The Languedoc region is often called the real south of France. It covers a wide area and has many personalities – more vineyards than anywhere in the world, rugged mountains, huge lakes, miles of coastline, spectacular gorges and elegant cities. It is a region with a fascinating heritage and the ancient walled city of Carcassonne is one of the most impressive jewels in its crown…
Perched high on a rocky hilltop, Carcassonne has its origins in the Gallo-Roman era dating back to the 1st century BC; thanks to its strategic location it has been the target of many invaders and has a colourful past. Today the fabulously restored hill top castle and beautiful medieval town ensure it is one of the most visited places in the South of France
Two UNESCO sites in Carcassonne
Carcassonne is divided by the River Aude. The medieval La Cité, a UNESCO listed monument surrounded by 3km of walls and 52 towers sits atop, keen eyed visitors might recognise the castle as the location for the film “Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves”. The Ville Basse (lower town) created in the 13th century, spills out below, along boulevards that mark the ancient city walls. The two halves of the city are joined by the medieval Pont Vieux. The UNESCO listed Canal du Midi, passes through Carcassonne on its course linking the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts and makes for a perfect boat trip or picnic on the leafy banks.
Visit Carcassonne with family
There are daily displays of jousting in the summer months – sounds touristy but it’s actually quite impressive. It’s easy to stroll with a stroller, the streets are for the most part free of cars (parking is well sign-posted on arrival).
Enter the ancient inner Citadel via cobbled ramps to discover tiny streets crammed with history. Allow an hour to see the 12th Century chateau built on Roman foundations. You can also take the little train and enjoy a 20 minute, multi-language sightseeing tour of the spikey turrets and remarkable ramparts.
Carcassonne for Foodies
The area is famous for its cassoulet – a hearty slow-cooked casserole. There are numerous restaurants and cafés in Carcassonne but the Ville Basse has the best choice; take a break at the Bistro Florian in Place Carnot, perfect to soak up the atmosphere. On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings Place Carnot has a lovely market where the locals compete to have the shiniest vegetables.
Carcassonne Shopping and Sightseeing
You can easily spend hours in the museums and quirky shops of Ville Basse, they’re not as touristy as the shops in La Cité and you can simply wander from one medieval site to another. Visit the Chapelle des Dominicaines (Rue du Verdun) which has a great time line of the city’s history running round its walls.
TOP TIPS for visiting Carcassonne
Summer in the City: May to September. The region has a temperate climate though it does get hot in peak summer months. There are plenty of events, but one of the best is from mid June to early August – the famous Festival of Carcassonne presents a series of cultural activities including concerts, theatre and dance. The twice daily jousting and horsemanship shows run from July to August at the foot of the ramparts.
Cooler months: The city is less crowded but no less charming and at Christmas this is a great place to enjoy the festive market and beautifully decorated shop windows.
Local’s tip to Carcassonne: Take a boat trip along the Canal Du Midi, a world heritage site that runs through the city. You can take a guided tour or hire your own boat (ticket office opposite the train station).The paths of the Canal are lined with magnificent plane trees, perfect for a wander, bike ride (they can be hired at the same office) or a picnic.
Best spot for a photo opportunity: Where to start?! If you have a head for heights, climb the tower of the beautiful St-Nazaire church in the citadel (rue St-Louis) – there are spectacular views over the Cité. From the ramparts of the castle you can see the river Aude and Ville Basse with its gorgeous terracotta tiled roofs. The whole town is a photo opportunity so take plenty of batteries for your camera.
Practical information for a visit to Carcassonne:
By plane: Carcassonne Airport is 3km from the centre of Carcassonne.
By train: Services are very good with high speed TGV trains from Lille, Bruxelles, Dijon, Lyon, Marseille and Toulouse. There are overnight trains available from Paris.
The main tourist sites in Carcassonne are situated within easy walking distance of each other – wear comfy shoes and wander!