We are taking our first trip to France in January. We have six nights and plan to spend most of our time in Paris although we will be in Marseille for one night. Would really like to explore a great medieval castle. We will be taking public transportation. Is Carcassone worth an overnight trip or is there something closer to Paris that would have a draw bridge, lookout towers, a moat, etc?
Carcassonne is a 3 hour train ride (or drive) one way from Marseilles. It's over 750 km from Paris. With such a short trip, I dont see how you could realistically have time to go there, considering the time you are already taking for Marseilles. But the Chateau de Vincennes is a medieval castle within Paris itself, with a metro stop outside its gates.
I mean in a pleasant way, but you're sort of projecting a colonial (? I mean like me, Americanski) view of 16th Century English royal residences onto a land of 18th Century French royal residences. I wonder if your time might be best spent on the near full-day excursion (self-guided) to Versailles, and make the most of what Paris has? I mean, people book a week in the Loire just to visit Chateaux, which (mostly, there are exceptions) aren't exactly like medieval castles.
Next time you visit Europe, if you hit England or Germany, you might find what you want. Of course some castles are a bit "replica", like the ever popular Neuschwanstein.
Thank you for your advice. This trip is in celebration of a big birthday for my husband. He specifically told me that he'd like to see Carcassone which is why I was trying to see how feasible it was or if there was something similar closer to Paris that we could substitute. Traveling to Europe is not a common occurrence for us and though I hope to return in the future the last time we were there was 20 years ago shortly after we were married. So trying to make the most of the six days that we have this time. We are definitely planning to see Versaille!
If you told hubby that Carcassonne is the equivalent of a 19th century Disneyland would it reduce the need to visit? 😊
If you're in Paris and he wants to see an authentically restored medieval castle, Blandy les Tours is probably the closest.
The medieval castles I can mention are: Pierrefonds, Caen, Falaise, Gaillard, Vitré, Fougères, Dieppe, Sedan, Fort la Latte, Angers, Saumur, Haut-Koenigsbourg, Guédelon, Dourdan, Blandy and the medieval village of Provins.
As I am more interested in palaces, so châteaux from later periods in history, have only seen a few from the inside. Finding a pure medieval castle will not be easy as most have undergone modifications throughout time. Even a 19th century creation I still like Pierrefonds north-east of Paris as it dominates the whole place, however the inside is a bit empty. Both Caen and Falaise are huge, only visited the walls, think inside Caen has more to offer. Gaillard is a ruin and the view with nearby Andelys and the Seine river at the background is stunning. Went inside but didn’t really add something to the experience.
Vitré and Fougères are lovely, the latter really impressive, seen only the outside. Fort la Latte is also a 19th rebuilt, but has everything you are looking for. However inside there is not so much to see, the location on top off a cliff along the coast is unique and stunning. The same for Haut-Koenigsbourg in Alsace but early 20th century, well decorated inside with a stunning view of the Rhine Valley.
Angers is also huge with a museum housing an impressive tapestry. Provins is a small medieval village, still having some of it’s medieval walls. Guédelon is a medieval construction site using the original tools and techniques, unfortunitaly it’s closed during winter.
You can located these places with google maps, but know that many are closed during winter.
If you decide to keep in Carcassonne (and if it is truly on your husband's bucket list, I think you should, even with limited time), I definitely recommend staying overnight. This is to specifically enjoy it before and after the day-trip crowds have come and gone. One of my favorite memories was walking around the ramparts at dusk -- completely alone -- just as a massive owl took flight, close enough we could hear the wings beating. Seeing the fortress lit up at night was equally beautiful. You can argue for days about Carcassonne's authenticity and accuracy; the fact remains it is a wonderfully transportive place with a truly fascinating history. Spend the night and soak in that experience on your own terms.
BTW, I'll second the recommendation of the Château de Vincennes in the Paris suburbs. Such a delight and surprise. If he's broadly interested in medieval times, you also cannot beat the Cluny museum in Paris, which recently reopened after a major renovation. The unicorn tapestries are iconic.
These may be more castles, chateaux and medieval walled cities than you want to consider. 😉 As others have suggested, please pay attention to the opening days and hours for anything you want to visit, including castles. For example, these are the hours you'll encounter at Carcassonne in January: 9:30am-4:45pm. Last access to the Castle: 3:45pm. Last access to the Ramparts: 4:15pm.
About Carcassonne: https://www.remparts-carcassonne.fr/en/
Many years ago my husband and I spent 2 nights in a B&B inside the walls. It was in October, so it wasn't very crowded, but still warm enough to sit outside. I expect January, with its limited hours would be the same, but too cold for outside dining. We took the train from Antibes and a taxi to the gate. Then it was a steep walk with our backpacks up to the top. It's where I fell in love with cassoulet, the French stew with meat and beans. Yum!
From Travel + Leisure: https://www.travelandleisure.com/attractions/famous-french-castles
From Le Long Weekend: https://www.lelongweekend.com/best-castles-in-france-to-visit/
If you are thinking of doing the castle at Vincennes, bear in mind that a lot of it is in ruins, although it is possible to get an idea of how it looked if you have a good imagination. The beauty of it is that it is just a relatively short metro ride from Paris, and you can also wander through the grounds of the parc de Vincennes while you are there. Peter