With its new and old cities separated by the River Aude, Carcassonne is already unique. But dig a little deeper and you’ll also discover leisurely waterways, quirky museums, and tasty regional cuisine aplenty.
Located in southwest France, Carcassonne is a charming city with a rich history, cobbled streets, and a wealth of unique activities. Here, oenophiles can lose themselves amid the omnipresent vineyards, surrounded by verdant countryside, while history buffs will discover quirky museums and one of the finest castles in Europe. The adventurous can dive into water sports at the Cavayère Lake, and regional delicacies bring new flavours and textures to the palate.
Step back in time at the Cité de Carcassonne
A trip to Carcassonne wouldn’t be complete without a visit to its mighty medieval citadel. The Cité de Carcassonne, with its imposing stone walls and pretty cobbled streets, was honoured as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. It’s possible to explore its lesser-visited corners on a leisurely self-guided stroll, or delve into the fortress’s history with a guided tour. Tickets to the Château et Remparts provide access to the walls and towers. The best approach to the Cité de Carcassonne is across the champagne-coloured stone of Pont Vieux, which spans the River Aude, conveying pedestrians to the foot of the historic neighbourhood.
Eat like the locals at Maison du Cassoulet
Located in the heart of Carcassonne’s medieval sector, just steps from the Porte Narbonnaise, Maison du Cassoulet (6 Rue du Grand Puits, 11000) serves Occitan cuisine. Try the iconic Cassoulet, a hearty stew often containing pork sausage, duck confit and beans. The rustic decor, characterised by exposed stone and mahogany beams, creates a charming dining atmosphere. On sunny days the shaded patio provides a peaceful retreat from the city’s hustle and bustle. This characterful setting, coupled with attentive service and lovingly cooked dishes, makes for a worthy stop if you don’t have time to visit the less touristy restaurants of the new town.
Learn about the region’s gritty past at the Museum of the Inquisition
Within the Cité de Carcassonne’s sweeping walls, you’ll find the Musée de L’inquisition (7 Rue Saint-Jean, 11000), housed inside an impressive 17th century structure. It explores a chilling chapter of history, with an extensive collection of torture instruments spanning from the 12th century to the French Revolution, laying bare the haunting tale of the Inquisition. As you explore, historical figures come to life, unravelling the intertwined stories of nearby Cathar Castles and the Inquisition and offering insights into the region’s sinister past. Inside, there are informative multimedia displays (translated into several languages) to help further your understanding of this dark era in the Languedoc region.
Enjoy the serenity of the Canal du Midi
Explore the intriguing history of the Canal du Midi, a remarkable 17th century waterway (crafted by the visionary Pierre-Paul Riquet) that connects the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. Once a bustling thoroughfare for goods and travellers, it now offers a serene escape for boaters and tourists, winding gracefully through the heart of Carcassonne. You have the choice of taking a guided boat cruise along the canal, where you can learn about the fascinating story behind this UNESCO treasure, or you can opt to rent a private boat or a bike for a scenic ride along the water.
Explore the ‘Village of Books’
Just northwest of Carcassonne lies the somewhat ethereal village of Montolieu, often heralded as the ‘Village of Books’. Situated amidst picturesque landscapes, this quaint hamlet is a haven for book lovers and culture enthusiasts. Wander through its winding cobblestone streets, and you’ll discover myriad antique bookshops, all suitably quirky and unique. The village itself is beautiful, with historic buildings adorned with vibrant flowers and cute cafes lining the streets, providing inviting corners in which to linger and lose oneself in a good book. Don’t miss the Musée des Arts et Métiers du Livre (39 Rue de la Mairie, 11170), a teeny museum that explores the history of typography, calligraphy, illustration, binding, papermaking and more.
Get spooked at La Maison Hantée (The Haunted House)
For all things spooky and strange, step into the world of La Maison Hantée (9 Pl. du Grand Puits, 11000) a chilling haunted house dressed up to look like a centuries-old, sprawling mansion. With several meticulously designed rooms (each one brimming with a sense of dread) you’ll find yourself completely ensconced in an otherworldly experience. Live actors add to the spine-tingling atmosphere, ensuring that the 20 minute journey through this sinister abode is truly terrifying. Every room is clad with macabre decoration, but it’s the ‘upside-down room’ that is sure to leave a lasting impression! Your mission? Find your way to the exit in this labyrinth of the bizarre.
Join in some water sports at the Cavayère Lake
A ten-minute drive from Carcassonne’s medieval city, Cavayère Lake (Route de la Cavayère, 11000) offers both adventure and serenity. Dive into the refreshing waters and explore a range of activities, from leisurely pedal boat rides and inflatable aqua games, to the exhilaration of water skiing. Thrill-seekers can conquer the waves with wakeboarding and paddle-boarding, or venture into the nearby forest aerobatic park for a true adrenaline rush. For sports enthusiasts there are lively beach volleyball matches right on the shore, and when the sun is high, three gorgeous beaches beckon – all supervised – providing an idyllic spot for sun-soaking.