Surrounded by its ancient fortified walls, Carcassonne could pass for a well-timed screenshot of an early Disney film. The original structure remains one of the largest Medieval fortresses still in existence in Europe, highlighted by its pointed towers and gleaming walls. It instills a sense of being transported back to the medieval times of knights in shining armour.
Impressively, it is France’s second-most-visited tourist attraction after the Eiffel Tower, although the majority of those who do visit often forget the slightly more contemporary half of the city just across the river.
You’ll find endless vineyards with excellent tasting opportunities throughout the streets and the surrounding map is peppered with a huge selection of towns, sites and cities within driving distance from the city should you run out of places to visit. Collecting your easyCar car rental in Carcassonne when you arrive will open up the surrounding Languedoc region to you.
The Carcassonne Citadel
Set high upon a hill, this fairytale collection of towers, drawbridges, and cobbled streets – known as Cité de Carcassone – creates an atmosphere so powerful and resonating that it is said to be the inspiration Walt Disney required to create ‘Sleeping Beauty’. The medieval core of the area was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1997, and is only 15 minutes from the local airport with abundant parking nearby.
Both the Romans and Visigoths have ruled over the citadel. In1355 the lower town was burnt to the ground by the Black Prince, one of the key figures in the Hundred Years’ War, after he became furious at his failure to capture the area. The original Romanesque style is now predominantly Gothic after multiple alterations over the years, with the citadel’s key features being its enormous rose windows and stone gargoyles.
The Canal du Midi
Carcassonne’s canal port is one of the busiest in France. The port was originally the vision of Pierre-Paul Riquet, who, over three centuries ago, dreamed of connecting the Atlantic Ocean to that of the Mediterranean. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was largely funded by Riquet and offers various opportunities for taking half or full day canal trips or even renting a boat for a week or two. Pop by one of Carcassonne’s epiceries to throw a picnic together, and enjoy the ocean view.
Visit Toulouse and Limoux
As France’s fourth largest city, Toulouse is only an hour’s drive away, northbound along the A51, with frequent services along the trip. There are a tremendous amount of places to visit in the ‘Rose City,’ all set within the beautiful brick buildings that its architecture is renowned for.
30 minutes south of Carcassonne and famous for its sparkling wine, Limoux is another interesting culinary centre, with Blanquette de Limoux and locally produced nougat available for purchase.
Opportunities for shopping
While not considered a haven for the hardcore shoppers of the world, Bastide Saint Louis and George Clemenceau Street are on offer for those hunting for everything from rare books and dusty antiques, through to decorative weapons and fine wines.
Where to eat and go out
Carcassonne is simply magical later on in the day; just think Rapunzel’s kingdom in Tangled and we’re getting close. The monuments are lined and decorated with golden lights, and walking through the cool air past trendy, open-air attractions, like its museum, creates an authentic atmosphere that many other places envy.
The small city is at a convenient intersection between Minervois and Corbieres, two of the region’s finest wine-growing areas at around a 30 minutes drive west or east, respectively. Both provide tasting sessions, before concluding the evening back in Carcassonne with dinner at Franck Putelat’s Le Parc. This is an award-winning restaurant, situated only a 5-minute drive from the citadel, specialising in local delicacies. La Cure Gourmand is then nearby to offer swelling piles of sweets and biscuits, as well as touring plates of ‘chocolate olives’.
The Brasserie du Dome is considered a popular place to start your evening with an aperitif. It can also be a great place to watch concerts when advertised and to try their locally famous sangria! Then, you’ve got an abundance of choices on where to head next. La Bulle Discothèque is the venue on everyone’s mind in Carcassonne, where people of all ages gather to see out the evening.
Cafe La Metairie on offers for a fabulous, panoramic view of Carcassonne, and provides an excellent spot to sit down with a glass of wine and enjoy the company of your holiday companions. Now all you need is the hire car in Carcassone.