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Published: June 13th 2009
La Cite at night
In the quiet moments Carcassonne's walled hilltop city felt very old worldly.
It’s early afternoon on Saturday of our early May bank holiday weekend and we’ve just landed at Carcassonne airport. As we walk across the tarmac to the terminal building we notice how small the airport is - it’s easily half the size of the Rocky Airport. Only in Europe could an airport this small be “international”…
After clearing the relaxed customs process we head outside and jump on the bus for the town centre. The bus ride really sets the scene for where we’ve decided to spend the weekend. The streets are full of 4WDs (the proper sort - covered in mud and animal manure, not designer shopping bags and baby seats) and there’s more dual cab utes than we’ve seen in the rest of Europe combined. Generally we get the feeling that we’re driving into the French equivalent of Longreach. Carcassonne is clearly very rural, which should make it down to earth, friendly, and able to be experienced in the short amount of time that we’ve got here.
Arriving on the edge of the centre of town we jump off the bus, walk a handful of blocks to our hotel and check in. Ariana gives her memorised French
In between walls
Nothing quite like a double set of walls to keep unwanted folk out!
“can we check in” phrase a go, which is met by a “Oui, but is it OK if I speak English”. Yes please.
So free of luggage we decide to head off to find out why everyone comes to Carcassonne - the walled old town (La Cite).
About 10 minutes walk from the hotel we’re about one third the way across the pedestrian bridge over the Aude River when we spot La Cite for the first time. It’s very impressive - the high grey bricked walls, the countless slate roof towers, all sitting on top of a small hilltop above the river.
It’s also very popular. As we continue up the hill with the walls getting closer and closer we draw level with a large car park, where there is a dozen coaches all lined up.
Despite the large number of buses when we eventually reach the entrance things aren’t too busy and we cross the dry moat, over the drawbridge (yep - a proper drawbridge) and into La Cite. We’re immediately faced with a street of souvenir shops, but despite their kitsch ness, the cobble stone street and looming walls are really impressive.
Inside La Cite
All very quaint.
walk in a straight line to the top of the hill and on reaching it we stop off at a café full of young locals for a cold beer. While enjoying our larger we weigh up the options for dinner and decide that we should eat in the centre of town - our theory is that it’ll be where the locals eat out.
So with the late afternoon sunshine lighting up La Cite we head down hill, back across the river into Carcassonne’s town centre for dinner. There really aren’t too many options and surprisingly even though it’s a Saturday night there’s not much going on. We take a recommendation from our guidebook, only to find that the restaurant looks to have ceased business. Eventually we find a restaurant that looks tempting and we take a table inside.
Carcassonne is famous for Cassoulet - a hearty white bean stew with chunks of pork, sausage, and sometimes duck. We order one each, some bread to start (can’t beat fresh French white bread), and a bottle of local red wine. Yum…
The food is fantastic. We love French food. Surely it doesn’t matter where you go in France good
Walls inside walls
The approach to the main castle part inside the walls of the La Cite
food is the rule - not the exception. We finish dinner with coffee and share a fantastic berry tart.
Stuffed, we trundle back to the hotel and crash out.
On Sunday morning we concede that our breakfast options are going to be a bit more extensive inside La Cite than in the town centre so we head back up the hill. After something to eat we decide that we’re going to do our best to see everything there is inside the walled old town - after all we’ve still got another day and half here so we can afford to see it all.
Far from a day and a half it only really takes us 3 hours. In that time we walk all the way around the outside and down every street inside the walls. So what now?
We leave La Cite, stroll through the gardens on the banks of the river Aude for a bit before walking back through the centre of town to the train station. Our plan is that we’re only an hour from Toulouse so we may as well head over to check out the ‘Pink City’.
At the train station
Canal Du Midi
Shaded for summer comfort
Ariana explains using our phrasebook what we want to do and when we want to go and come back. Once it’s all sorted, the price for the two tickets is calculated as 60 Euros. Ohh, ahh, nooo, sorry. We don’t really need to go to Toulouse that badly. Thankyou…
So plan B. Boat ride on the Canal du Midi? OK.
Conveniently Canal du Midi is right next to the train line, so we survey the two companies offering trips, realise that they both leave at 2:30, and decide to get some lunch before heading off. Amongst the limited city centre restaurants we find something to eat and before heading back to the Canal we pop into a bakery to pick some treats.
Ariana grabs a berry tart and Lachlan picks up the biggest Pain au Chocolat that we’ve ever seen (Fabian - if you’re reading our blog I know you told us what Pain au Chocolat is called in the South, but I forget, I’m sorry…).
Back at the canal we jump on one of the boats and it’s not too long before we head off. From Carcassonne we head upstream towards Toulouse. It’s very relaxing
Funky Wine Bar
As you expect to find in France
on the open decked boat. There’s a refreshingly cool breeze, and outside of the suburbs of Carcassonne the view from the canal is now of sheep paddocks, wheat fields, and vineyards.
Compared to English canals the Canal du Midi is much wider and the banks are lined with rows of trees. We continue upstream for about 40 minutes before we pass through an automated lock, cut a U turn and head back the way we came.
After the canal boat ride, we detour via the hotel for a short rest before climbing back into La Cite for a final farewell French dinner. We choose seats outdoors at a traditional looking restaurant and order two set course menus with local red wine. The pate and scollaps for starters are amazing, as is our main courses of duck and the desserts are a great way to finish. Ahh life isn’t too bad.
In the morning we have time for breakfast in La Cite, before checking out of the hotel, stopping by the city centre bakery for more massive Pain au Chocolats, before catching the bus back to the airport.
It’s been a while since we’ve been back to France, and we must admit that we’ve really enjoyed our weekend. Hands down, France has the best food in Europe.
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