France: Occitanie – Carcassonne (UNESCO)
A classic hill top walled citadel in France’s Languedoc region.
Carcassonne, a hilltop town in southern France’s Languedoc area, is famous for its medieval citadel, La Cité, with numerous watchtowers and double-walled fortifications. The first walls were built in Gallo-Roman times, with major additions made in the 13th and 14th centuries. Château Comtal, a 12th-century castle within the Cité, offers archaeological exhibits and a tour of the inner ramparts.
It is huge and completely over-the-top, with no less than 53 towers, strung together by two enormous concentric walls, surrounded by a moat, and punctuated here and there by heavy barbicans, portcullis and draw-bridges.
Within these fairy-tale fortifications sits a castle, a basilica (church), and a small town. And the whole thing struts its stuff at the top of a hill, giving it superb views of the modern city of Carcassonne to the west, the Aude river and Canal du Midi to the north, and the often-snow-capped Pyrénées to the south.
Such Medieval extravagance has made the citadel at Carcassonne France’s second-most popular tourist attraction, and visitors from all over the world are bussed in in their thousands – to stroll around what has become the world’s largest medieval theme-park, and one of France’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
We were extremely lucky as during our visit there was a medieval festival going on
Having said all of this there are some negatives. Some of the restoration work is not to a high standard. Also, the centre of the La Cité has become totally over commercialised, with far too many over priced shops selling gaudy trinkets and sketchy nougat. The choice of restaurants is not great and of course you will pay over the top prices. The best option is to do your sightseeing and find somewhere to eat away from the tourist traps.
Overall, despite these nagging issues of over commercialisation (which of course is an issue in many places), Carcassonne is still worth the visit and should be enjoyed for what it is.