Planning a trip to France in Sept 2013. Was thinking about a few days in Paris and a week in Carcassonne. Taking day trips from Carcassonne. Sugggestions? Then, maybe a week in another area of France. Suggestions?
We based ourselves in the tiny town of Esperaza (Maison de la Rivière B&B), 50 minutes south of Carcassonne. That placed us right smack in the middle of Kate Mosse territory! ;-) We had a lot of fun exploring this area: the Cathar strongholds of Montségur, Peyrepertuse and Quéribus; the mysteries of Bugaragh and Rennes-le-Chateau; the resurgence at Fontestorbes and the prehistoric cave at Niaux; the weekly market in Mirepoix; the wineries in Limoux and the waters of Rennes-les-Bains; as well as Carcassonne itself. My vote would go to the Dordogne for your second week. It is not a hugely long drive from the Carcassonne area, and you can easily build in stops at Albi, Cordes-sur-Ciel and the tiny village of Hautpoul on the way. From the Dordogne, it would be very easy to drop off your rental car in Bordeaux: TGV back to Paris or arrange your flights with BOD airport as your open-jaw for the return.
I think you could have an interesting week in Carcassonne, but it would not be my first choice as a base from which to explore SW France. Instead, consider a coastal city or town such as Montepiler or Perpignan, or small town on the Dordogne such as Beynac. The Dordogne base would not really cover the same ground, so perhaps it is an alternative or a candidate for your week no 2. I have to admit that I do not know the modern city of Carcassonne at all well, having stayed in the old Cite for our visit. (It makes a great overnight.) I am sure that Carcassonne proper has its charms, but were I to hunker down for a whole week I would want to base myself someplace especially pretty and interesting. Carcassonne's main attraction is wonderful, but I would not sign up for a week of it.
Carcassonne is worth a visit, including an overnight, but not for a week unless it's a good base for day trips in that region. The Dordogne is certainly worth four or five days, a week would be better. We stayed in Beynac and liked it as a base but there are many other options. Others on this board will have many other suggestions, like Provence and the Loire and Burgundy. You could easily use any available time in Paris, "a few days" would leave you unsatisfied unless you've been there before and seen most of what you want to. This is, as they say, a good problem to have. Most people try to cram too many places into too few days. Have fun figuring it out!
Agree with the others here. Carcassonne is great for a short visit, but a week is way, way too much. Keep in mind that Carcassonne is absolutely mobbed by tourists during the day in high season - having to elbow your way through the crowds take a lot of the charm away. During busy times, I'd suggest the usual strategy for dealing with charming small places that are just too popular with tourists (Mont St. Michel, Toledo, etc.) - arrive mid-afternoon, just as the day-tripping hoards are starting to head back to their bus, enjoy the place for a few quiet hours that evening, spend the night there, get up early and enjoy a few more hours when the place is quiet and all yours, then when the fleets of buses start arriving, get out and move on. Since you're going in September, you might escape the worst of the crowds (depends on if you'll be there Sept 1 or Sept 30...) but I would still plan for it to be a busy place filled with tourists. Driving in France should be a non-issue. The first 10 minutes of driving in any foreign country is always a little stressful as you make the small adjustments necessary, start feeling comfortable and get over your inner voice freaking out (screaming in your head "oh my god, I'm driving in FRANCE!!"). I'd suggest more caution if your first driving experience was in Paris (after arriving all jetlagged) but small towns in southern France should be delightful.
Thanks for your responses. I will reconsider my thoughts about a week in Carcassonne. Would you advise on renting a car. I'm just a bit anxious about driving?
I think that if you are spending a whole week in any region in France, and especially in SW France and the Dordogne, a car is almost a necessity. A car lets you (1) base yourself in small towns not served by rail or bus, (2) extend your reach for day trips into the countryside, (3) cover more ground, and (4) come and go as you like, on your own schedule. I would much rather drive in France than in Charlestown, by the way.
If you are not going to have a car, do NOT spend a week in Carcassonne. I spent a night there (quite sufficient, BTW) and while there met an English couple who had three nights there with no car. They were going nuts trying to find things to do, as it's not at all a good base for day trips without a car. Of course, a little research would have unearthed this fact before the trip, so I'm not sure why they did it. Don't make their mistake. If you want to base yourself in one place for a week and take daytrips without a car, one place that does work is Nice. From there, you can see LOTS of places by bus or train.
Hi Debbie, My husband & I were in Carcassonne last June. We spent two weeks in France: 2 days in Caen, 5 days in Paris, 5 days in Avignon, 1 night in Carcassonne, and the last night in Toulouse to fly back home. We never rented a car - we love traveling by train. I would recommend a different itinerary. We took a guided day tour (mini-van) to the Luberon villages, a train to Nimes to see the Roman structures, and a quick bus to Pont du Gard - all from our Avignon location. Avignon is a nice town and a lot in the area. But, I would recommend going east rather than west from Avignon. Carcassonne was "interesting" but not a must-do. The scenery west of Avignon wasn't as exciting as probably lots of other choices in France. By the way, we loved Caen, the WWII museum and Normandy Beach tour and absolutely loved our time in Paris.
If you're looking for a memorable way to spend a week in southern France,I would highly recommend renting a self-drive houseboat (sometimes called a barge, or penichette) and floating down a river. There are several companies that do this; we used Locaboat, and left from their base at Agen for a wonderful week on the River Baise. You can also choose the Canal du Midi route and pass Carcassone, although I believe this is one of the busier routes. On the River Baise, we would go for hours without seeing another boat. We stopped at tiny towns along the river that seldom get tourists. So peaceful and beautiful. Locaboat has bases in many parts of France (and Europe). Check out their website (locaboat.com). You don't have to be an experienced riverboat pilot; my husband had never driven anything other than small motorboats, and we did just fine. I was the navigator and lock opener -- a little nervous in the beginning, but it was lots of fun. We also went in September, so weather was gorgeous.
My apologies, I assumed that you would be renting a car. The Aude, Languedoc-Roussillon and Dordogne areas are all best visited by car, IMO. The driving is easy on the rural roads and they are well marked. I agree with Harold that Nice is an excellent base for exploring without a car. There are excellent bus routes into the hill towns and the train makes towns along the coast very accessible. For example, Menton, Monaco, Cannes, Grasse, and even Italy (Ventimiglia) are easy to get to without a car.