The city has so much for every tourist to enjoy.
The thought of spending a few days in Carcassonne is very appealing when we’re in the middle of an English winter, with plenty of cold, grey and dreary days. The weather in the south of France in February is not guaranteed to be warm and sunny, but there’s certainly a good chance of enjoying a few pleasant days. As with many destinations, the best time to visit is probably in spring or autumn as summers can be very hot, but the city has much to offer at any time of year.
Carcassonne’s famous citadel or “Cité” is a photographer’s delight. It sits on a hill overlooking the River Aude and the ‘new town’ of Carcassonne or “La Ville Basse”. In the summer months the citadel is a busy and bustling tourist destination. In the quieter winter and spring months it is much easier to explore the old Cité, wandering along the narrow, cobbled streets and admiring the fairytale collection of buildings which consist of the inner and outer walls and the Chateau Comptal. It costs nothing to walk into the old Cité but anyone wanting to visit the Chateau has to buy an entrance ticket. Many tourists miss out on going into the castle because of the price of the entrance tickets, but it is worth bearing in mind the fact that, from the turrets of the castle there is a stunning view of the whole city, the river and the vineyards covering the surrounding hillsides.
The Romans originally fortified the hilltop in about 100BC and the Visigoths built the inner rampart in the 5th century. The citadel fell into disrepair by the 17th Century and it was left to Viollet-le-Duc (who restored Notre-Dame in Paris) to restore the Cité in the 1800s.
The modern 4 star Hotel des Trois Couronnes is an excellent hotel which lies on the edge of the lower town, “La Villle Basse”, and it enjoys a superb view of the medieval fortress, the only hotel in Carcassonne to do so.
Carcassonne’s lower town feels more like a town than a city and it has a typically French “ambience”, featuring many bars, shops, cafés and restaurants. It provides visitors with quite a contrast to the tourist attraction that towers above it. Prices of souvenirs bought here tend to be much lower than in the generally overpriced souvenir shops of La Cité. The shops are all concentrated in the streets leading off the Place Carnot, which is also home to the weekly food market, and in winter, the site of the temporary ice rink. In summer it’s a good place to sit at an outdoor café, enjoy a coffee or a tasty snack and admire the huge fountain in the centre of the square.
It would be a shame to write a blog about Carcassonne without mentioning the Canal du Midi. The canal port here is one of the busiest on the canal and from here you can hop on a half or whole-day canal trip. Even a half-day trip is lots of fun and very relaxing. I enjoyed a boating holiday on the Canal du Midi many years ago and can thoroughly recommend a trip on the canal. A perfect way to relax after a day’s sightseeing in Carcassonne’s old Cité.