The walled city of Carcassonne rises majestically in Languedoc-Roussillon between Perpignan and Toulouse in the south of France. Unforgettable and charming, the town is a journey back to the Middle Ages. A stroll along its cobbled streets reveals a lost era of kings, princesses, knights, jousts, tournaments and Gothic and Romanesque architecture. Review our selection of luxury hotels and destinations.
The historic fortified citadel of Carcassonne hides behind a two-mile double wall with more than thirty towers. This French enclave owes its current relevance to Prosper Merimée, the author of the novel Carmen, which served as the inspiration for the opera of the same name by Georges Bizet. As Prime Inspector of Monuments of France, Merimée commissioned architect Viollet-le-Duc to conduct the restoration of the city. More than one hundred years later, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site, in 1997.
Carcassonne also played a role in the war between Rome and the Languedoc Cathars. Between the 12th and 14th centuries, Catharism was a significant religious movement in Southern France and Northern Italy. Its followers preached salvation through ascetic practices and renunciation of the world. Priests were accused of heresy, condemned to exile and, in some cases, burnt alive for challenging the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.
When you visit Carcassonne, you will notice that the city is divided into two distinctive zones. On the right bank of the Aude river is La Cité (or citadel), and on the left is La Bastide Saint-Louis. Both areas are connected by the ancient Le Pont Vieux, or Carcassonne Old Bridge, which is part of the Camino de Santiago (The Pilgrimage of St. James).
La Bastide Saint-Louis stands out for its beautiful mansions. These homes were witnesses to the rise of the textile industry in 18th-century Carcassonne. Located here too, you will find the majestic Gothic cathedral of Saint Michel, the Carmen Chapelle, and Notre Dame de la Santé. Several beautiful monuments, including the Neptune Fountain, and the Place Carnot, where the flower market stands today, also grace this part of town. A stroll through the winding Jardin de Calvaire (Calvary Garden), built in 1825 during the reign of Charles X, is always a memorable experience.
To enjoy the medieval citadel to the fullest, we recommend you wander aimlessly until reaching one of the four entrances to the city. The Burgo door, the Narbonne, the Aude and the Saint-Nazaire represent the four cardinal points. The nearby Basilica de Saint-Nazaire was finished in a style reminiscent of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. An insignia of the city, the 12th-century Condal Castle and its inner wall, built by the Viscount of Carcassonne, also makes for an enjoyable visit.
Do take a walk along the walls, visit museums and enjoy the terraces and restaurants. Take pleasure in Languedoc’s fine wines while having some of the regions fabulous local cheeses. The best accommodation in the walled city is the five-star Hotel de la Cité. The suites have evocative names like Viollet Leduc Suite, Medieval Suite or Neo-Gothic Suite, and the hotel’s cuisine boasts a Michelin star. ■