Carcassonne is actually 2 towns. I remember when I first arrived in the region and a friend suggested we meet for a coffee in the main square in Carcassonne. So I headed for the medieval town perched on the hill and walked into what seemed like the main square which is lined with restaurants and cafes. I chose a pretty spot to sit and order my coffee and waited for my friend to arrive. After 10 minutes she called me and asked where I was? I gave her the name of the cafe and she said there is no such cafe in the main square in Carcassonne, was I sure I was in place Carnot? Sure enough I was in the wrong place. I was in La Cité and she was in the bastide town below which all
locals call Carcassonne.
So to get your bearings; La Cité is the walled medieval fortified town that sits majestically on the hill on the banks of the Aude river. Directly below is the bas town, a cluster of houses, little chapels, cafes and restaurants that ooze towards Le Pont Vieux, the 12th century bridge that crosses the river Aude and takes you into Bastide Saint-Louis. This so called modern town was built during the reign of King Louis the sun King and was built as all bastide towns were, in a grid system and at the heart of it is place Carnot, the main square.
So what’s to see in these 3 distinctly different parts of Carcassonne, well let’s start with La Cité and work our way down the hill.
La Cité is small, about 1 square mile so don’t expect to spend days exploring but either set aside an evening or if you intend to visit Château Comptal the castle inside the town, then maybe an afternoon. Depending on the time of year expect crowds! For me the best time to visit is late afternoon whilst Château Comptal is still open and then when you emerge from it most of the crowds will have headed home and you will be able to stroll around this little town and imagine what it was like 500 or more years ago. I love to stroll the ramparts and gaze down on Le bas town below or off into the distance towards the Montagne Noire. Take a warm wrap or wear a coat, the heat quenching Languedoc wind could well be blowing..!
The bas town below La Cité has a village atmosphere and is worth spending a happy hour looking around. It’s a mixture of homes, shops, B&B’s, cafes and restaurants all with a great view up to the imposing walls of La Cité and it’s a good place to stay betwixt the ancient cité and the old town. A couple of times a year this little town is host to an antique market that’s well worth visiting. It’s held on the main street Rue Trivalle, and snakes its way through the little town to the old bridge at one end.
Crossing Le Pont Vieux takes you into Bastide Saint Louis built in the 1600’s. At its heart is Place Carnot, the main square in the centre of the checker board of narrow streets. It’s here that Carcassonne market takes place every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and is one of the best markets in the region and is where we run our Carcassonne Foodie Tour. The market spills out of the square into the narrow streets where I like to buy from the ‘yogurt lady’ as I call her who sells miniature glass milk bottles full of delicious pouring yogurt. Each week I am excited to see what flavours she has made this time and I always return last weeks’ bottles. Next to her is an excellent goat cheese producer and just around the corner is the indoor market, always known in France as Les Halles no matter which town you visit. This one is open most days and inside as well as dozens of cheese, meat and fish merchants there is a great bar where locals meet for an early glass of rosé or a cup of strong coffee to start the day.
Carcassonne is surrounded by some of the best wine producing areas in Languedoc and we offer tours to all of them. You can join our Minerve & the Minervois tour and visit this beautiful area where wines of all 3 colours are made and are some of the most elegant of Languedoc. There are many pretty villages including the village of Minerve where Cathars took refuge in 1210. Facing the Minervois across the valley are Les Corbières, a hilly and mountainous region, wild and rugged and producing full bodied sun drenched wines. White wine is rarer here due to the hot and arid climate so to make up for this you can treat yourself to some delicious rosé. The Corbières is the largest of the districts and reaches down to the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean sea and in between there are dozens of sleepy little villages and one of the most famous, Lagrasse which you can visit on our Corbières Vineyard Tour. Limoux is a town as well as a wine district where it is claimed that the world’s first sparkling wine was made in 1531. We have a superb tour that takes in this region plus stunning Domaine Gayda.
I hope this blog has whetted your appetite for Carcassonne and the Languedoc and that you will enjoy your next visit, don’t leave it too long!