Stunning, fortified Carcassonne
Justifies its presence on UNESCO’s World Heritage list... and then some. With a full double ring of ramparts and no fewer than 53 towers, it’s an awe-inspiring place to come, look up and look down. The ville basse, the expanse of town down the hill from the medieval fortifications is equally worth exploring... and better still it can all be done on foot. Add wine, river cruising and glorious countryside, and Carcassonne should definitely be on your list.
Carcassonne’s drawbridges and cobbled streets make it a hugely rewarding place to wander with no fixed agenda, and likewise its shoulder-to-shoulder boutiques serve up a diverting range of souvenirs for those engaging in a spot of window-browsing. The quality can differ, although there are some great antique shops on Rue Trivalle (close to the city gate at La Porte Narbonnaise). La Ferme (corner of rue Chartran and rue de Verdun) is a top-notch food emporium with a selection of some 6,000 local gourmet products. There’s also a notable open-air market on Place Carnot three times a week.
Food & Drink
The meaty, white-bean stew known as cassoulet is a regional speciality here – try the acclaimed version at Restaurant Comte Roger (14 rue Saint-Louis), where the menu puts a focus on Occitan cooking with a modern twist. There’s Michelin-starred dining in the old citadel at La Barbacane (Hôtel de la Cité, Place Auguste Pierre Pont), while close by there’s authentic bistro fare to be enjoyed at Restaurant Robert Rodriguez (39 rue Coste Reboulh). And for a café that’s popular with both locals and tourists, try to snag a table for lunch at Café Saillan (31 rue du Docteur Albert Tomey).
Carnaval de Limoux
Taking place in the nearby town of Limoux, this carnival sees costumed dancing each weekend and gives colourful insight into the varied traditions of the Languedoc region. Its long history makes it one of the oldest such carnivals on the planet – it’s also one of the longest, lasting three whole months!
Festival de Carcassonne
One of the biggest cultural events in the South of France, the Carcassone Festival runs for six weeks and stages more than 100 separate shows, from opera and classical music to dance and theatre performances. The majority are free.
Bastille Day sees towns and villages across France in party mode, but Carcassonne takes the annual celebration to another level with a massive firework celebration that draws some 700,000 visitors to the banks of the Aude River. It takes place at 10.30pm.
Feria de Carcassonne
A late-summer music festival featuring flamenco and salsa bands alongside traditional local Occitan performers – not to mention everything from marching brass bands to contemporary pop singers – the Feria is a celebration of music in all its forms.
La Magie de Noël
The Christmas period sees the old citadel come alive with all manner of festive events, from craft markets and torch processions to costumed medieval performances and illuminations. The month-long programme of events runs through until early January.
Its fairytale Middle Ages skyline makes Carcassonne one of the most visited spots in the whole of France. By consequence, it has no shortage of impressive accommodation options – the Hôtel de la Cité Carcassonne (Place Auguste Pierre Pont) is set within the old medieval citadel and boasts its own gardens, while the 61-room Best Western Le Donjon (2 rue du Comte Roger) is another that’s surrounded by the town’s ancient ramparts. For a winning spot away from the centre, try the 18-room Hôtel du Château (2 rue Camille Saint-Saëns), which has an outdoor pool, or the nearby three-star Hôtel Montmorency (11 rue Camille Saint-Saëns).