The medieval towers, citadel and castle walls of this world heritage site really are out of this world. If Disney imagined a fairytale town and built it in the shadows of the Pyrenees, Carcassonne would be it.
Sitting on a rocky hill, these ancient cobbled streets have been trodden since Roman times. La Cite, as the town within the city walls is known, is as charming as can be. There are pretty little squares, pavement cafés, gushing fountains and stunning views over the countryside. We’d advise going early morning or late afternoon. As France’s second most popular tourist attraction after the Eiffel Tower, it can be hectic during the day.
Outside the city, wall is the new town, Ville Basse. Dating from the Middle Ages, there’s plenty of character and history to be had here too. Lively shops, plenty of restaurants, shady squares and bars make it excellent for getting away from the crowds around the citadel.
Carcassonne is in the beautiful Languedoc-Roussillon region of south-west France. The countryside is a stunning mix of dramatic gorges, craggy hills and ancient woodland. Within an hour you can be in the mountains of the Massif Central or the Pyrenees, the wine regions of the Corbières or the Minervois, or basking on the Med. There are medieval castles and pretty villages at every turn. Plus, this is prime wine-making country.
Languedoc Roussillon might be laid back, but there is plenty to do. Pack a picnic and take a lazy trip down the serene Canal du Midi. By boat, bicycle or on foot, it’s beautiful any which way. Or visit the Basilica St-Nazaire, a Roman cathedral and one of France’s national monuments. Drop in on one of the many vineyards to sample the wares.
Or just go with the flow, forget the time and allow the charms of rural life to wash over you. We think you’ll love the easygoing vibe of this historic region.
Vibrant Limoux is known for being one of the friendliest towns in the south of France. Say bonjour to museums, markets and a thriving café culture. They know how to celebrate too. Limoux hosts a three-month long carnival from January to Easter, when a whirlwind of masked dancers and musicians spill through the streets.
The ‘pink city’, Toulouse old town is a compact warren of winding cobbled streets lined with the rose-coloured buildings that give it its nickname. It's perfect to explore on foot, especially since few cars can make it through the narrow lanes. There’s plenty of culture, art and entertainment – and make sure you sample some of the candied violets the city is famous for.
We highly recommend Collioure as a pretty coastal treat. Under a castle on a cliff, there is a lovely beach and the sea is teeming with life – expect fish swimming around your ankles. It’s also very arty, as the place where Matisse and Derain invented Fauvism, so bring your watercolours to unleash your inner artist.
Las Tour castle
The region is famed for its medieval castles. In the undulating hills of nearby Haut-Minervois sits one of the most picturesque. Las Tour’s four towers sit along the spine of a hill, just above a small village. It has an intimate and atmospheric feel. On the way back, pop into the pretty village of Caune-en-Minervois, with its medieval abbey and winding streets.
Wine is everywhere in the Languedoc region, but Carcassonne is ideally placed between two of the finest wine-growing areas – Minervois to the north, and Corbières to the south. Take an organised tour, or just pop in for a bit of a taster. The scenery is stunning, and the wine isn’t half bad.
Cité des Oiseaux
That’s the adults happy. What about the kids? We think Cité des Oiseaux, City of Birds, will do the trick. In Carcassonne town itself, impressive birds of prey soar through the air while smaller birds and animals can be petted. Watch out for some very friendly parrots.
This charming region is all about produce. Markets are stuffed with the freshest ingredients including mushrooms, chestnuts, honey, game and goats cheese. You’re guaranteed to eat as well as you ever have.
Many traditional dishes have Catalan influences. The biggest speciality is the cassoulet, a hearty stew that you’ll find almost everywhere. There’s also brandade, dried cod wrapped in beet leaves, or you could try Morue à la Catalane, cod with tomatoes and pepper.
If you’re up for it, snails are a favourite here, produced in the local style known as cargolade – grilled in their shells with salt, pepper, herbs or lard. For pud, try crème Catalane, a bit like a lighter crème brulée.
The region is famed for its wine production. Expect to find great quality, great value wines in plentiful supply.
In keeping with the mellow vibe of Carcassonne and its surrounds, the best restaurants are pretty little local places, often happened on by chance. Rustic cafés and bars serve the freshest of produce, and Spanish influence can be found in those that serve food tapas-style.
If long, lazy lunches in a slow-paced rural idyll, complete with imposing castles, acres of vineyards and picture-perfect villages are your thing, we think you’re going to like it here.
Nature lovers will be in their element. The varied and dramatic countryside never fails to impress. You could spend weeks in this region, and still not discover everything it has to offer.
Towns such as Toulouse change the pace if you want. Carnivals, museums, culture and the arts are all here for the taking. And of course, you are not far from the coast, if you fancy a dip in the sea.
The best way to make sure your holiday to Carcassonne is hassle-free is to book with easyJet holidays. You can even save on the total cost when you book your flight and hotel together,