Carcassonne Medieval city
Carcassonne is the most impressive fortified medieval town in Europe and is located just an hour’s drive east from Toulouse in the Southeast of France. This beautiful city is the perfect stop-over on the way from the Southwest to the Southeast of France (or vice versa). Carcassonne is also the gateway to Spain with Barcelona just one incredibly scenic TGV ride away.
Historically, Carcassonne is one of France’s most important cities. Situated at the epicenter of numerous historical routes, the city has been occupied for over 5,000 years and has been a cultural hub for the past 2,500.
In the middle of the 19th century Carcassonne was in such bad repair that it became scheduled for demolition. Fortunately it was saved by the efforts of the local mayor.
How to Get to Carcassonne
If you are coming from abroad, getting to Carcassonne can be a challenge (unless you are coming from Barcelona, in which case you can just get the TGV train). If you are coming from within France then the city is accessible by train or by car.
The closest airport to Carcassonne is Toulouse so if you are coming directly from abroad this is where you will need to fly in to. From the airport you can then hop on the 45-minute train from Toulouse Matabiau station to Carcassonne or you can hire a car and drive. Driving from Toulouse to Carcassonne takes around an hour.
Carcassonne also makes an excellent stop-over if you are travelling between the Dordogne and Provence. Situated almost exactly mid-way between the two, travellers can spend a day or two in Carcassonne before carrying on their journey.
Carcassonne Medieval City - ©Paul Palau
The Cathar Country
Sitting at the foot of the dramatic Pyrenees Mountains, not far from the Spanish border, is Cathar Country. Cathar Country, or Pays Cathare as it is known in French, is the region where Cathar history and heritage was most prominent. This area includes Montségur and Carcassonne.
Cathar Country is not just famous for its history – it is one of France’s most picturesque regions. Bathed in sunlight, Cathar Country boasts medieval castles hidden behind rugged swathes of natural beauty. You are sure to be left breathless as you explore this part of France.
HISTORY OF CARCASSONNE & the Cathar Country
During the 12th century in the South of France, a Christian religion different from Catholicism developed: Catharism.
This new belief was based on Christianity but was very critical of Catholicism and spread like wildfire through Occitania. To thwart this new religion, Pope Innocent III decided to start a crusade against the Albigeans. This point in history is responsible for some of the magnificent cliff-hanging fortresses found on the slopes of the Pyrenees.
Take the time while you are here to explore the Perpeytuse and Quéribus fortresses. Sitting atop their own respective mounds, these ruined castles are staggering in their size and certainly not to be missed.
Quéribus Cathar cliff-hanging fortress - ©Cucugan
Of course, if you’re really keen on fortresses then your first port of call should be the Carcassonne fortress. This is the largest fortified medieval city in Europe and never fails to impress.
It is believed that the earliest version of the fort dates back to 500 BC but Carcassonne fortress has had a lot of work done since then. The city was most notably restored in 1853 by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc and was later added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list in 1997.
Day Trips from Carcassonne
Whilst in Carcassonne, you’d be crazy to miss out on a day trip to Lourdes, which is less than a 3-hour drive away. Lourdes is one of the most popular Catholic sites on the planet and sees around 6 millions tourists and religious pilgrims every year.
Another fantastic day trip from Carcassonne is a visit to the vineyards of the Minervois. Drive for an hour into the rural beauty of France and reward yourself at the end with a glass of world-class wine. Just make sure you have someone else to drive you home!
If you consider yourself a history buff then why not head to the Tautavel Museum of Prehistory and see the oldest man ever found in France. On the way there you could stop in at Narbonne and check out the city’s stunning Old Town.
One final day trip option is to head to France’s Côte d’Argent (Silver Coast). Here sand meets sea and the whole thing is drenched in sunlight. Be sure to check out the quaint towns of Collioure, Banyuls sur Mer and Port Vendres.
Collioure on the Côte d'Argent
Where to Stay in Carcassonne
The great thing about Carcassonne is that it is just as impressive by night as it is by day. For this reason we have selected accommodation along the walls of the medieval fortress. Here you are perfectly positioned to make the most of the city.
If you would rather stay out in the countryside, we also have a range of properties along the Canal du Midi. This option offers guests ultimate tranquility and the chance to do some wine tasting with their host.
It is impossible not to fall in love with Carcassonne’s medieval charm. Let yourself be transported back centuries at a time with every step you take while you soak up the history that hides around every corner.
Canal du Midi in Carcassonne - ©Paul Palau