Carcassonne is a small town home with 40,000 inhabitants who live by the banks of the Aude River, and what a lucky bunch they are! This holiday destination, known for its splendid Medieval city, also includes a lower and more modern part, which is called Bastide Saint-Louis. However, it's the town centre that attracts thousands of tourists every year, who come here to admire the fortifications and the 52 towers overlooking the valley. Its oldest fortifications date back to the 3rd and 4th centuries and were designed to protect the city from invasion. This was followed by another construction phase which included the construction of the Château Comtal (Count's Castle) by the Trencavel family in the 12th century. The old town was abandoned for a while when the inhabitants moved down to the lower quarters, but it was later entirely restored by the architect Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century. Today, it is a truly marvellous site and a real treasure of the region.
There are numerous reasons to visit this lovely town located about an hour's drive from Toulouse, one of which is the Count's Castle. It opens onto a large main courtyard surrounded by ancient hoardings. A visit to the castle will take you on a journey through the enthralling history of its walls and the old town. Also worthy of a mention is the Museum of the Middle Ages, where you'll learn about the daily life of soldiers in the Middle Ages. There are three large models of the current town on display here, with lights and sounds to differentiate between the three eras: the Gallo-Roman occupation, the Medieval city (old town) and low town, and the headquarters of the town in 1240.
(Photo credits: OMT de Carcassonne and Mairie de Carcassonne)
There are many restaurants worth visiting and it would be a pity not to try the local culinary specialties while relaxing on one of their terraces (depending on the weather of course). We particularly recommend the St Jean for the copious dishes they serve, such as the gourmet salads that barely fit on the plate! You should also try the boiled eggs with foie gras, a true delight! If you have a big enough budget, try the Barbacane, the restaurant at the Hôtel de la Cité, as it boasts a Michelin Star. The veal they serve is out of this world...
You mustn't miss the Medieval city (old town): its beautiful gates, the Chivalry museum, Saint-Nazaire-et-Saint-Celse Basilica, Château Comtal (Count's Castle), the ancient bridge that crosses the Aude River... and don't miss Bastide Saint-Louis either.
Numerous events are held here on a yearly basis. There is, for example, the Medieval City Festival in July, and the Carcassonne Festival in August.
A bylaw here states that cars are not allowed in the old town between 10:00am and 7:00pm. Therefore, if you come by car, you will have to leave it in the car park near Porte Narbonnaise. If you're staying in a hotel you can leave your vehicle in the guest car park, which is free but unsupervised from 1:00am till 8:00am.
Wine enthusiasts won't be disappointed, as it is possible to attend tasting sessions during which you can discover all the regional specialities. As for the cuisine, the local cassoulet is a temptation you'll find hard to resist, along with confit de canard (duck confit) and foie gras-based dishes.
There are numerous boutiques in the old town, should you want to bring home a Medieval-style souvenir. Children often leave here with a knight's costume! Adults may want to buy some local culinary specialties, of course nothing's stopping them from also opting for the knight in armour option as well...
When Colette said that "after so many hotels it was nice ...