Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Carcassonne is a ‘must visit’ stop-off point for your boating holiday on the Canal du Midi. Below we will introduce you to the history of one of France’s most famous medieval cities, before going into more detail about what to see and do once there.
The fortifications that you see erected on the hill around Carcassonne date back to the pre-Roman period. Today, the city is an outstanding example of a medieval walled city with its huge defences surrounding the castle and its buildings, the network of streets and a beautiful Gothic cathedral. Carcassonne is of exceptional importance thanks to restoration work that was undertaken in the second half of the 19th century by Viollet-le-Duc. This work was to have a profound influence on the future development of conservation principles and techniques.
The good news for those with an interest in historic buildings and monuments is that the main sights of Carcassonne are all within easy walking distance of each other. It’s possible to moor your canal boat in the Carcassonne’s port and then walk (allow approximately 30 minutes) into the city. Alternatively, for a small fee, there is a shuttle transfer that regularly passes the port and will drop you into the heart of the city centre.
Castle and ramparts: discover the castle and ramparts of the city of Carcassonne – explore a world heritage site as classified by UNESCO. Three routes with themes ranging from 45 minutes to an hour and a half are available and all free of charge. Alternatively, for the full experience, you might wish to enjoy a two-hour conference tour hosted by a guide from the city tourism office!
La Basilique de Saint-Nazaire: Pope Urbain V ordered the construction of the La Basilique de Saint-Nazaire in 1096. It is famous for its large rosette-shaped windows, one of which is located on the north side and dates back to the 13th century and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary while another to the south represents Christ in his majesty..
Carcassonne in celebration: every year since 2006 this vibrant city has hosted one of France’s finest festivals. It provides an exceptional backdrop for concerts, theatre, opera, dance and cinema – every form of art is catered for! The festival runs throughout the month of July and hosts a mix of national and international artists. In addition to the main festival programme (festival “IN”) which requires tickets there is also a free to attend “OFF” event which features around 80 different shows (out of the 120 or so that make up the full festival of Carcassonne). More information can be found on the official website of the festival.
Fireworks on the 14th July: Carcassonne is possibly the prettiest setting for a Bastille Day firework display! Known to be the second largest celebration in France it is truly spectacular watching the multicoloured explosion of light and sound in the night sky above the towers and ramparts of the city. Make sure you remember to bring your camera to capture this truly breath-taking experience!
Sword swinging in the city: enjoy a medieval show of jousting, sword fights and impressive horse riding all set within the wonderful surrounds of the walled city. Although this may seem like a typical tourist activity, these shows that run every day are actually a hugely impressive and entertaining production of horse-riding skills and combative competition which will delight both the young and old - worth every penny of the ticket price.
Thrills and chills:if you’re brave enough then we challenge you to visit Musée de la torture (translated as Museum of Torture!). It is only a small venue but is filled with many instruments of torture that were used throughout the middle ages and although not for the faint-hearted, at least you can walk around safely in the knowledge that the only places these instruments are found in modern life is within this museum!
Stardom on the big screen: the city of Carcassonne is a historic fortress built on ruins and that can make as a great backdrop in a blockbuster! Famous films such as ‘Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves’ were shot in Carcassonne whilst it is also said that the city inspired the great Walt Disney for the castle in Sleeping Beauty.
Explore on foot: there are four entrances to the medieval city and exploring on foot is probably the best way to get a true feel for this beautiful and interesting place. You’ll stroll through tiny winding streets and find a mix of beautiful little buildings alongside impressive structures such as the Basilique de Saint-Nazaire. All this gives you an insight as to what life in the city was like over the centuries. The detail and medieval charm is apparent on every street corner so make sure you walk in the alleys with your eyes wide open so as not to miss the many jewels the city has to offer.
Cheers to all wine lovers: the region of Carcassonne is accredited by both AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) and IGP (indication géographique protégée) which means there are plenty of high quality wines to be enjoyed. Named wines to look out for are Cabardès, Corbières, Minervois, Limoux and Malpère. The tourist office of Carcassonne offers organised wine tasting experiences and visits to vineyards and wine estates, including half-day excursions by mini-bus.