Making your way up the winding paths, you look over your shoulder and see the city and the canal below. You follow the crowd who are heading for the Chateau Comtal. The Castle is protected by thick walls and embrasures to prevent attackers from breaching the inner citadel. For a moment you have to remind yourself that you’re not a time traveller, you’ve just come to the beautiful city of Carcassonne.
The gigantic fortifications are the results of hundreds of years of strategic strengthening. The Romans were the first to wall the hilltop, and Carcassonne was since improved significantly by various rulers, including the Franks, Saracens and Medieval French. While one side of the city has spread and developed across the River Aude, the houses behind the walls of the old city still appear to have changed little over the last score of centuries.
Among the narrow, winding streets, there are plenty of little gems that can be explored on your labyrinthine journey through the town that time forgot. See the bust of Lady Carcas – a Saracen princess, from whom the name of the castle is derived, marvel at the twin towers of Narbonne Gate and make sure you pay a visit to the Maison de la Chevalerie. Guided tours will grant you access to the Chateau Comtal, where secret passages, grand rooms and impressive towers will take you through the full history of Carcassonne.
The area around the fortress also holds numerous places that are worth visiting. Walk across the stunningly beautiful old bridge Pont Vieux that leads from the castle and to the city on the other side of the river. Here you can visit the Museum of Fine Arts immediately on the other side, before making your way to the Carcassonne Cathedral and then the Carnot Square for a light lunch.
Along the western parts of the new town, the UNESCO Heritage Site-listed Midi Canal flows along meticulously engineered streams, lines and locks. This masterpiece of French tenacity was built to connect the Atlantic Ocean with the Mediterranean, and boat tours will take you down a waterway full of history and beautiful scenery.
Further outside of the city you can also visit the romantic Lac de la Cavayere, as well as Le Parc Australien, where you, for a day, can travel from the Middle Ages of Carcassonne to the Australian outback, full of kangaroos and other antipodean creatures.