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Alternative to Carcassonne as a base?

I was planning on staying in Carcassonne as my home base while driving around Languedoc-Roussillon, but then I read Cameron Hewitt's rather blistering blog post.

If not Carcassonne, then where? Which place would you recommend as a home base for Languedoc-Roussillon exploration?

Posted by
396 posts

There are two Carcassones. The stage-set tourist trap up the hill, and the bastide at its base. I stayed in both in June, the former with a Cathar country tour group, and the latter on my own, arriving and leaving by train. If you are planning to explore by car you will need to look vey carefully at options for parking.

Half a day was plenty in the Cité, but if you prefer wandering around a place where people actually live, the lower town would be a better (and cheaper) place to stay.

For an alternative base, consider Narbonne (much under-rated in my opinion) and Montpellier - a lovely town.

Posted by
4125 posts

I would not pick Carcassonne as a base for anything other than visiting Carcassonne. And your best base would depend at least to some extent on the location of the places you wish to see.

Minervois has a good reputation, but I have never been there.

Posted by
784 posts

We home based near Pezenas for a total of 5 weeks on two different trips. We went as far as Carcassone, Albi, Arles, Nimes, La Carmargue, Gorge du Tarn, and Collouire from this base. In addition, L'Herault has many areas of interest of its own, and Pezenas is a charming small town with lots of artisan shops, cafes and a weekly market. And the Mediterranean is just 30 minutes away.

Posted by
40 posts

Thank you. Hmm. We're coming from St-Jean-de-Luz on the Atlantic in the morning.

I see that it is only another 45-60 minutes from Carcassonne to Narbonne, so that may be do-able. According to Google Maps, the whole drive: St Jean-de-Luz -> Pau -> Auch -> Toulouse -> Carcassonne -> Narbonne is a bit more than 5 hours, just booting it straight through. So I guess you could easily do an 8-hour day what with meals and leg-stretches along the way.

Alternatively, I suppose we could spend a night in Carcassonne then plant ourselves in any of these other places for a few days. But we really try to avoid 1-night stops. The packing/unpacking etc. are a drag.

Posted by
16791 posts

Near Carcassonne, Rick's France book (p. 547) covers a couple of places to stay in the village of Caunes-Minervois. Our tours have stayed at Hotel d'Alibert. Frederic's cassoulet is marvelous (and Cameron Hewitt has not tried it).

Posted by
17098 posts

That was an hilarious post!

I skipped Carcassonne last year despite spending 1-1/2 months in southern France. (I went to Aigues Mortes, which is smaller and without pointy towers but I'd guess a bit similar.) I stayed in and liked Toulouse, Montpellier and Perpignan (the latter being definitely not as attractive, over all, as the other two). I enjoyed day-trips to Albi, Pezenas and Narbonne, plus other places a bit farther south.

I found Perpignan a really good base for day-trips, but I didn't have a car, and it's probably too far south for you. But it's cool that from Perpignan you can connect to the Yellow Train that runs from Villefranche-de-Conflent through the Pyrenees.

I'm not sure any of my three base cities would be ideal for someone having to deal with parking, but Toulouse is really striking. As a red-brick city, it has a look very different from other places you're likely to visit. It may be a more convenient base than Albi (except parking...). This area, to I guess no one's surprise, can be very hot in mid-summer. I about died the mid-June day I went to Albi, and the other spots weren't much cooler.

Posted by
159 posts

To drive through Toulouse and not stay there at least a day would be a shame. It is unique and beautiful as mentioned above. The cathedral of St. Sernin is really fantastic, and there are many other"walks" through the old town that are memorable and can be found on the tourist bureau
website. We also stayed a night at hotel D'alibert in Caunes-Minervois and enjoyed it. Collouire can also be great place to visit and take in the mediterranean breezes. All of the cities mentioned here and above are worth visiting, but not all necessarily easy day trips. I might consider 2 separate home bases to accomplish what you need.
Good luck
BT

Posted by
398 posts

Toulouse can make a good stop over, for certain. Carcassonne is worth a stop and a few hours, hopefully during an off-peak time. There are also some nice towns in the lower foothills of the Pyrenees. I've been to Minervois and while it is in a beautiful location, it's pretty remote and it's pretty tiny to use as a base. Narbonne and Montpelier are nice suggestions, or even Sete or another community down by the water (beautiful sand, but some towns like Canet are overrun with ugly condo blocks, however). Depending how wide you want to travel from your base, access to the tollway should be kept pretty simple.

And yes, I agree, cassoulet done properly is not bland but rich with intense flavors of the ingredients.

Posted by
40 posts

Thanks very much for so many useful and informative replies! :-) You've given us a lot to think about... RON

Posted by
1 posts

This past July (2017) I used Narbonne as a base, giving easy access for day trips to Toulouse, Carcassonne,
Beziers, Montpellier, La Carmargue, and the nearby beaches, Narbonne, Gruisson, Agde using the rental car picked up inbound at the airport in Marseilles.

Narbonne is a pedestrian delight with the canal as a focal point, and bicycle rentals available if you'd like a delightful canal-side/ vineyard ride to Med. Restaurants cafes, at all levels, although my favourite was the corner pizzeria, family run, take-only, and Les Halles, the large market building where REAL food is sold for you to prepare.......imagine!
Train access is easy; friends joined me from Avignon for a short stay. Airbb plentiful.

Posted by
2074 posts

On our RS Loire to the South of France tour we spent one night in lovely Carcasonne. It was well worth the stop to have the best Cassoulet EVER!!

Posted by
3841 posts

That post is pretty funny. We visited Car in 2015 - staying two nights. We had a car, but were coming from Avignon after taking the TGV from Paris. We toyed with the idea of going to Millau Viaduct on the way, but the train ended up delayed on the way down by 3 hrs or so, so we just booted it for Car, arriving in the evening. We had meal and settled in to our lovely airbnb.

Next day spent until early-mid-afternoon at the castle - this was early Oct, so crowds were pretty much non-existent - I enjoyed it more than I thought I would and picked up some nice souvenirs. After, we went and wandered around the town a bit, had some supper, then back to the room as it started raining.

Had I realized that there wasn't really much else in the town, we really could have left after the one night and headed back to the Provence area, where we were staying the next few days. But I'm starting to adopt the 'no one-night stays' philosophy of not rushing around when on holiday, which is why we stayed 2 nights.

Was it worth driving all that way for? For us, yes...we quite enjoyed it and my husband likes that kind of thing. One night would have been fine.

Posted by
396 posts

Having written rather disparaginly of Carcassonne above, I fell obliged to balance that view with a link to this post on the Taste of France blog, writtne by someone who actually lives there and recommends it as a base for exploring the area. It even made me feel I should return to try out some of her suggestions.
See also her recent post headed Secret Garden for another little-known delight there.

Posted by
26 posts

Another vote for staying in Caunes-Minervois! I have such great memories of a wonderful meal at Hotel d'Alibert. I didn't have the cassoulet, but Frederic introduced us to a dessert of warm goat cheese with lavender honey drizzled on top. I've always wanted to go back and stay in this village due to the proximity to Carcassonne, the Cathar influence of the region and the beautiful weather.

Posted by
1 posts

Highly recommend a stay at L' Ancienne Boulangerie in Caunes Minervois, as mentioned in Rick's France book (page 547) as a great alternative to staying Carcassonne. Excellent value. Owners are friendly, knowledgeable and proficient inn keepers. Well situated with a 20 minute drive of Carcassone. We had the pleasure of experiencing the amazing hospitality of Sara Carter on a recent stay in Chambre 5. We enjoyed delicious breakfasts and exceptional dinners at their B&B-- skillfully prepared with fresh local foods and beautifully presented. We loved the tablecloths in the dining room, fluffy big bath towels and wonderfully soft, ironed bed linens. Sara’s great connections and local knowledge helped link us to a wonderful wine tour, local restaurant reservations for fine dining and outside eating for quick, hearty, local bar food. She informed us of not be to be missed hikes and historic chapels, churches, museums, and sea salt harvesting ponds which are now part of the many highlights of our Languedoc-Roussillon trip. Seeing 100 year-old grape vines and centuries old castles checked a box for unforgettable memories. We’re already missing the wine and chips on the beautiful terrace while reading and visiting after a day of touring. L’ Ancienne Boulangerie is an outstanding old-world charm village home that opens a door to life in southern France. These caring hosts generously share their wonderful talents in helping guests experience l’art and joie de vivre of the Languedoc region! And, to correct what it says in the France book, they do take the usual credit cards, not just cash.

Posted by
11743 posts

I based in Carcassonne (at a campground walking distance to the La Cite) to visit Foix, Alet les Bains, Perepteruse and Queribus. I wasn't going east so I didn't visit Perpignon. Foix was my favorite (not on Rick's radar). I liked Carcassonne as a base but only went into La Cite one evening from about 8 until about 11.

The area is beautiful. It wasn't dry like Provence. It reminded me more of the rolling green hills of Burgundy; lots of forests and farms, with small villages. I didn't see anywhere else that seemed like it would make a good base.

I wasn't impressed with Rick's coverage of the area. Carcassonne at night was perfectly nice. But his review led me to avoid it during the day. I really like that it's open for visits at night, even if the places inside are closed. There are stripes on one side of the cite (supposed to be there for 100 days). It's an art installation. They only make sense from the entrance viewpoint on the opposite side from the popular entrance (they reminded me of the old TV show Time Tunnel).

I also liked Najac north of Albi. Najac has a nice castle and it's village and church are located along a ridge, very picturesque. Cordes sur Ciel (also trashed by Rick) lived up to it's reputation. The crowds in early June weren't bad and the town certainly competes as the prettiest anywhere. I didn't think much of Albi (Rick's recommendation). The church is good but the city is meh and I'm not a big Lautrec fan.

Not sure how far north you're are going. I was much less impressed with Rocamadour than Conques. Conques was terrific. Pech Merle was my choice for cave paintings. I was happy with my choice.

Once you get up to the Dordogne, I think Rick's recommendations are good.

Posted by
67 posts

We stayed in Carcassonne for 3 nights as a stop in between the Tarn (Puycelsi, Cordes) and San Sebastián. Excellent base. Walled old town worth at most 2 hours. Were in a lovely B&b across the river so from its terrace had a wonderful night time view. It is a good base: easy to rent bikes and cars. Bikes for a day outing along the canal midi with a lovely lunch at a canal lock station and a car (picked up from the station) for a day tour through the amazing Cathar castles to the south. And there a decent restaurants and far fewer tourists in the ‘new’ town. And the train connections are excellent.