Situated in the verdant Aude valley, between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, the medieval city of Carcassonne is like something from a fairytale. Carcassonne has two centres, the Ville Basse (lower town) a modern French provincial town and, across the river, the old fortified Cité with its two defensive walls and 52 gleaming turrets. It is the last remaining inhabited walled city in Europe and was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997.

The Romans built initial fortifications on this strategic site in the 4th Century with continual additions made until the 14th Century. Carcassonne has been fought over throughout French history and was an important stronghold during the 13th Century Albigension Crusades. Eventually the city’s defences became obsolete and Carcassonne faded into obscurity.

In the 19th century its buildings were often broken up and the stones sold off to other parts of France. Only with the patronage of Emperor Louis-Bonaparte and the court architect Viollet le Duc was Carcassonne restored to its former beauty, becoming the tourist attraction it is today.


The old Cité is an exceptional example of a medieval town. The Chateau Comtal is the old castle of Carcassonne and can be visited by guided tour only. The Basilique Saint-Nazaire is the principal church and features a mix of Gothic and Romanesque styles. As well as the grand buildings it’s often just as pleasant to wander the narrow streets or sit in a café and admire the sloping roofs and tree-lined squares.

During the summer there are often actors performing medieval recreations in the old Cité. Street performers are common, especially puppeteers whose exceptionally detailed models carry on a centuries old tradition in the city. Sometimes entire medieval tournaments are staged, complete with jousting and sword fighting.

The city council puts on a lavish celebration for Bastille Day (July 14th), the French national holiday. This can lead to scenes of chaos as the big fireworks display regularly attracts twelve times the normal population - expect large traffic jams!

The Canal du Midi runs through Carcassonne offering the opportunity for exciting water-sports such as kayaking, canoeing, and white water rafting. For the more sedate there are barge and boat trips along the canal and some idyllic fishing spots.

Adjoining the medieval city is the Lac de la Cavayere, a man-made lake and recreation area. It caters for a range of water-sports as well as horse riding, volleyball and miniature golf. The sandy shores and grassy parkland are also perfect for sunbathing or picnics.

The countryside around Carcassonne is ideal for walking or cycling; even the smallest by-ways are superbly well kept with typical French care and attention. There are many tours of the local vineyards where walkers can taste or buy some of the world famous Languedoc wines: Corbieres, Fitou or Minervois to name but a few.


Shopping in Carcassonne is generally restricted to the tourist market. The old Cité in particular has a nice range of tourist shops and stalls selling postcards, t-shirts, handmade souvenirs and local food and drink. As a small town Carcassonne has a full range of functional shops but none of the more stylish or upmarket boutiques of Paris or nearby Toulouse.

Nightlife and Eating Out

Carcassonne has a full range of cinemas, nightclubs, theatres and karaoke bars but, as it is a town of only 45,000 inhabitants, they are often small-scale affairs.

Nightlife is centred more on restaurants and bars. Here customers can spend an evening chatting and sampling some of the local Catalan influenced cuisine. Specialities include: Cassoulet, a rich stew of beans, pork and liver sausage; Bouillabaisses, a fish soup with croutons and flan de Saint-Jean de Minervois, a honey and egg pudding. To wash down your meal most restaurants source wine from local vineyards or try pastis, a strong aniseed-flavoured spirit.

Tourist Information

Municipal Tourist Office28, Rue de Verdun11890CarcassonneCédex 9

Phone: 33 (0)468 102 430Fax: 33 (0)468 102


Carcassonne airport is just 5km from the city centre. Flights are mainly to Dublin, London, Liverpool and Brussels as well as domestic flights to Paris. Toulouse, with its larger airport, is only 90km away.

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