48 Hours In: Carcassonne

With history stretching back to the Gauls and character flowing like the local wine, this château town makes for the perfect winter getaway.



Click here for
48 Hours



In...Carcassonne map

Why go now?

With a mild climate typical of the south of France, the attractive walled city of Carcassonne is an appealing and accessible destination for an out-of-season weekend. The Gauls, Romans, Moors and Cathars have left their mark on the place and contributed to its atmosphere – but the restaurants and shops ensure that there is more to Carcassonne than just history.

Touch down

The only airline with direct flights from the UK is Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com), which flies from Stansted four times a week in winter (daily in summer) and from Liverpool and East Midlands twice a week (with four and five weekly flights respectively in summer). Carcassonne’s tidy little airport is 4km west of the city.

Get your bearings

Carcassonne is two cities in one, divided by the river Aude. On its east bank stands the medieval city, whose main entrance is the Porte Narbonnaise (1); on the right the Bastide St-Louis, 13th century in origin, but now spilling out beyond the boulevards that mark the location of its ancient city walls. On its north-west side is the Canal du Midi, the 17th-century waterway that links France’s Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts and provides some lovely canalside walks.

The two halves of the city are a short walk apart, across the medieval Pont Vieux (2). But this guide assumes you will spend most of the first day in the Bastide, leaving exploration of the Cité until day two.

From the airport, a connecting bus (00 33 4 68 47 82 22) leaves about 20 minutes after each flight arrives, for a fare of €5 It heads first for the medieval city, then makes a tour of the Bastide St-Louis, ending at the railway station (3). You can also walk from the airport to the Bastide St-Louis in about 40 minutes; the Cité is a further 20 minutes.

The main tourist office (4) at 28 rue de Verdun (00 33 4 68 10 24 30) opens 9am-6pm daily (Sunday to noon); see carcassonne tourisme.com for more.

Check in

The most stylish place in town is the Hôtel de la Cité (5), a historic, ivy-clad property in Place Auguste-Pierre Pont run by Orient Express (00 33 4 68 71 98 71; hoteldelacite. com). Double rooms start at ¤310, with an extra ¤28 for the buffet breakfast. The Hôtel de Terminus is a three-star establishment opposite the station (3) at 2 avenue Maréchal Joffre (00 33 8 25 82 62 05; soleilvacances.com); rooms with breakfast are available from ¤98.

For a combination of urban and rural, there are few better places than La Maison sur la Colline, an elegant guesthouse set amid vineyards at the Mas de Sainte-Croix (00 33 4 68 47 57 94; lamaisonsur lacolline.com). There are lovely views of Carcassonne from the property, and although it is out of town, it’s only a 20-minute walk from the medieval city. Double rooms are available from ¤80 including a copious breakfast.

Window shopping

The main shopping thoroughfare, Rue Clemenceau is less appealing than Rue Verdun, where there are plenty of intriguing small shops to browse in. The store On Dirait le Sud (6) has plenty of home accessories, while La Ferme has an extensive selection of local wines, chocolate, cheeses and other deli goods. Carcassonne has a colourful and lively market, with stalls that are piled high with the produce of the region; it takes place on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings in Place Carnot (7).

Lunch on the run

Place Carnot (7) is an excellent spot for a light lunch, whether it’s market day or not. Check out Chez Félix or the Bistro Florian for a good selection of salads and hot dishes.

Take a hike

Begin a walking tour of the Bastide at the west side of the Square Gambetta (8), the rectangular space just outside the boulevards that encircle the city

The most elegant building is the Museum of Fine Arts, whose permanent collection is of French and Dutch paintings that span the 17th-19th centuries. It opens 10am-noon and 2-6pm Tuesday to Saturday, and from 2.30-5.30pm on the first Sunday of each month (daily 10am-6pm from mid-June until mid-September). Admission is free.

Walk down the Rue Ramond; on the right you pass the Hôtel de Rolland (9), one of the finest 18th-century buildings in Carcassonne. Now the Town Hall, it is built around an impressive inner courtyard. Take a detour as far as the Porte des Jacobins (10), one of the original city gates; remains of the old city walls are clearly visible to one side.

Turning right you will pass the Cathedral of St-Michel (11) and the Bastion de Montmorency (12), one of four such structures added to the city walls in the 16th century

Head north past the Jesuit College (13) and, a couple of blocks east, is the Maison du Sénéchal (14), built in the 14th century and later restored by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, the 19th-century architect who did so much to restore Carcassonne’s old buildings.

Continue past the old covered market (15) to the Canal du Midi and the Port of Carcassonne (16), from where pleasure cruises (00 33 4 68 71 61 26; carcassonne-croisiere.com) depart in summer.

An aperitif

Wine lovers might want to head into the medieval city for an early evening drink at Le Comptoir des Vins et Terroirs (17), at 3 rue du Comte Roger (00 33 4 68 26 44 76; comptoir-vins.fr). It has an excellent selection of local wines by the glass, as well as plates of cheese or charcuterie to accompany them.

Dining with the locals

Stay in the Cité for a delicious feast of Carcassonne’s signature dish, cassoulet, a hearty mix of sausage, pork and duck served with haricot beans. This is included on the ¤18 menu at the Auberge des Lices (18), 3 rue Raymond-Roger Trencavel, a pleasant place away from the main tourist beat.

Sunday morning: Go to church

Start your Sunday with a visit to the main church in the medieval Cité, the Basilica of St-Nazaire (19), with its mix of Romanesque and Gothic architecture and striking stained glass. Inside is a stone believed to have survived the siege of Carcassonne in the 13th century. Once Carcassonne’s cathedral, St-Nazaire lost this title to St-Michel (11), over on the other side of the river, 200 years ago.

Out to Brunch

Le Bar à Vins (20) might sound more like an evening venue than a breakfast spot, but this café at 6 rue du Plô (00 33 4 68 47 38 38) serves a French breakfast of juice, coffee and fresh baguette with preserves for ¤7. For something more substantial, try Le Cinq (21) at 5 place du Petit Puits (00 33 4 68 77 14 93). This specialises in dishes from the Languedoc region, made with locally-sourced ingredients; expect to pay around ¤12 for a main course.

Cultural afternoon

Medieval Carcassonne developed on a rocky mound that had first been fortified some 800 years before: remains of the 4th-century ramparts are still visible along the inner walls of the city. The Cité still has 128 inhabitants, but most of the people strolling through narrow streets and attractive squares such as the Place Marcou (22) are visitors who have come to soak up the atmosphere. The main entrance is the Porte Narbonnaise (1); straight ahead is the Cité’s main landmark, the 12th-century château (23). Located on the west side of the mound, it was built as the feudal castle of the Trencavel family before becoming the property of the king and an important defensive position along the frontier with Aragon. The castle is a magnificent building, now heavily restored by Viollet-le-Duc, containing courtyards, towers and a museum whose artefacts were found in the Cité and the surrounding district. The complex opens 9.30am-5pm daily (10am-6.30pm April to September); admission ¤8.

Take a view

Before you leave the old city, take a half-hour stroll around the Lices, a path that meanders round between the inner and outer fortifications, and enjoy tantalising glimpses of the countryside through narrow window slits and panoramic views of the Pyrenees as you turn towards the south.

A walk in the park

On the opposite side of town, south of the Pont Vieux (2) on the right bank of the Aude, is a pleasant grassy area ideal for a riverside stroll as far as the weir. The silhouette of the Cité above, and the residential area south of the Bastide opposite, provide a picturesque framework.

The icing on the cake

The Lac de la Cavayère – better-known locally as Carcassonne Plage – is a pleasant, man-made lake 5km outside the city. This is a lovely place at any time of year to enjoy some fresh air and a relaxing walk. Take bus 1 from the Bastide, fare ¤1.10.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum