Cité de Carcassonne © Xiquinho Silva CC2
Carcassonne – fairy tale castles – two UNESCO world heritage sites
Floating among the clouds, the atmospheric Cité de Carcassonne sits majestically at the top of a hill. Lying north of the River Aude, many say it inspired Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. And with its high walls, elegant turrets and romantic towers, Carcassonne certainly does evoke thoughts of princesses and fairy tales.
Carcassonne is really a tale of two towns. Although the medieval walled town remains inhabited by around 200 residents, its primary function today is to attract and inspire tourists. Daily life takes place in the lower part of town, centred around the second historical area of Bastide Saint Louis, south of the river Aude. This is where you will find typical French bars, cafes, shops as well as a good selection of restaurants.
The importance of this medieval walled town as a whole is reflected in its listing as one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites. The Cité was heavily restored in 1844 by Viollet-le-Duc, the French Gothic Revival architect, who also worked on Nôtre-Dame in Paris. His work was not universally admired, however, because he restored the Cité from a nineteenth-century perspective rather than recreate an exact copy of how it appeared in Medieval times. Nevertheless, Carcassonne is his masterpiece and it can’t be denied that he gave modern visitors something very special, tremendously nostalgic and indeed rather unique to enjoy.
Things to do in Carcassonne
Château Comtal and medieval walled town
The moat-protected citadel of the medieval Cité houses an impressive 12th-century castle steeped in history and legend. There are guided tours around the castle that take in the imposing rampart walls and stunning amphitheatre.
Basilica of Saint-Nazaire
Located within the walls of Carcassonne, there has been a church here since the 5th century but the building has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. The current building is a complex mixture of Romantic and Gothic architecture with breathtaking stained glass windows and eerie stone gargoyles.
La Bastide Saint Louis
This historical town was created when inhabitants were expelled from the original city that was located on top of the hill. This ‘lower town’ has a traditional grid network of narrow lanes set around a central square called Place Carnot. It is a really vibrant place full of bars, shops, boutiques and restaurants, as well as a regular market. The modern town has grown organically around the edges of this area.
Museum of Fine Arts
Located in the old courthouse in the lower town, the art gallery is housed in an impressive building, which looks absolutely stunning when it is all lit up in the evenings. It boasts an exquisite collection of art ranging from 17th to 19th century as well as regular exhibitions of tapestries and other objets d’art. It is free of charge to enter and is open all throughout the summer months but you should check the opening hours out of season.
Canal du Midi
Canal du Midi in Languedoc Roussillon France © Paul Shawcross
The Canal du Midi, a 17th-century engineering marvel, achieved UNESCO world heritage status in 1999. Created by engineer and canal builder Pierre-Paul Riquet during the second half of the seventeenth century, check it out at the Port de Carcassonne just north of the Bastide and maybe even take a short boat trip. It winds through the south of France linking the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and is consequently very popular for boating holidays. Moreover, there is a marina close to the Bastide area where you can enjoy a stroll or even hire your own river cruiser.
Birds City (La Cite des Oiseaux)
An unusual attraction housing birds from all over the world. The birds perform spine-tingling acrobatics and tricks in regular open-air exhibitions and many of these expertly-trained creatures have also starred in films. In addition, a surprising variety of bird life lives here, from eagles, to colourful parrots, kookaburras and white storks.
Lac de la Cavayere
The lake of la Cavayère is a grand reservoir near the city boundaries. There’s a nesting bird island in the centre of the lake and a range of open and wooded areas around it. You can walk right around the lake in about an hour or perhaps make the most of the picnic areas or fishing spots. Moreover, if you’re feeling more energetic, there are water sports and an amusement park on offer here too.
Our selection of restaurants in Carcassonne
5 rue Adélaide de Toulouse
11000 Carcassonne, France
Phone: +33 4 68 47 66 61
This is a contemporary restaurant serving traditional French food and wine. The outside seated area enjoys a spectacular view being right next to the walls of the medieval city, so you can gaze at the historic turrets while enjoying your food in the sun. Great value set meals available from around €14.
14 rue St Louis,
11000 Carcassonne, France
Phone: +33 4 68 11 93 40
This is a slightly more upmarket restaurant, the food could be described as fine dining and the price reflects that. It has a wonderfully light, contemporary feel to it and, in addition, there is a beautiful courtyard you can sit in.
69 rue Trivalle,
11000 Carcassonne, France
Phone: +33 4 68 71 23 11
This is a delightful little restaurant where you can relax and enjoy the cosy, informal atmosphere. In addition, there’s excellent home-cooked traditional French cuisine served by welcoming and friendly proprietors. Above all, the fixed menu options are reasonable at around €16.
Markets in Carcassonne:
A general market with fruit, veg and flowers takes place in Place Carnot on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings.
Driving distances from Carcassonne to nearby cities:
Aix-en-Provence 185.4 miles/298.4 km
Barcelona 188 miles/304 km
Montpellier 93 miles/151 km
Perpignan 72 miles/116 km
Narbonne 39 miles/63.7 km
Rivesaltes 67 miles/108 km
Toulouse 59 miles/95.0 km
Where to get tourist information in Carcassonne
28, rue de Verdun
11890 Carcassonne Cédex 9
Phone: + 33 4 68 10 24 30
CARCASSONNE PROPERTY SCENE
Property prices are reasonable for the region. Many of the properties are townhouses converted into apartments with studios starting from around €50,000 – €90,000. However, houses are less often available, as is outside space.
For your convenience here is the Google map of Carcassonne