The drive into Toulouse began our weekend break in Carcassonne (Southern France) for Liza’s birthday. It took only about two hours from Andorra and because of the special occasion we stayed at a nice hotel just outside the ancient Cité walls.
Our approach passed rolling vineyards until we were met by an awe-inspiring first look at this almost Disney like vista. Carcassonne is perched on a hill top in the province of Languedoc and presents a spellbinding image of castles and fairytales. The city is divided into three separate parts and they consist of La Cité, the Ville Basse and the Canal du Midi.
Despite staying elsewhere because of the budget we did take the chance to step into The De La Cité Hotel, the only hotel that has this unbeatable location within the Cité walls, standing between two historic landmarks. Most of the hotels here take part in the “Bon Week-end à Carcassonne” which has come about to encourage people to travel to France and experience the true culture of these historic, quaint towns. The 2 nights for the price of one, if booked over the weekend, makes it easier on the wallet, however we were not to splurge just yet like there was no tomorrow.
Despite feeling a little too relaxed from our lunch Liza, who has been examining the tourist booklet, convinced me that we should go and see the Château Comtal. This restored 12th century castle sits at the highest part of the Cité and we felt slightly out of breath when we got there, but were soon carried away by the remarkable history of this place. A self guided tour took us to see some of the archaeological remnants on display, pictures and descriptions of the 19th century restorations and access to the city’s inner fortifications. Evening rolled in and we enjoyed a drink in the Library Bar, listening to the piano entertainment and snacking on canapés before we headed off to dinner. Plates of cassoulet and more wine ended our first evening in Carcassonne, and we head to bed feeling absorbed by this world of historic France.
Saturday let to more exploring and we strolled up to Point Vieux to get the best view of the Cité on our way to Ville Basse to explore the morning market. The fresh produce and local delights on display were irresistible and we purchased the makings of a picnic; bread, cheese, olives and strawberries and headed up to the grassy lices for a picnic. We visited the Basilique St-Nazaire, an 11th century cathedral with extraordinary architecture and an organ dating back to the 16th century, and then the Museé des Memoires du Moyen Age. This vintage museum is situated in the bulwarks once containing the drawbridge to the castle and displays images of the traumatic life of Carcassonne, its battles, life and values of years ago. With the sun creeping towards the horizon we headed back to get ready for another delectable dinner.
Sunday we were to depart but not before a brief sojourn around the numerous shops amongst the winding streets of the Cité, and after a little spending we left Carcassonne feeling rejuvenated but permeated with the historic and medieval charm. Without a doubt Carcassonne is one of the best conserved medieval cities in Europe, much along the lines of Toledo in Spain, Erice in Sicily or Visby in Sweden. Which is the most fascinating of them all you ask? Honestly, I can’t say.
Had you ever heard of Carcassonne, maybe even been there? What feelings do the pictures in this article convey to you? What other medieval cities do you know of you recommend travelers visit? Share your thoughts below, and this post too if you liked it!