One of the best-preserved examples of medieval life and architecture is the walled city of Carcassonne in the south of France. Though La Cité started out as a Roman hilltop fort, it was in the Middle Ages that Carcassonne hit its peak. In 1067, Carcassonne fell into the Trencavel family through marriage, allying it with other great cities of the south, such as Albi, Nîmes and Toulouse – even Barcelona. The already-medieval city was further gothic-ified by the Trencavels – including the Chateau Comtal in the centre of Carcassonne. What Carcassonne is perhaps most known for its role in the horrid Albigensian Crusades. Carcassonne was a sanctuary for the ostracised Cathars of the Pays d’Oc. A gnostic offshoot of Christianity, the Cathars were not accepted by the Catholic Church, who attacked Carcassonne in 1209, killed Viscount Trencaval, and ousted the city’s citizens, with Carcassonne eventually passing into the Kingdom of France. 300 years later, the Huguenots of Languedoc, including those of Carcassonne, didn’t fare much better. Despite its troubled history, today Carcassonne is a beautiful medieval masterpiece, a living replica of what life looking like hundreds of years ago.
Pro tip: Carcassonne is a very popular tourist destination. Visit only in the off season to avoid the worst of the crowds. There are accommodations in La Cite as well as the more modern side of Carcassonne. Another (more cost effective) solution is to stay in the less-popular Béziers, and train in to Carcassonne.
Europe is known for its castles. In fact, it has so many castles that countless sit neglected and forlorn, hidden in the woods, crumbling off cliffs, overlooking dusty train tracks, forever closed for non-funded restoration projects. Many are in disrepair. Some have become hotels, private residences or galleries of modern art. Carcassonne—well, it didn’t quite follow that path. One of the most famous castles in France, and certainly one of the most well-preserved medieval castles du monde, Carcassonne is a beautiful example of what happens to a walled city and chateau that is repaired, preserved, and promoted as a tourist destination. In summer, numbers of tourists soar, so perhaps try to avoid peak season. Settlement on the hill dates back to 3500 BC, though the castle itself is from the 10th-12th centuries. It is fortified by 3m of thick stone walls, and guarded with 52 impressive towers—including one called the “Inquisition Tower,” as it once housed the 13th century Catholic Inquisition. Crowds or not, Carcassonne is one of the best examples of a castle and fortified town that this magnificent continent has to offer, and merits a visit to southern France!
Carcassonne is a medieval fortification founded in the 5th century by the Visigoths (though the Romans had a fortification in the same spot dating back to 100 BC). Legend has it that it received its name from the castle châtelaine named Carcas who rang the bells at the end of a siege, thus “Carcas sona.” It is now a UNESCO site, but not only that, it is one of the most impressive and iconic castles on the continent…you can’t get much more fairytale than the Chateau de Carcassonne!