Carcassonne is one of Languedoc's "must-see" attractions. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was restored in 1853 by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. The Citadel of Carcassonne is more than just a castle that's been rebuilt; it is an entire early-medieval world covering several hectares. Purists would claim that Viollet-le-Duc ‘outDisney’d’ Disney when overseeing the works but the result is, nevertheless, spectacular.
The best view of Carcassonne is actually from the motorway. It looks like something out of a medieval fairy-tale, but take care if you are driving! The citadel and the church are very interesting and the hotel next to the church is worth a visit. There’s lots of lovely restaurants to stop and have a meal at or just a drink on the terrace. A traditional dish from that part of the world is cassoulet, a casserole of sausage, duck and beans but each restaurant will have its own version. There is also a haunted house (which is very scary, even the children’s programme!) and a torture museum which is interesting in a macabre sort of way.
You can take a trip around the ramparts on a horse and cart or just have a guided visit to the citadel. Jousting events with knights in shining armor and the odd maiden in distress are held in the summer. These are great fun and show off excellent horsemanship. Through most of the summer there is a ‘son et lumière’ show held in the Cour d’Honneur of the château illustrating the colourful and sometimes bloody history of the town. This is free, starts at sundown and continues until midnight.
The newer part of the town, the Ville Basse, is on the side of the Aude River and is the centre of an AOC wine-growing region.
Another World Heritage Site lies just beside the town - the Canal du Midi. This lazy, green and peaceful waterway was built by Pierre-Paul Riquet and links the Mediterranean with the Atlantic. You can take a guided tour from here with or without a picnic included, or you can hire a cruiser for several days and gently wind your way up or down the shady Canal.
Serious hikers and lovers of history can follow the Cathar Trail—200km of rugged hillside linking the beautiful and poignant castles of Quéribus, Peyrepetuse, Puilaurens and Montségur. These eyries perched on top of vertiginous cliffs would have seemed impregnable to the Cathar inhabitants but, eventually, each one fell to the invading French armies with catastrophic results.
Carcassonne is a great centre for a varied and interesting holiday, whether as a family, singles or couples.
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