I’m finally getting around to typing up my trip to France in mid-July earlier this year. It’s safe to say I fell in love with Carcassonne. Situated in the south of France, it’s an absolutely gorgeous place which seems to be well off the typical tourist trail. It’s famous for being one of the best preserved medieval fortresses in the world, albeit a lot of it is a restoration completed in 1853 so not the Roman original.
The area inside the beautiful fortress walls is known as the Citadel and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list in 1997. There’s then a new town outside of the city walls with lots more to explore – and it’s easy to fill 2 beautiful days in this wonderful city. So let’s go exploring.
Day 1 – Inside the Citadel
A. Narbonne Gate
Start your day off by entering the city through the Narbonne Gate which dates from the middle of the 1200s and is a gorgeous entry to the city. Also keep your eye out for the statue of the Lady Carcas – the figure of great legend. The story goes back to the 700s during the wars between Christians and Muslims in the region. At the time, Carcassonne was under Saracen rule and Charlemagne’s army was at the gates to reconquer the city.
The story is that Lady Carcas, who ruling the city at the time, was running out of food after 5 years of siege. She had one pig and a bag of wheat left – so she fed the pig the wheat and then chucked it out of the city walls. Charlemagne lifted the siege, believing that the city had enough food to the point of wasting fat pigs. Overjoyed by the success of her plan, Lady Carcas decided to sound all the bells in the city. One of Charlemagne’s men then exclaimed: “Carcas sonne!” (which means “Carcas rings”). Hence the name of the city.
B. Old Town Streets
Carcassonne is full of winding, cobbled streets like something out of a fairytale. Spending an hour or two just wondering them and exploring is one of the best things you can do on your visit, and I recommend doing it upfront to get a feel for the place.
C. Chateau Viewpoint
Within the medieval walls is a castle in and of itself – Chateau Comtal. You can get a beautiful view of it from the viewing platform just in front; the perfect spot for photos and an icecream!
D. Chateau Comtal & Ramparts
After looking from the outside, it’s time to go inside. The Château Comtal (Count’s Castle) is a medieval castle which was restored in 1853, and it costs EUR9 per person to enter. It’s worth spending at least a couple of hours inside, and one of the best things about the Chateau is that you can walk the ramparts and go in and out of some of the turrets for gorgeous views across the city.
E. Traditional lunch
After your morning exploring the castle, it’s time to refuel. When in France it’s a must to try some traditional food – I decided on a delicious baked Camembert for lunch from Le Bar à Vins de la Cité. It was delicious.
After lunch, another must visit in the city walls is the Basilica. The original church is thought to have been constructed in the 6th century during the reign of the Visigoths. Then in 1096, Pope Urban II visited and a new version was built and in the 1200s the version you see today was reconstructed in the Gothic style.
G. Museum of the Inquisition
After the Basilica, head to the Museum of the Inquisition which spans across 2 sites – the torture museum and the inquisition museum. These museums tell the story of the persecution in the 11-1300s by the Catholic church against the people in the area. Persecution wasn’t just against religious opposition (largely the Cathars, a branch of Christianity that the Catcholic Church deemed heretics), but also against adulterers, thieves, ‘witches’ and just anyone really who was accused of something. Some of the torture methods were truly horrific and made me very very glad to live in the 2000s!
H. Walk the walls
Before finishing up your day, finish with a stroll around the inner walls – you can walk round a lot of them for view over Carcassonne and across the Medieval town which are lovely.
I. Dinner and drinks
Finish off your day in the Medieval city with a traditional dinner. The main dish you have to try in the region is Cassoulet, a delicious dish with white beans, sauce and usually duck. It was very tasty.
Day 2 – Exploring Carcassonne beyond the Citadel
A. Medieval City View Point
One of the things you can’t do when you’re in the city is get a view of the whole city. So start your morning off with a walk outside of the walls to one of the gorgeous surrounding viewpoints. We absolutely loved this one just off the Chemin des Ourtets.
B. Walk the external loop
Next head down to the castle again, and walk round the outside of the walls to get some nice views up close to the Chateau. I really liked the south and west sides.
C. Mirador (Pont Neuf)
As you walk around the base of the castle, you will come across an exit point out towards the River Aude and the new city centre. Follow this to reach the Pont Neuf Bridge which provides some stunning views back, and is a lovely place to just take a walk along the river bank parks as well.
Crossing the bridge you will find yourself in the Bastide area of Carcassonne, which is effectively the new town. There are some beautiful squares, a cathedral, an art museum and lots of places to eat, drink and shop as well. Perhaps even treat yourself to a traditional Galette crepe for lunch.
E. Canal du Midi
Cross through the Bastide area and head to the Canal du Midi, considered one of the greatest construction works of the 17th century. The canal connects the Mediterranean to the Atlantic and historically enabled efficient transit of goods across France rather than having to go around and pay taxes to Spain.
The Canal du Midi is one of the oldest canals of Europe still in operation, and the key challenge at its design was how to fill it with water in such a dry area of the continent. Water is actually brought down from the nearby mountains, which at the time was an ingenious solution. The Canal is now a world heritage site, as well as an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark!
At this point you could walk along the canal or hire a boat to cruise along it.
F. Pont Vieux
After enjoying the canal, head back to the Old Town via the Pont Vieux, the old bridge of the city which again gives lovely views over the river and back to the castle.
G. Carcassonne Park
After passing over the Point Vieux, drop down in the park area below for a nice stroll before heading back in to the old town area for a final dinner in Carcassonne.
What do you think of this incredible and unique city? I absolutely loved it and would definitely go back. If you’re super planned you could also tie your visit in to the Bastille Day 14th July fireworks (post coming soon) for an extra special experience. if you have longer than 2 days in Carcassonne, you may also want to consider day trips to Lastours Castles, Narbonne, Beziers or Toulouse.
Thank you as always for reading; stay safe and happy travelling.