Carcassonne – A tale of two Languedoc towns
When most people think of ‘Carcassonne’, they think of the massive medieval citadel sitting on the hill overlooking the ‘new town’ of Carcassonne. It’s no wonder the castle dominates the town in people’s minds – it is France’s second-most visited tourist spot after the Tour Eiffel, and most who visit it pour off their busses and then back on to them, never venturing into the slightly newer town across the river.
I say ‘town’ because Carcassonne, although officially a city, doesn’t feel city-like in scale and energy. It certainly feels smaller than its siblings Béziers and Narbonne, and to be honest, offers far less than those two cities in terms of sights, shopping, restaurants and bars. In fact, Carcassonne can feel like a little bit of a come-down – it’s rather sleepy and small, with a nice square in the middle and a few nice shops and restaurants. But don’t expect it to captivate you for more than a few hours.
The trick to appreciating the ‘La Ville Basse’ as Carcassonne is sometimes called is to see it as a jumping-off point to more interesting sights just outside the city walls. The castle just over the river, La Cité, is the most obvious example. The Canal du Midi is another – Carcassonne is a great launch pad for a day’s pootle along the canal. All around the city you’ll find endless vineyards offering great tasting opportunities. To the north is the pretty village of Caunes-Minervois, and beyond that the Cathar castles of ‘Las Tours’. Further afield from Carcassonne is the rugged Corbières region to the south, peppered with pretty villages and some of France’s most atmospheric Medieval castles and abbeys.