One of the most charming medieval cities in France, Carcassonne is a world heritage site that you will want to put on your France itinerary.
Growing up, every child wants to explore or live in a castle. You would think that with so many castles and medieval towns that we wouldn’t get too excited when we’re heading to another one. However, as soon as you come over the hill, Carcassonne takes your breath away. It is a stunning medieval walled city in Cathar country of the Occitanie region and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997, truly one of the most beautiful in France.
Being such an iconic structure, needless to say, in the middle of summer there were plenty of people walking through the cobbled alleyways, sitting at sidewalk cafes, and annoyingly getting in my photos. It wasn’t always this way. In the middle of the 19th century, the fortifications were in such disrepair that they were scheduled for demolition (source). The mayor, knowing what he potentially had, turned it all around and convinced the government to invest money in reconstruction. How smart he was!
We arrived at the gate of the walled city around 9:00 in the morning. We’d been in the area for a few days, and we knew if we waited too much later that the sun would be sweltering and we would quickly become a bit testy. Luckily, we were out and about before too many people and were able to really enjoy the quaintly painted shopfronts, medieval-style business signs, and the many turrets, statues, as well as the stunning gothic cathedral and even a chateau. Yep! Carcassonne has it all.
In the center of the town, we saw one of the reasons that there were people everywhere. They were holding a summer music festival. There was a show that evening and we enjoyed watching the roadies preparing for the event.
One of our favorite parts of visiting the town was actually outside the gates. There we wandered into a centuries-old cemetery and wondered at the sizes of the tombs with massive angel statues guarding them through eternity.
After a few hours, we treated ourselves to our traditional French lunch by finding a small out-of-the-way place that has a “menu”. The French day menu usually consists of three courses for an extremely reasonable price of anywhere between 12 and 21 Euros. We’ve been amazed at what we can get for that, so we always tried to eat a larger lunch and a smaller dinner.
One of our favorite things to do is have the waiter or maitre d’ suggest the perfect local wine for us. If we like it, and we always do, after we were done eating we would go searching for that particular vineyard.
More often than not, the vineyards seemed almost deserted yet sported a sign that says “degustation” or tasting, so we knew that all we had to do is find someone and they would regale us with their selections. Not once did we leave without a case of mixed wines as well as a nice talk with the vintners.
If you happen to be in the south of France take the time to get to Carcassonne!
The south of France has so many amazing travel opportunities and one of the ones on our bucket list is Cruising the Canal du Midi. Someday, someday.
Have you been to Carcassonne? How about searching out the vintner of your lunch wine? Any tips?