Until a year ago, I’d never heard of Carcassonne.
A view of the Pyrenees from the train from Barcelona.
But after Paris, it is the most-visited attraction in all of France and a UNESCO World Heritage site. And here we were, staying at a comfortable B&B (La Posada del Castillo) at the foot of the fortifications, and preparing ourselves to get lost within its walls once Skip and Harriet arrived – their flight out of MIA had been delayed due to a tornado (!) at the airport, and they spent an unplanned night in Marseille.
A view of the fortifications from the terrace at La Posada del Castillo.
Frankly, it wasn’t easy to move ourselves from our comfortable perches on the terrace at La Posada. Our hosts Enrique and Lola spoiled us with delicious food and enthralling conversation about the castle’s history and information about the region.
The tapas dinner at La Posada included serrano ham and duck pate.
We basked in the sun like cats, soaking up its warmth, for it wasn’t especially warm here, though we were comfortable in the sunlight.
Finally, we did go exploring, and we did get ourselves lost inside. The fortifications – perhaps the oldest and largest in Europe – date back to Roman times, and have been added on to in different eras. The latest restoration was over 200 years ago, and though there is debate as to its authenticity, it is nevertheless stunningly beautiful. And the scale of it is breathtaking.
Views of the fortifications, as well as views from Carcassonne of the surrounding countryside and the town outside of it.
Inside the fortifications, there are courtyards and cobbled streets. And shops and restaurants. Lots and lots of those. I’ve heard reviews of Carcassonne refer to it as a tourist trap, and the shops – and the largely undistinguished (from outside) goods lend credence to that.
Rick at lunch, where we had cassoulet; Carcassonne is one of the birthplaces of the iconic stew. And then shops, including an enticing candy shop which we did well to walk out of before succumbing.
But it’s a very picturesque tourist trap, and because we are visiting in May, not an unusually crowded one. Though Enrique assured us that in July, the streets of Carcassonne are a river of humanity. I’m not sorry about our timing.
Eat your heart out, Disney World!
Naturally, a walled city must have a church, and the Basilica of St. Nazaire is an exemplary one. As we gazed upon the elaborate stained glass windows, it was almost possible to forget the Crusades and the other killing (for which Carcassonne is ideally designed) done in the name of religion.
A gargoyle on the church, which is a combination of Gothic and Roman styles.
The number of man-hours it took to create these windows is mind-boggling. The Church must have been a big employer in those days!
As beautiful as Carcassonne is by day, it is incomparable by night, when it is lit up from below. My camera and meager skills could hardly do it justice. An old bridge over the river Aude provides an optimal vantage point.
Views at sunset and in the dark.
We end up staying up far later at night than we do on our boat. The sun sets in this region far later than it does at home, and people in the south of France dine and stay out much later than we are used to.
A glass of exemplary Minervois rose in a wine bar inside Carcassonne.
But once we sleep, the dreams are sweet.