I have been wanting to talk to you about the region of Carcassonne for a long time. Carcassonne is really one of those medieval cities which are a “must-see” in France. To make long stories short: Carcassonne well-known for its citadel and for being a remarkable fortified cities whose influences date back to the Roman time when Provence and Languedoc were conquered by the Romans. They fortified the oppidum which took the name of Carcaso. After evolving under different influences (Visigoths, Saracens, the Franks…), the city largely bloomed during the Crusade. Its many rulers really shaped the fortifications which were later restored by the famous architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc in 1853. In 1997, it was added to the UNESCO world heritage and is now the second most visited French sites.
The streets of Carcassonne, image from TheGate.ca
You’ll probably wonder why I should make such a fuss about Carcassonne as it is far from being one of the most hidden French secrets…well, it is indeed true. Even though, I felt like, despite its fame, it is the place you cannot miss even if you have to endure a swarming summer crowd. Some places have this magical effect which makes you travel through time even deafened by the unremitting clicking noise of cameras. Creme de Languedoc is a BEAUTIFUL and SMART website which I highly recommend to understand the region. Among many many others, they wrote some articles about the city, its citadel and its ideal location.
View on the old city of Carcassonne from Roadtropper
Moreover, the region is conductive to much more unexpected discoveries which I wanted to share with you. Most of the tourists will unfortunately dash out of the bus to the doors of the old city, have their look around, be astound by its beauty, then head back to the bus and move on their ways to some other more beaten tracks. Yet, le Canal du Midi flows in the city and is a fantastic opportunity for a serene day on a slow-moving boat moving on the sleepy waters, which seemed to be rimmed by trees. Jump aboard the boat in Capestang or Narbonne for instance and get to Carcassonne through the waters. Some boats also act as hotel… a real opportunity to spend fairly unique vacations. Creme de Languedoc provides you with great listings of boat rentals, boat hotels…
That already seems like a busy schedule but I would like to talk to the most adventurous of you… The region of Carcassonne really developed during the age of Catharism (in between the 12th and 14th century). You probably wonder what Catharism is and you’ll be happy to know that I am going to try to explain it to you in three sentences (usually you’d get lumbered with a few pages). It was a Christian dualist movement with the idea of two gods: the good one of the New Testament, creator of the spiritual realm and the bad one of the Old Testament, creator of the physical world and mainly identified as Satan. Basically they considered that the human spirit was a pure angel trapped within the physical body created by Satan. A croisade was therefore launched against the Cathars in 1208, going along with massacres and the Inquisition concluded their uproot and scattering.
Castle of Lastours, picture of Francois Gemgembre
The Cathars built but also used older castles in the mountains or on hills to seek refuge against the persecutions and therefore the region overflows with castles ruins overlooking its astonishing landscapes. If those castles perched on plumb rock pinnacles remind you of something, it is probably because DaVinci Code was partly shoot there… Very closed to Carcassonne, you will find the castles of Saissac and Lastours which are really typical of the area. As they are less than 40 minutes drive away from one another, I would definitely recommend you to visit both… What would be the point of wavering?
The city of Saissac, a picture of Panos Panagiotis
If you are really fit and are looking for much strenuous kind of activities, the Cathar trail is meant for you. More than 250km long, it guides through the Languedoc countryside from Port-la-Nouvelle to the Mediterranean coast. On your way, you will walk across the Corbieres and its wonderful vineyard and will be able to feel very small at the Pyrenees foothills. Nine of the typical forteresses I just told you about scatter the way. There are 12 stages to this trail and while some of them are rather hard and long, some are more accessible to the casual walkers. This document will allow you to determine which treks is yours. And this one will tell you where you can stop on the way, eat, sleep…
The Cathar country, picture from LaBalaguere which organises group walk to the Cathar trail (check it!)
Last but not least, the area is very well-known for its wines. To mention some of them: Corbieres AOC (mainly red wines, large number of varieties among which Carignan, Grenache, Syrah) and Cabardes AOC (mainly red blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc with Syrah and Grenache).
Note: The featured image of this article comes from PicPic with other amazing photographies of Carcassonne that you should really have a look at.