Carcassonne was the site of an oppidum (fortified settlement) in the Gallic period and then a Roman town around which powerful ramparts were built. In the 12th century, it became a major civil and military power in the south of France. Nestled between the Montagne Noire and Corbières ranges, the fortified city in Aude is today one of the biggest citadels in Europe and the second most visited tourist site in France after Mont-Saint-Michel. Come and see it.
A walk along the Carcassonne ramparts
30 km away from your holiday residence, Carcassonne is not to be missed during your stay in Aude, at the heart of the Minervois region. The Cité de Carcassonne has been listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO since 1997. It owes its reputation to the double outer walls, three kilometres long, and flanked by 52 defensive towers. Two routes along the inner ramparts give visitors a spectacular view over the Montagne Noire range from the Gallo-Roman ramparts to the north, and the lower town, Saint Nazaire basilica and the Pyrenees from the medieval western rampart.
A visit to the Château Comtal and Saint-Nazaire Basilica
Behind the Carcassonne ramparts stands the Château Comtal, a castle built in 1130 by the Viscount Trencavel. A real fortress within a fortress, the castle was rebuilt many times in the course of its history, then restored by Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century. A visit to the castle lasts about one hour. You will get to see the courtyards and the Palace, the main buildings, the castle keep and the Stone Museum. The castle keep is home to a magnificent wall painting showing the combat between Christian and Saracen knights. In the Viscounts Room is another eye-catching treasure: a celestial vault painted with lapis-lazuli oils. After greeting the statue of "Dame Carcas", whose legend gave the town its name, you can also admire the collection of Roman and medieval sculptures on display at the Stone Museum. Did you know? The castle is said to have inspired Walt Disney for the castle in "Sleeping Beauty".
After your visit to the Château Comtal and the ramparts, set off to explore Saint-Nazaire Basilica, built between the 9th and 14th centuries. The cathedral is nicknamed the "city's jewel" for its wonderful stained-glass windows and two rose windows, which are among the finest works of their kind in the south of France. The basilica harmoniously combines the Romanesque and Gothic styles. The red doors and the gargoyles overhead are also well worth a look.
A visit to the Bastide Saint-Louis
Standing at the foot of the Medieval City, on the left bank of the River Aude, the Bastide Saint-Louis is Carcassonne's second medieval town. Also known as the "Lower Town", it was built during the reign of Saint Louis, in about 1250. Access is by the Old Bridge, which was for a long time the only way of reaching the Medieval City. Visitors love to lose themselves in the winding maze of streets lined by the residences of rich Renaissance cloth merchants and a whole host of striking buildings: Saint Michel Cathedral, Saint Vincent Church, the Corn Exchange, the Neptune Fountain and the old Présidial (law court), now home to the Fine Arts Museum. Don't miss the market on Place Carnot (formerly Place aux Herbes), one of the oldest markets in south-west France.
Other architectural treasures to see
The medieval city of Carcassonne, with 2,500 years of rich history, contains many other gems: the Inquisition Tower with its sinister dungeon, Saint Gimer church, the old Micheline Palace and the Grand Puits which, according to legend, contains the treasure of the Temple of Solomon, hidden there by the Visigoths in the 5th century. The Inquisition Museum deserves a special mention. The museum has a wide array of instruments of torture used in the Middle Ages to force the Cathar heretics, dissidents and others opposing the Catholic Church to confess. Not for the faint-hearted! Your holiday residence in Carcassonne is also a chance to enjoy a trip on a barge or a scow along the Canal du Midi. The canal is listed as part of World Heritage by UNESCO. Plenty to make your stay in Aude even more unforgettable!