17 January 2017 by Jessica Boston
Visit Carcassonne – a jewel in the Cathar crown
Carcassonne is a beautiful medieval city on a hill overlooking the River Aude in the South of France. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and with one look at the impressive silhouette of the city walls and castle it’s easy to see why!
The archetypal medieval experience
It’s like an illustration from a fairytale or history book, especially after dark when the city walls are lit up to magical effect!
Purists argue that the extent of the restoration that took place here in 1853 has added a film-set like quality, but most visitors disagree – the restored castle has the ability to transport you back in time and see things as they would have been in the days of knights, battles and feuds!
Chateau Comtal – the heart of Carcassonne
Take a tour to explore Chateau Comtal, discover the fascinating history behind the castle and see archaeological finds dating back to Roman times on display. Climb the many stairs and walk the ramparts around the city for breathtaking views of the Pyrenees mountains and the surrounding countryside, as well as a birds-eye view of the city itself.
The old city of Carcassonne is a maze of narrow medieval cobbled streets filled with cafes and shops. There are plenty of great restaurants to choose from ranging from two Michelin starred luxury dining at La Table de Franck Putelat, to excellent creperies like Le Ble Noir serving delicious crepes and galettes with a bewildering variety of fillings.
Basilica of Saint-Nazaire
As well as seeing the impressive castle, a visit to Carcassone is not complete without taking a tour of the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire. Set high up on a cliff this small but detailed church is a perfect example of medieval architecture with gargoyles and stained glass galore. Take the funicular for an easy way up and enjoy the wonderful views.
If you’re keen for more historic sites you’ll be spoilt for choice by the sheer number of Cathar castles in the area! Most are perched high on rocky outcrops and some strong hiking boots and stamina will be needed to get close to the ruins.
The views from these vantage points are fantastic and set the mood for reflection on the somewhat tragic history of these Cathar strongholds. There are so many sites to see including Foix, Puilaurens, Puivert, Peyrepertuse, Queribus, Montsegur and Arques. Plan a route and turn a hike into a history lesson!
Other things to do in the region:
Mayronnes Sculpture Trail
Those looking for a less challenging hike can try the Mayronnes Sculpture Trail, a 7km hill walk dotted with a range of sculptures along the way. There’s a chance to paddle, see the pretty village of Mayronnes and enjoy some great views too – a lovely day out that’s ideal for the whole family.
Lac de la Cavayere
A relaxing place to visit, especially for children and families, this picturesque lake offers a variety of water sports, boat hire and even has a sandy beach for sunbathing. There is a pretty walking trail around the lake and a café is open during the summer months.
One of our top-rated vineyards O’Vineyards is a delightful place to visit for a tour and wine tasting session with gourmet dinner. The hosts are passionate about their wines, and local produce too, so you’re sure of a gastronomic treat! For more information see our reviews of Top English Speaking Vineyards – cheers!