With more than 4 million visitors each year, Carcassonne is among the most prestigious tourist destinations in France, on a par with Mont Saint Michel and Paris’ Notre-Dame. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997, Carcassonne is a dramatic representation of medieval architecture perched on a rocky spur that towers above the River Aude, southeast of the new town.
The modern city is built around two medieval cities, the original hill top Cité of Carcassonne on the north side of the river Aude, and the thirteenth century Bastide of Carcassonne on the South side of the River Aude. The older Cité is a spectacular walled town – the largest medieval town in Europe with its city walls intact.
The cosmopolitan town of Carcassonne, in the Aude department of Southern France, has long been a must-see for tourists, but since the publication of Dan Brown’s book “The Da Vinci Code”, and the subsequent film of the same name, it has seen an influx of visitors in search of more information on the Cathars. This extreme, anti-papal religious sect were very active around the Languedoc (and in Carcassonne in particular) in the eleventh to thirteenth centuries.
Carcassonne’s best restaurants
Clos Occitan 68 boulevard Barbes Tel. +33 (0)4 68 47 93 64 Make sure you ask for a table in the pretty courtyard garden with vine-covered pergola – perfect for a family lunch or romantic evening, dining out under the stars. Choose from the variety of menus (from 16 to 40 euros) or go à la carte – it is all excellent, and fish fans and vegetarians are well catered for.
L’Endroit 18 rue de L’Aigle d’Or Tel. +33 (0)4 68 71 38 43 Not the best location, but locals tell us the multilingual staff are wonderful and the cooking is extremely good. The two-course set lunch or dinner, including a glass of wine, is good value for money, and the modern, air-conditioned interior is a delight on a hot sticky day.
L’Ecurie 43, boulevard Barbes 11000 Carcassonne Tel. +33 (0)4 68 72 04 04 www.restaurantlecurie.fr .Located on the ring road just outside the city walls of the Bastide Saint Louis, this marvelously atmospheric restaurant occupies a former 18th century stable. A pretty, shady courtyard lends itself well to summer dining, while inside, the wooden features and olde-worlde vibe provide comfort on cooler days. Weekday lunch menus from €15, or set menus at €23 and €30 at all times. A charming, friendly place where you can eat well without having to dress up.
Where to Stay
Maison de Fleurs is a cosy self catering holiday rental, just 15 minutes from Carcassonne. It is located in the lovely village of Moussoulens and is surrounded by gorgeous sunshine. Nestled in the heart of the village, a stay at Maison de Fleurs offers a unique experience. This traditional village house dates back to 1929 and offers charming accommodation with modern conveniences – as you’d expect – but also the chance to share in the sites and sounds of everyday life in France. Prices range from £295-£385 per weeek.
Maison de Fleurs, 14 Impasse des Fleurs, Moussoulens,11170,
What to do in Carcassonne:
Take a Tour
There are tours offered in many languages that will teach you some of the history and point out points of interest in Carcassonne. I highly recommend taking one these tours, as they will not only give you a brief lesson on the history of the site, but also allow you to check out the fortified walls and watch towers.
Go to the Festival de la Cité
If you find yourself in France in July and close to Carcassonne on Bastille Day (July 14), there is the Carcassonne Festival de la Cité when the entire city celebrates with special music and theatre performers.
Stroll the streets, eat cassoulet and visit the Ville Basse
You can also spend a whole day simply strolling the Medieval cobble stoned streets, checking out the city and maybe even snacking on a traditional cassoulet (a hot stew-like dish made from white beans, pork, sausage and sometimes a hunk of duck).
While la Cité (the walled section of Carcassonne) can be tourist hell in high tourist summer season, the Ville Basse located in the shadow of the impressive fortress is well worth checking out as well.
If you choose to stay for a longer period then there are many great towns and villages in the surrounding area which you must visit. From the famous book village of Montolieu, to the long stretch of beaches in Narbonne, there is something for everyone.
Getting to Carcassonne
Ryanair is the only airline that flies into the airport at Carcassonne, which is located 5.5 km from town. This means if you are coming from the U.S. or another international destination, you will need to book Ryanair to get to Carcassonne. There are also daily flights from London (Stansted).
If you are renting a car and will be driving down to Carcassonne, then you should know that cars are not allowed with the walls of la Cité during the day in the summer months (too many tourists clog the narrow streets).