Why you should explore France’s medieval past

A visit to France is incomplete without having been to Carcasonne, home of a very rare medieval walled city. On a weekend trip away, we experienced the best of southern French hospitality and history.
We hadn’t previously had the honor of learning about Carcassonne prior to this trip. Having now been there, I would recommend Carcassonne to you as a must-see destination in Europe. Ancient pre-Roman architecture, history, and world-class food. What more could one ask for?

Carcassonne is by no means a bustling town. At least, it wasn’t in March, which is still the quiet season for tourism in Europe. Carcassonne is famous as a haven for character and culture. It’s clearly divided into two sections; the old town medieval city and the new town area. We took the opportunity to stay just outside the medieval city in a cosy AirBnb – a great choice. It gave us views of the medieval towers and walls, with a short walk to the new town’s quality cuisine via a picturesque footbridge.

Exploring the medieval city itself is a real treat. Spacious and fully enclosed with tall castle city walls, restaurants and shops, it’s well equipped for an afternoon of stepping back in time. There are plenty of alleyways to duck and weave between, all cobblestone. If you purchase the full tour (it’s cheap and I highly recommend it), a guide will explain the city’s impressive history and allow you to explore the upper castle walls. On a clear day, you can even see the nearby Pyrenees mountain range!

We were surprised by the high quality and value in every meal that we had in Carcassonne. It’s definitely a great foodie destination. Crepes are a specialty in southern France, much to our delight, with Creperie Le Ble Noir certainly earning my personal recommendation. Book early and arrive on-time – there’s not much space in this tasty restaurant. Another great experience is the Cassoulet dish, which is also quite popular in the area. Artisan chocolatiers happily dot the new town district – be sure to try a few!

The excellent food certainly fueled our sense of adventure. One of the interesting things about the medieval city is that it’s still entirely accessible at night. A small percentage of people actually dwell in it. Naturally, I wanted to check it out in the evening, so at 10pm we climbed and scrambled up a secret southern entrance. We technically could have just used the main entrance, but that’s no fun, is it? In either case, the city is brilliantly lit up at night and makes for a peaceful leisurely stroll through a fascinating remnant of history.

Overall, Carcassonne is definitely a destination you shouldn’t miss. Perfect for a weekend trip or in addition to nearby interesting French towns like Narbonne. My tips for visiting Carcassonne:

  • It’s a very popular destination in the summer. Book everything including restaurants early.
  • Visit the medieval city more than once. You’ll notice things you didn’t the first time around.
  • Take the full of the medieval city. It’ll give you access to exclusive areas of the city walls, with great views.
  • There’s a regular short bus from the airport to the main section of town. I wouldn’t call it value for money, but it’s better than a taxi and there’s no need to book.
  • Around 2 days is a good amount for Carcassonne. If you have more time, book some day trips to nearby towns.
  • Here’s some other good food recommendations for Carcassonne.