have a decided edge...)
They show three different routes, the shortest of which is 7h45 -- but the key here is to remember that NONE of the driving calculators make any allowance for rest stops, toll stops, construction, weather, or traffic, and ALL of them assume that you'll be driving at the posted speed limit at all times.
As such, you usually need to add 20-25% to the estimated driving times to get to how long it will really take you to get from point A to point B.
With that, you're looking at closer to 10 hours of driving...so no, not really time to stop anywhere if you intend to make the whole drive in a single day.
How about a compromise ?... When going to the south of France, I always take the TGV train to one of the direct line stations and then rent a car there. In your case, maybe the TGV to Montpellier (3.5 hours) and then a 1.5-hour drive to Carcassonne. If you get the first train the morning (I think it's 6 or 7am), you'll be in Montpellier by 10am... lots of rental car agencies around the train station... and then a picturesque drive (lots of options) to Carcassonne with a stop for lunch on the way. I like the longer Haut-Languedoc route via Saint-André-de-Sangonis/ Clermont-l'Hérault.
My rec for lunch is a result of total serendipity... lost (which is not a bad thing), we somehow stumbled on the village of Villemagne-l'Argentière where some of the buildings date back to the 13th century (and in need of repair)... loved it because even though historic, it was just kinda there and a bit dilapidated. Anyway, we ended up having a surprisingly good lunch in the garden of the Auberge de l'Abbaye... updated classics with lots of modern touches incongruous for such an ancient setting and all the more enjoyable because of that. http://www.aubergeabbaye.com/
Caveat: I haven't been to the village since last summer and there is now a significant restoration project under way so I'm not sure how much of a construction site Villemagne l'Argentière will be if and when you visit.
And for others who might be in the area, there is a fête de la moisson/ traditional harvest festival in July in Villemagne l'Argentière... communal lunch and dancing in the place de l'Eglise. Wheeee!