The city of Carcassonne in the département of Aude in Languedoc-Roussillon is a popular tourist destination. We have been there several times as a family and always like to visit again if we are in the area. We are drawn by the attractive medieval town with its winding streets, cafés and restaurants, the Canal du Midi, the markets and the buzz of the place... One of our advertisers has penned the following summary of attractions.
La Cité Médiévale
The medieval walled town lies on the right bank of the river Aude. It has 52 towers connected by two rings of battlements that stretch for 3km. It has been used for many film settings including Robin Hood (Kevin Costner).
The fairytale cité is truly breathtaking and attracts millions of visitors form all over the world, it is the largest fortress remaining in Europe.
Built over the ruins of a former Roman fortress, 'La Cité' of Carcassonne was occupied by both the Visigoths and the Saracens, before becoming the theatre of Pope Innocent III's crusades against the 'Cathar' heretics in the 13th century. It was saved from destruction in the 19th century & is now a UNESCO World heritage site. Within the narrow streets are a variety of museums, restaurants, shops, cafés & other activities. Also not to miss is the Basilica church of Sainte Nazaire, and the Château Contal built in the twelfth century on Roman Remains.
La Bastide St Louis
Across the river from the Cité & Trivalle district via the Pont Vieux is " La Bastide St Louis". La Bastide was all but destroyed during the crusades but was rebuilt in 1260 to a chess board layout. The first of its kind in Europe, it is the template for the linear design of many modern cities. Place Carnot (town square) is the centre of the Bastide where many events take place throughout the year. It also hosts markets on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays selling typical fresh French produce and other items. This area is also an ideal place to watch the day go by in various pavement cafés. Christmas finds the square turned into a Festive market featuring an Ice rink useable by all.
Directly beneath the Cité you can picture the narrow streets & alleys of Medieval times. Many of the houses have been restored to recreate this atmosphere. Dating from the 16th Century are the Saint Marie du Sauveure Chaple with its bell tower and the recently renovated Montmorencys house. There is an excellent Art Gallery - La Maison du Chevalier with Paintings, sculpture & photography plus the 19th century Eglise St Gimer.
Canal du Midi
The canal du Midi is the other UNESCO World Heritage Site passing directly through the heart of Carcassonne. This canal was the feature of a Rick Stein series travelling from one end to the other sampling culinary delights along the way. Funded by Pierre-Paul Riquet to link the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, it was completed more than three centuries ago. Various boat trips are available or alternatively, you can walk or cycle along the tow path.
There are well maintained trails along the banks of the river that you can cycle or walk. The River Bank gives wonderful views of the Cité & is a favourite with locals and visitors alike to watch the amazing Firework display set from within the walls of the Cité for Bastille Day (14 July).
Hill of Pech Mary
An arboretum covering 100 hectares of hillside, with picnic and rest areas, it makes a an ideal place to relax and enjoy nature. Also located here is "La Cité des Oiseaux" a spectacle of large birds, such as Falcons & Vultures giving a fabulous flying display. This is highly recommended for children and is open from March to the end of November.
With thanks to Jason Carr for the above contribution.
(Published March/April 2012)