Carcassonne France: Fairytale Fortress


Photos, Videos and Travel Tips for Carcassonne France

The walled city of Carcassonne lies on the River Aude, southeast of Toulouse.

It is hugely popular with kids (add to your list of fun vacation ideas?) and one of the most famous places in France.

Carcassonne dates from Roman times and looks like a medieval movie set, with its cobbled streets, ramparts, towers and pointed turrets. Its massive double walls encircle the old city, running for almost 2 miles.


Carcassonne France

The city has had an eventful history, with more than 1,000 years of wars and plagues. The kings of France turned Carcassonne into an impregnable fortress designed to allow the soldiers to survive long sieges and fool the enemy, using devices such as fake stairs and trap doors.

Carcassonne had in fact fallen into ruin over the centuries and was almost demolished, but was then restored in the 1850s by architect Violet le Duc.

Carcassonne is now claimed to be Europe’s most complete example of a fortified medieval city, and even possibly Walt Disney’s inspiration behind Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. The movie Robin Hood, starring Kevin Costner, was filmed here.

Catharism was an important part of Carcassonne history. Carcassonne was believed to be a stronghold of the Cathars, and the city fell to the Albigensian crusaders after a two-week siege in 1209.

What to do in Carcassonne France

Carcassonne is made up of the ancient walled city (La Cité) up on a hill, and the lower town (built in the 13th century), known as Bastide-Saint Louis.

Here’s an excellent video tour of Carcassonne.

The old city is best explored on foot, so you can take the time to explore the winding streets and admire the state-of-the-art medieval military architecture.

Visit the Château Comtal (Comtal castle), home of Raymond-Roger Trencavel, who offered protection to the Cathars; the chateau has its own moat, bridge and gatehouse. The Romanesque Cathedral (Basilica of Saint-Nazare), with its huge stained glass windows, is also a highlight.

Eating out is not a problem in Carcassonne. Specialities include foie gras, seafood, cured meats, and cassoulet. You could try the brasseries in the Bastide St Louis (the ‘low’ town), in the Place Carnot, which is less touristy than the restaurants in the Cité.

Carcassonne is a very popular holiday destination (around 3 million visitors come every year) – so it can get very busy, with lots of tourist shops and medieval tack (Carcassonne has been known as Camp Cinderella). But the busiest months are limited to the summer – the winter is nice and quiet.

It’s a fun place to take the family – there is plenty to do to keep the kids entertained, with concert festivals, medieval jousting and guided tours dedicated to medieval torture!

A great way to experience Carcassonne is to stay in a hotel there. For something luxurious, try the Hotel de la Cité, which has been operating since 1909. Built in Gothic style with beautiful frescoes, paintings and sculptures, the hotel also has a michelin restaurant, La Barbacane, and has seen many famous visitors including Goldie Hawn and Winston Churchill.

The surrounding countryside is also well worth exploring too; rugged and remote, it is one of the more ‘undiscovered’ regions of France. It is here that you’ll find the awesome castle ruins of Quéribus and Peyrepertuse.

Carcassonne France: Getting Here

Carcassonne is about an hours train ride from Toulouse; if you’re flying from the UK, you can get cheap flights through Ryanair from Stansted to Salvaza airport; or you can fly from Paris.

Carcassonne can also be reached within a day from Paris if you’re driving.

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