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Cité de Carcassonne - Impressive Medieval Fortress
Posted by Robert van Den Haag on March 2, 2016
Event date: June 6, 2015

Cité de Carcassonne - Medieval Fortress

There are few sites in France as impressive as when you approach from afar the Cité de Carcassonne.

Located in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of Southern France, it is strategically positioned on a hilltop beside the Aude River in a wide sweeping valley between the Pyrénées Mountains, the Massif Central and an open route to the Mediterranean Sea.  

 

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While the 'city of Carcassonne' proper has taken shape over more recent times, it is most renowned for the old Cité de Carcassonne which is a medieval fortress.

While the fortress was restored in 1853 by architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, its history from a military perspective dates back to Roman times. 

Here is a short video introduction from www.ricksteves.com...

On our first trip to the Cité we arrived from the north side after a drive through the Gorges of the Tarn River.  From that direction we were able to have a clearer view from a distance as we approached the Cité - Truly Impressive...

Coming from the North seems to be a better approach than coming from the south and having to navigate through the middle of the City of Carcassonne looking for parking.

At the Northeast corner of the Cité's Fortress walls you will find a parking facility called 'Parking Gustave Nadaud'.  This is a short walk from the main entrance - Porte Narbonnaise.

Entering Medieval Times

As you walk up to the exterior walls of the Cité's Fortress, you quickly realize and appreciate just how large this walled medieval town really is.

As we entered through the main gate it was like we were thrust back in time.  The first time we visited in July there was a medieval festival going on, so seeing folks dressed in medieval garb really added to the atmosphere...

 

Again, on that first trip (2012) I managed to climb up some stairs (very carefully) that allowed me to take some photos from some higher vantage points on the ramparts.  This provided for a much better perspective of the size of the fortress walls.

I got the impression on our last trip (2015) that the ramparts were not so easily accessible, if at all (avoiding possible injuries).

While the others were checking out some of the shoppes, I took the opportunity to walk down the lane which separates the inner and outer walls of the fortress.

A Step Back in Time

As you pass through the entrance of Porte Narbonnaise and start your stroll down the main street (Rue Cros Mayrevieille), you really get that feel of times passed - coble stone roads, old buildings and shoppes offering traditional wares.  OK, so there are a few souvenir shops as well...

A word of warning, however.  If you or someone you are travelling with has a sweet tooth, then you are in for a real treat(s) and a few extra calories...

There are several shoppes specializing in traditional candies, biscuits and the French favourite - Nougat.

Our ladies certainly enjoyed themselves - sometimes I think that it is a genetic trait when it comes to their excitement in seeing new shoppes to check out...

The good thing about that, is that I get to find extra time to explore for photo opportunities.

 

This shoppe attendant indulges me with a few photos of their amazing selection of Nougats, Licorice and other confectionary.

Basilica Sainte-Nazaire and St. Celse

At the very south end of the Cité you should really visit and check out the impressive Basilica of Saint-Nazaire and St. Celse.

The Basilica has several beautiful stained glass windows.  We also had the good fortune of visiting when a cappella group was singing.  The acoustics always sound amazing (almost heavenly) in the halls of an old church.

French Charm

One of the unique things about the Cité de Carcassonne, is that even though it is a typical tourist trap - as you stroll along the many avenues there is just so much typical old town French charm.

There is just something about the Cité that I have only ever experienced in one other place - Le Mont-Saint-Michel.  It just feels like a 'complete' medieval town. 

It has all of the customary monuments, shoppes, the church of course and even a castle.

But for me, part of the charm was observing people as they explored the town - perhaps on their own medieval pilgrimages.

Café le Trouvère

One thing you do not have to worry about is finding a place to eat.  In the main square there are a number of restaurants and cafés offering outdoor patios, but you can find them throughout the Cité.

We decided upon and were quite pleased with Café Le Trouvère.

It was quite a long day of touring (including Rennes le Château), so we were tired and needed a good thirst quencher...

The ladies had their Sangrias but my buddy Mark and I went for a smooth Leffe Brune.  That really hit the spot - 'feelin' real good...

As for my appetite, I could not resist a plate of charcuterie - a delicious French specialty.  Also being in a medieval mood, I just had to try the local specialty of Wild Boar Stew for my main course.

It was pretty good but a bit salty - but I suppose that is the way it would have tasted in 'ye days of olde'.

My wife had the chops and frites.

Auberge Des Ducs D'Oc

I have to take this opportunity to recommend another restaurant we visited on our prior visit - Auberge Des Ducs D'Oc.

The restaurant was quite full that day, so they seated us in an outdoor terrace at the back of the restaurant.  That was nice being in the fresh air and under an umbrella in the hot sun.

I enjoyed a great artisan onion soup as an appetizer along with a beef entrée.  My wife enjoyed a fish entrée with rice and curry sauce.

One thing that is for sure, that as we approached dinner time late in the afternoon, there were many locals (presumably) arriving for the evening in fine apparel.

So that must say something about the quality of the restaurants and the atmosphere...

UNESCO World Heritage Site

It is also important to note that the Cité de Carcassonne is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It is considered an excellent example of a medieval fortified town whose massive defences were constructed on walls dating from Late Antiquity.

The photo below is courtesy of Jean-Jaques Gelbart (from UNESCO website).

VIDEO NOTE:  I encourage you to watch the linked YouTube video by RickSteves.com located at the top of this blogpost.  It provides a short but informative introducton.  

A Fond Farewell / Adieu  

Perhaps I'm just the romantic, but for me the Cité de Carcassonne seems to be just another one of the many treasures to be found in France offering that unique French charm and antiquity.

This won't be our last visit...

Well that's it for this adventure.

Stay tuned for highlights of some of my other ‘back roads’ blogposts of our travels through the Cathar Trail, including Rennes-le-Château.

> RVDH…

Travel Tips

- Best approach for a view of Carcassonne is from the North.
- Best Parking is N/E Corner
- Several Restaurants
- Plan for 4-6 hours

Robert van Den Haag

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Canada

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Ontario

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Tagged as: 0-destinations, 0-hosts, 0-main, 0-menu, 0-unesco, europe-destinations, europe-hosts, europe-main, europe-menu, europe-unesco, pont-du-gard

Countries: France

Regions: Languedoc-Roussillon

World Heritage Sites: Historic Fortified City of Carcassonne

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