Carcassonne is a medieval walled city in Southern France and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also beautiful and slightly surreal, as if the city is a film set and round the back I’d just find some scaffolding to hold up the fairytale castle (there’s actually vineyards around the back, and more lovely views). The Cité is an amazing place to explore, with a long history. There’s been a defensive site there since the late Roman period, rebuilt with an extra wall by Louis XI, and finally restored to it’s current medieval glory in 1853. I think we saw every little street on the Cité in the 5 days we were there, it’s not huge but there’s lovely places around every corner.
I took so many photos of every different angle, especially the views from the walls and the amazing Aude Gate. At night all of the walls are lit up, creating even more great views.
We saw the Château Comtal on our first full day. There’s a lot of work going on there at the moment for a new visitors centre. It’s possible to walk about halfway around the city on top of the crenellated ramparts to the Narbonnaise gate, with views across the Bastide to the Black Mountains and the Pyrenees, still topped with snow. There’s several other small museums in the medieval city, but we just enjoyed walking around all of the streets and the tilt yards between the two sets of walls. It’s a good time of year to visit, from what I heard the summer is packed with tourists, at the end of April it’s still really quiet.
The Bastide St-Louis is the ‘new’ medieval city, formed when the village was moved away from the fortress following a rebellion. The area was originally walled, and the walls are still visible in places, enclosing a grid of streets around the Place Carnot. There’s great views from the bell tower of the church of Saint Vincent, surrounded by buildings and tiny streets. Most of the shops are in here rather than the old city but I didn’t find a lot to do there, just more walking and exploring.
Past the Bastide towards the train station is the Canal du Midi, another World Heritage Site, and a cool and relaxing place to wander. We took a boat cruise which headed south on the canal. There were several options but we selected a longer cruise which went through the countryside and two deep locks. We had thought to start with that perhaps a boat cruise would be a bit dull, but with the excitement of the locks, interesting commentary and constantly changing views, we had a great trip.
On our last full day, we booked a morning trip to the Châteaux de Lastours, four small castles on a rocky ridge. The original castles were Cathar strongholds. When the castles were captured and destroyed, the current castles were rebuilt from the stone in optimum places to see down the valley and watch for a Spanish invasion. On the day we visited, they received news that the castles have been listed to potentially become another World Heritage Site.
It was quite a hard climb up to the the castles from the valley, there’s a lot of steep slopes and steps, but the castles and the views are worth the effort. The walls seem to rise from the bedrock, I can’t imagine how anyone would have launched an attack. The castles are fairly ruined but a couple of the keeps have new steps to upper levels, and there’s enough left to be impressive.
So overall we had a great holiday in an amazing area, and saw some wonderful sites. Now I have to go back to reality…