February 18, 2016
Carcassonne: An Ideal Stop between Barcelona and the South of France
When traveling between Barcelona, Spain, and destinations in southern France, such as Provence and the Cote d’Azur, we highly recommend a stop in Carcassonne. A spectacular fortified city, Carcassonne sits atop a strategic hill above the Aude River in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France. From afar, the scale of the city, with its fairy-tale towers and crenellated walls, evokes a sense of wonder.
Walking between the double rings of ramparts is a great way to get a sense of the architectural diversity that makes this medieval city so worth visiting. A guided tour is an absolute must to learn about the transformation of Carcassonne from an ancient hilltop settlement to the restored fortress it is today.
The Romans arrived in the Languedoc region in the first century B.C. and transformed the hill into a fortified trading post. Brick remnants in the northern ramparts provide a glimpse at the first barricades erected by the Romans. Over the following centuries, the Visigoths, Saracens, Franks, Cathars and others fought for control of the fortress and expanded its dimensions. The outer walls date from the 13th century, when Carcassonne became the property of the king of France. At the time, Carcassonne was deemed impenetrable. However, the fortress was virtually abandoned by the 18th century due to the advent of more advanced weaponry and greater political stability in the region. The preservation of Carcassonne can largely be attributed to Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, a renowned French architect who undertook a lengthy restoration of the city in the 19th century (following his work on Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris). UNESCO has recognized Carcassonne as a World Heritage Site for both its well-preserved architecture and the conservation techniques introduced by Viollet-le-Duc.
La Cité—the medieval town inside the ramparts—has cobblestone streets, a castle (Chateau Comtal), a church (Basilica of Saint-Nazaire) and other historic structures.
Staying overnight within the fortress is the best way to experience the unique atmosphere of Carcassonne. Our preferred property is Hotel de la Cité, the only five-star hotel inside the walls. Its Michelin-starred La Barbacane restaurant is also a good option for lunch or dinner.
The view from the top of the walls takes in a landscape of vineyards as far as the eye can see. The Languedoc region has been home to grape cultivation and wine making for centuries. Wine producers in the area are known for combining different varieties to create innovative blends. Another local specialty is cassoulet, a rich casserole of beans, meat and sausage. Artisans of Leisure can arrange wine tasting at a top local vineyard or a meal incorporating wine and cassoulet at a local restaurant.
Pont Vieux, a picturesque medieval stone bridge across the Aude, joins La Cité to Bastide Saint Louis (Ville Basse), the other half of the town of Carcassonne. Stretching across the river plain below the fortress, it dates from the 13th century and has additional shops, restaurants and a weekly food market.
Contact Artisans of Leisure to plan a private, customized luxury France tour.