Almost always the first place that all visitors head to when they go to Carcassonne is the old city. You can see it from miles around and it is a sight that’s memorable. A chateau perched on top of a hill surrounded by ramparts dotted with fairy tale pointy turrets that contain an entire medieval city. It is without a doubt one of the most glorious places I’ve been to in France, one that lives up to the hype and the fabulous photos.
A tale of two cities
You do of course have to go to the old city, you’d be crazy not to if you went to Carcassonne but if you don’t cross the Pont Vieux at the base of the ramparts and visit the Bastide Saint-Louis, then you’ll be really missing out. Worth a visit in its own right, this medieval district of Carcarssonne is a little gem that gets overlooked thanks to its more famous, popular neighbour. It’s just a ten minute walk from the ramparts – go, you’ll thank me!
What to see and do in Carcassonne – the old city
The Medieval city is a living monument, in fact there are 50 residents, numerous shops and restaurants, hotels and year-round events. Some people bemoan the number of tourist shops in the old city but I didn’t think it was that bad. There are some fabulous shops as well, clothes, shoes and handbags and my local friends tell me they shop there. It’s not all tourist tat and lots of visitors love to be able to take home a souvenir.
Wine and Dine in Carcassonne Old City
You’ve got lots of choice and part of the fun is wandering round and looking at the décor and the menu but here are some of my favourites:
Refined Dining: La Barbacane in the heart of the old city, classic dishes with a clever twist, gourmet food that’s not to be rushed. Place Auguste Pierre Pont.
Comte Roger is recommended by the locals who go there for the fabulous terrace and the fabulous dishes. 14 Rue Saint-Louis
Head to Place St Jean, the Restaurant le Saint Jean is considered one of the best places for the local speciality – Cassoulet. You can see it in the photo at the top of the page.
Aperitifs at: Brasserie A Quatre Temps which is owned by 2 Star Michelin Chef Franck Putelat. There’s also an excellent bistronomic menu including a formule (set) menu at just 16 Euros for three courses. If you do want to eat here, book in advance if you can, this place is always popular, the locals love it. 2 Boulevard Barbès
Hotel de la Cité – one of best hotels in Carcassonne, very elegant, ancient and has amazing views over the city from the private gardens. Sitting here, enjoyig a glass of locals favourite, rosé, as the sun sets over the castle is an experience that’s never forgotten.
Where to eat in Carcassonne just outside the citadel
Locals Love: Bloc G throngs with Carcassonne’s locals who love this place for its home cooked seasonal food like maman used to make.
It’s not a huge menu, it’s seasonal and everything is cooked from fresh in the kitchen. The dishes are beautifully presented by the owner Sophie and her lovely team and the food is utterly scrumptious, if it’s on the menu, try the “tellines” starter, tiny, delicate shell fish in an olive oil, garlic and parsley sauce and truly delicious. I hardly ever eat bread but I couldn’t resist wiping the bowl, it was either that or lick it! Chef Michel is much loved in these parts, I’m not surprised, the dishes are mouthwatering. I met with Carcassone’s internationally renowned 2 Michelin Star chef Franck Putelat and mentioned Bloc G, he agreed, the food is fabulous.
Bloc G is also a B&B and it’s just a few minutes’ walk up to the old city. Great spot – great value, great food and a lovely warm welcome.
Franck Putelat, legendary chef
Wine and Dine in style: At the 2 Michelin star Franck Putelat restaurant Le Parc, in his hotel, an easy walk from the old city. I was lucky enough to grab a few minutes with him. He told me he’s been in Carcarssonne 21 years, adding that he truly loves it here. Originally from the Jura region Chef Putelat has worked at some of the greatest restaurants in France before setting up his own in Carcassonne. Even after all this time, “it is my passion to cook” he says with conviction. When I ask him who cooks at home he laughs “me of course” he says “my wife is very happy for me to cook, her favourite dish is Tataki de Thon Rouge with a salade tomate and oeuf parfait”.
“I never get fatigued, I love what I do” he said before heading off to the kitchen to prepare for the full restaurant. I was there to try his tasting menu but I managed to sneak a peak at a couple of the rooms in the bijou, 7 room hotel beforehand. You cannot fail to fall in love with the idea of lazing in a hot tub on the roof in the shadow of la cité. The rooms are simple and elegant, no overbearing colours, no jarring furniture, zen-like is how I’d describe them.
I didn’t take many tasting notes because I was so busy enjoying the food and the ambiance. I’m not sure that words can convey just how special the food is. The restaurant is undoubtedly theatrical. The bread board is a glass cabinet, kept warm by the flames of a real fire. The servers wheel the cabinet to the tables to offer the bread, talk about wow factor. From the home made bread, including miniature baguettes that make you smile, to the dishes that look like works of art and taste divine, this is one restaurant you’ll never forget. Pricey of course, it’s a 2 Michelin star restaurant, but for a special night out and a memorable meal in captivating Carcassonne, it’s worth every centime.
More things to do in and around Carcassone
Take a guided boat ride on the Canal du Midi, you can join a one hour tour or longer. There are a few companies near the train station (some of them also have bikes for hire). You’ll enjoy a tranquil taster of this historic canal and fabulous views to the Citadel.
Picnic at: Chateau Pennautier owned by the Comte and Comtesse de Lorgeril, just 3km from the Citadel of Carcassonne. The 30 hectare park was designed by Andre Le Notre who also designed the gardens of Versailles. Treat yourself to a bottle of fabulous wine from the chateau shop, and if you’re not in the mood for a picnic, the restaurant here is fabulous.
Take a Selfie: Ask the locals of Carcassonne and 9 out of 10 will say Porte d’Aude, the famous 12th century gate that leads into the citadel.
Don’t miss: The other old city of Carcassonne, Bastide st Louis. Many visitors aren’t aware of its existence, spend a few hours within the ramparts and go merrily on their way without even being aware that just across the bridge at the base of the old city is another old city!
Where to stay: Stay at: La Maison Vielle, 8 rue Trivalle at the foot of the citadel, it’s a charming B&B at the bottom of the ramparts. Ask for a room with a view over the city for a great view, especially at night. There’s a lovely terraced garden, common room and a great kitchen where you’ll enjoy a stylish breakfast which when I was there, included a mini crème Brulée. I gulped at the calories I’d be piling on “you’re on holiday and besides, you won’t be able to resist walking it off in la cité next door” I was told!
Getting to Carcassone: The train from Paris takes from 5 hours 22 minutes.
Nearest airport: Carcassonne Airport, shuttle service to city centre (connections to the UK, Brussels and France).