The Medieval Splendor of Carcassonne

Want to explore a UNESCO World Heritage Site in France? Visit Carcassonne; the impressive walled medieval “designed” city nestled on the hills of the Languedoc region.

The fortified structure you see today is a product of restoration efforts made in the late 19th century.  But the fortification around Carsassone was originally created during Roman times. The walled city is also believed to already be a settlement site as far back as 3500 BC.   At present, there are two Carcassonnes; one referring to the walled city (Citè Medievale), and the other to the laidback lower town also called Bastide Saint Louis, situated west of the fortification.

Citè Medievale is enveloped by two crenellated walls, which are separated by a dry moat. One of the favorite things that visitors do is to get inside the outer walls and walk the entire circumference of Carcassonne. This walk gives you a more vivid experience of the wall’s architecture and unique details. As you enter the inner walls, narrow cobbled streets, draw bridges, towers and ancient buildings will greet you.  Carcassonne is one of the most visited spots in France, thus expect a large number of tourists walking around the area especially during mid-day. If you want to avoid the crowd, try to come early in the morning.

One of the highlight attractions inside Carcassonne is the Count’s Castle or Chateau Comtal.  This fortified structure was built in the 12th century and now acts more of a museum, which features a large collection of precious medieval items. There is a small admission charge to enter the inner castle area. Multi-lingual guides are also available.

The Basilica Saint-Nazaire is another notable landmark located within the walled city grounds. This magnificent basilica was erected between the 11th and 12th century, but it is the former site of a 6th century church.  Basilica Saint-Nazaire, which is listed as a National Monument in France, is known for its splendid signature stained glass windows, which are architectural features that reigned during the Medieval Age.

The walled city also has its fair share of souvenir shops, eateries, and hotels although they tend to be pricier than those found in the lower town.  One particularly popular place in this area is the Place Marcou, which boasts a wide range of terrace restaurants offering international and regional cuisines.

The lower town has its own charms. While here, your attention will be drawn to small squares populated by cafes, restaurants, boutiques and souvenir shops. The streets are all connected to Place Carnot, the home of the famous weekly market and the ice rink formed during winter. Just off Place Carnot, at the corner of Verdun and Chartron streets is the food and shopping emporium called La Ferme. Here, you can find luxury food and wine items. If you can’t get enough of the local treats and delicacies, then head out to Les Halles, the town’s covered food market.

Aside from exploring Citè Medievale and the lower town, you can check out the other surrounding attractions like the Raymond Chelsea Leisure Park.  Encompassing luscious valleys and vegetations, the park also houses Cavayère Lake, and offers leisure activities like hiking, picnics, and mini golfing, sailing and boating.

About Author:

Arie Boris has extensive travel industry experience, including business and sales development for commercial aviation, the International emergency assistance & travel insurance industry and a national association of travel agents. He was a contributing editor to several print and Internet travel publications, including Fieldings’ Worldwide Cruise Guide and was part of the start up team for CruiseCritic. He has written over 400 cruise ship reviews. Arie also produces and hosts Cruise Gourmet Voyages, a variety of fundraising & theme group cruises for various charitable and arts organizations. He has produced theme cruises for a variety of special interest groups including opera, comedy, spiritual retreats and fan clubs for TV shows like Dark Shadows and Dancing with the Stars!