The Real Carcassonne

As we headed towards the old fortified town, I couldn’t get the board game Carcasonne out of my head. I had images of cute medieval buildings and cobbled streets and surprisingly, I was spot on!

We first had a big walk up to the town’s walls. We had parked the van half an hour away and opted for a leisurely stroll along the river and then up the hill (urgh, hills) to Carcassonne. As I walked in through the entrance, it immediately struck me that this was another tourist trap.

People from all over crowded the tiny streets, cooing over trinkets in the little shops or clambering for seats in the many restaurants. As two travellers on a budget, we walked straight through the throngs and wondered if there was anything to do here that didn’t involve buying things!

It was then that we stumbled upon the basillica, and though it was interesting, it was covered in scaffolding and the area you could go into was tiny. The only thing really worth admiring was a huge beautiful stained glass window inside.

We carried on ambling and came across the jewel of Carcassonne – its 12th century castle. Amazingly, it is one of those attractions that is free to EU citizens under 25 years old, so we flashed our passports and strode in to survey the information panels!

We opted not to buy an audio guide and I’m glad we didn’t because there was plenty to learn without them, with lots of panels dotted around everywhere in French and English translations. It took us a couple of hours to get round the whole castle as we wanted to take everything in and understand properly how the castle defences worked.

When we wandered out after completing the castle, we felt like we’d seen enough of Carcassonne (it is very small inside the walls), so we went back to Victor the van via a different route – along the walls and down to the opposite side of the river and through some parks. We were lucky with the weather as it was gloriously sunny and if you’re ever in Carcasonne with the sun, I recommend you to go on a wander too! The land surrounding the town is just as beautiful.

When we visited, there was an art installation on the walls by an abstract artist – big yellow rings that could be seen from miles away. Apparently some local residents don’t like it, but it’s only a temporary exhibition and will be removed in September.

We made it back to the van and congratulated ourselves once again on a tourist trap trip without spending a cent!

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