After Paris, found ourselves in the South of France, in a town called Carcassonne.
Quiet streets in the new town.
Carcassonne draws travelers because of its fortified town, now refurbished and restored thanks to 19th century architectural genius and workhorse Eugene Violett-le-Duc.
Outside the fortified walls, in the surrounding new town, streets are quiet and scenic, with mostly residents wandering the streets with their dogs or children.
A park in the new town where we rested for a while.
Inside the ‘old town,’ which overlooks the ‘new,’ there are more tourists and the atmosphere is a bit more lively. This old part of Carcassonne, called the Cité, is where people flock to get a taste of a centuries-ago world recreated for the twenty-first century.
The view from le pont neuf, which leads to the beautiful fortified town in the distance.
Though small, Carcassonne is a visually beautiful city and the walk over to the Cité from the train station was amazing.
Walking through some residential streets on our way to the Cité.
There’s an easy, straightforward route to the entrance of the fortress, but we for some reason went around a number of residential streets and ended up taking a less-common route up to the castle.
Up up up.
In fact, we ended up on the west side of the fortress, instead of the east, where the central entrance is. The Cité is small though so no matter where you enter, you’ll be able to explore the entirety of the fortress, museum included, in half a day.
Up through the western entrance.
We headed for the castle and ramparts, which you can explore for 8.50 euro unless you qualify for reduced rates.
Much of the medieval castle has been reconstructed or restored in recent centuries. Viollet-le-Duc, French architect & restorationist extraordinaire, is the one responsible for much of what you see when you wander the walls and rooms today. It’s amazing to see, though, and genuinely fascinating to learn about medieval Carcassonne and a world that existed a long, long time ago.
A small museum room in the fortress.
The tour isn’t too long, which leaves you a lot of time to explore the rest of the old town.
For the most part, we noticed other tourists were French, Spanish, German, and Italian; English wasn’t as common to hear from fellow vacationers.
We didn’t have to worry about not being understood if we spoke English, but for the most part we tried to speak as much French as possible.
For lunch we poked into L’Ostal des Troubadours, a restaurant with slightly corny medieval decor but with delicious food. I couldn’t take any good photos given the lighting but we both ordered duck dishes; Fred’s was grilled over a fireplace in the centre of the room, which was cool.
Crepes are also much cheaper in Carcassonne than in Paris, so I took advantage and ordered a chantilly crepe drizzled in chocolate sauce and stuffed with a cinnamon baked apple, with vanilla ice cream on the side. It was as it sounds… heavenly. My mouth waters every time I remember it.
A part of me loves visiting France entirely because of the delicious desserts…
And though we visited Carcassonne during tourist season, we didn’t feel very cramped or crowded–except when school groups of little children stampeded by.
The Cité’s basilica.
Outside of the castle viewable by admission, you can also walk a portion of the outer walls of the fortress. There is also a small basilica.
It doesn’t take long to cover the old city, but it’s fun to take your time and admire your surroundings.
After we had decided we’d had our fill, we left the Cité and headed back to the train station.
We weren’t leaving Carcasonne already– I’m writing this three weeks later, in Berlin, and Carcassonne is still F’s favourite city. No, instead we were looking for another means of transportation.
Biking along the Canal du Midi, a man-made canal that stretches along the city of Carcassonne, is a peaceful way to spend the afternoon. Most tourists choose to take a boat cruise along the canal, but we were happy to get some exercise instead. You cover more ground when you cycle, you see more of the canal’s locks, and you can stop and stare at the scenery anytime you like. It was 10 euro for a two hour bike rental, but if you’re in Carcassonne for more than a day, it would be fun to do a full-day bike rental. At least one bike rented will come with a basket, so you can pack a picnic and make a day out of the ride!
The recommended bike route is about 40km in length one way; 80 km total. So there’s along way to go! The bike path scenery did not change much in the 10k total that we did, but we enjoyed it nonetheless and only cut our ride short because our rental limited to two hours.
The first lock we came across.
A hot and sweaty day. The same checkpoint for the lock.
View from a bridge.
The second lock we came across, just across a bridge.
The canal’s locks seem to be a tourist focal point and are highlighted in the little boat cruises that are always going on along the canal. They’re interesting to watch at least once, and the locks are used relatively often, since they’re the only way boats can move from higher to lower points in the canal, and vice versa.
That being said they also seemed tedious to me. They’re the result of the canal being made along different elevations, so they’re necessary, but securing your boat and then waiting for the water to slowly fill up or filter out takes quite a while. I liked that I was on a bike and not on a boat and could just zip along, not having to stop in the hot sun to wait for the ground to rise up to meet the next hilltop, slo-mo elevator-style.
The Canal du Midi.
While it’s tempting to want look only towards the canal as you bike, as you leave the central hub of Carcassonne you can look away from the Canal and see the Cité rise up in the distance (not pictured because I couldn’t take a decent photo).
The end of our cycling pretty much ended our day of sightseeing in Carcassonne. Our check-in time for our Airbnb rental was 6pm, so we walked over to the hotel we had paid to hold our travel packs for the day and then made our way over to Aurelien & Claire’s Airbnb listing. It was a wonderful and affordable place, by the way, and one of our favourites this trip (it’s a bottom floor private room with a bathroom). We were also given excellent restaurant and café suggestions: Le Passage, a Spanish tapas restaurant a few blocks away, has become one of our favourite restaurants, and three weeks after we’ve left the city, F still counts it as a highlight of our 6-week-long trip. The food was good, and the atmosphere was residential and relaxing. We sat outdoors in the back of the restaurant and enjoyed that slow-dining experience I’ve come to love about France, chatting and nibbling away into the night.
No pictures, because we thought we’d keep those memories to ourselves.*
Carcassonne was lovely. One day, we’ll be back!
*That is a partial lie. I have no photos; that part is true. But F has many on Facebook and his phone that I just chose not to use, for reasons.