We were thrilled when our friends Shawn and Kate wanted to make visiting us in France a part of their honeymoon. They begin in Paris, trained down to Montpellier, and just needed to get to Toulouse by the 25th to catch a flight to the next part of their trip in Greece. We were happy to take them to Toulouse, since we’d never been, and decided to break up the 2.5 hour drive with a side trip to the medieval town of Carcassonne.
Carcassonne was once a very important, strategic stronghold due to its location between multiple trade routes. The old town, fortified part of town, called La Cité, consists of a bustling tourist town, the church, Basilique St. Nazaire, the Hôtel de la Cité, and the giant castle, Château Comtal. The side trip was perfect because it was exactly halfway to Toulouse and we could spend the whole day walking the 2 miles of city walls (built by the Romans) and touring the castle from the 13th century. And Shawn Loves. That. Shit. He said it was his favorite thing he did in France. We arrived around noon and decided on a plan of walking through La Cité, having a quick lunch, and touring the Château Comtal.
Walking through the windy, touristy, alleyways within the city walls is a bit like walking through Epcott, but not quite as bad as going through Colonial Williamsburg. Which is what Kate was expecting. She kept laughing saying she really thought there would be more people dressed in costumes, demonstrating how to churn butter and make soap. There was none of that, but there were plenty of souvenir shops tucked in between the restaurants, gelato shops, and Torture Museums.
We stopped for lunch in the Place Saint Jean because we read it was an area with the best view of the Château. We had some salads and drinks at Adélaïde and soon we were ready for our self guided tour.
The Château Comtal is a huge castle that once housed Count Comtal and was restored in 1853 by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. But the main thing you need to know about the Château Comtal is that it’s where Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was filmed. We made a lot of jokes about this. And about Game of Thrones. And Downton Abbey. It was a great day.
To cross the barren moat (it was actually never filled with water!) and enter the Château, you must first purchase a ticket for 8€ and you can also get an audio tour if you’re so inclined. Once inside the castle, you’re lead to a small theater where they show an 11-minute video about the history of Carcassonne and the efforts to rebuild the Château Comtal. Afterwards, you just follow the signs through the Château and around its walls, taking in all the beautiful views.
There were a lot of interesting statues and artifacts inside as well.
We spent about an hour to an hour and a half touring the castle. I’m sure it would have been longer if we’d done the audio tour, but we decided to just relax, take it all in, and learn only what Rick Steve’s decided to tell us in his book.
And of course we had one last stop before headed off for Toulouse.
À bientôt, Carcassonne! Thanks for a great afternoon!