About half an hour from our hotel is the fortress town of Carcassonne. The ramparts circle the medieval core and are make for an impressive sight upon approach. The town is divided into two distinct parts so deciding where to park is a little tricky. We found a convenient (and free) place to park at the foot of the ‘Cite’ but only ten minutes walk in the opposite direction to the ‘ville basse’.
We started with the steep ascent up into the Cite, a walled town which is part quaint village and part theme park and reminiscent of Mont St. Michel. We didn’t go into the castle itself (we probably should have but got had unfortunately spent too much time getting to Castelnaudary that day) so spent our time wandering around the shops, picking up some scented soaps and addictive biscuits of varying flavours.
For those wanting to venture into the castle proper, there are guided and audio tours on offer. Entry fees vary depending on age and EU nationality but the general charge for adults is €13 which gives access to the château, ramparts and museum.
Despite having undergone extensive restoration in 1853 by architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, Carcassonne became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. It may lack the distinguished history of nearby sites such as Lascaux but the 52 towers and 3km of battlements cannot fail to impress and visitors are free to wander the streets outside the castle and enjoy views of the ‘ville basse’ and River Aude below.
There are plenty of cafes and bars to suck in the tourists in the Cite but we decided to walk down into the ‘ville basse’ and try our luck at Place Carnot. The long plaza has a lazy laid back air, with locals sipping beers and coffees outside in the sun and children running around the trees and central fountain.
We stopped for a glass of beer before walking up the main shopping street toward the train station. The cobbled Rue Georges Clemenceau is pedestrianised but lined by the usual bunch of French chains. The shops had petered out by the time we reached the SNCF station and finding little else of interest in the ville basse we retraced our steps and headed back towards the Cite.