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What's wrong with Carcassonne?

My wife and I prefer small town/ village well off the main tourist path travel.

Planning our July/August trip to France I decided to include the tourist mecca Carcassonne.
I had wanted to get there during my backpacking days in the 80s and never made it.
Our other plans would have us heading in this direction and also our dates would match up with the Carcassonne finish of stage 15 of the TDF.
My research kept uncovering terrible negatives.
Apparently the plan should be to get in and out in the shortest possible time.
Visit the Cite then get the heck out of Dodge.
Our timeline was going to mean at least 3 nights. Was this going to be a terrible start to our French trip?

We arrived by train and found our cosy first night hotel near the station. After freshening up and getting the inside oil from our hosts off we went.
Well. We found ourselves exploring a beautiful small town. Great architecture,abundance of historic charm. Lively and busy but not particularly touristy.
After an hour exploring we crossed the bridge and headed toward those mighty walls on the hill. Even the walk from the bridge up to the Cite was attractive.
Our timing was good as the crowds were pouring out the gate. We spent another hour or so up there before slowly wandering back down into town. We found a nice pub for a drink and sat at one of the many restaurants around the town square for a meal.

Next morning up at dawn and up the hill to check out the Cite. What a place it is. At 6.30 am you have it pretty much to yourself and it is amazing. Wandering around the nearby vinyards I was able to get some amazing photos. The jog back as the town was awakening was very pleasant.

After a nice brekkie and chat to the other guests it was time to move. The square was now abuzz with the farmers market. What a delight this was. We gathered up a fine collection of edibles for a picnic lunch.
Wespent some time exploring more of the little laneways, nooks and crannies before working our way back toward the Cite.
A picnic lunch overlooking the town then braved the crowds. We did the Comtal/ramparts tour. That led us back into the heaving tourist hordes. We survived the crush and squeezed past the tacky souvenir shops.
Back out the gate we could relax and enjoy the incrdible medieval wonder.
Back to town and collect our luggage to move into our new lodgings. A b&b near tomorrow's TDF finish.
The accomodation was nice and it introduced us to another interesting neighbourhood of historic charm.
By the evening there was no trace of the market and the square was full of hungry diners. A quick pint of cider at the pub then pull up a chair at a restaurant.
A post meal meander through town. Checked out the illuminated walls of the Cite. Then through narrow laneways to the b&b.

Next morning the town is heaving. I am up at dawn but plenty is happening already. Media everywhere. The TDF is coming to town.

We had a pleasant morning including a visit to a wonderful museum/gallery. After lunch we found our spot. 100 metres from the finish line with the big screen in full view. The crowd built steadily. Sponsors kept us entertained. This is a carnival as much as a bike race. We waited hours watching the race on the big screen. Banging on the sidings to get lollies, t shirts, hats etc from sponsors. Then whoosh the leader flew by. I was sprayed by his sweat.

Once most of the riders were in the crowd broke up. We followed a musical conga line toward our b&b but got caught up among the riders and fans mingling together.

We eventually made it "home" still buzzing from all the excitement.
One last visit to the Irish pub. Another meal in the square.
The next morning we were off. We wandered along the canal and up to the station.
While waiting for the train I could only wonder what was wrong with Carcassonne? Whatever it was we must have missed it

Posted by
16752 posts

Maybe all the people who live and die by internet reviews were missing, leaving others free to enjoy the town.

Posted by
1143 posts

I spent a day there about 20 years ago and would have enjoyed more time.
I'm glad that you found it delightful.

Posted by
1878 posts

I also visited Carcassonne and enjoyed it. This was back in 2003, walking the wall after dark was a highlight. I did sprain my ankle though and the darkness might have contributed to that.

Posted by
3932 posts

We visited in 2015 and stayed for two nights. We didn't arrive until after supper the first day (having had a train delay into Avignon, then drove to Carcassonne). The next morning we walked over to the Cite - and I thought we'd maybe spend a few hours there, but we were there until early-mid afternoon - I quite enjoyed it, and liked looking thru the shops within the Cite (I have some nice souvenirs from there including a teacup and some prints done by a local artist on my dining room wall). We walked down to the middle of town and had supper and wandered a bit - I really feel we could have skipped that and could probably have moved on to our next destination instead of spending another night, but we really did enjoy the Cite. We timed it well, as we were there in early Oct, and the only crowds were some school kids on a field day.

Perhaps we should have explored the town a little more, but we were pretty tired from tramping around the Cite!

Posted by
5568 posts

The formula for places that are being loved to death is simple: be there when the crowds thin out. Stay the night. Get up early (really early). Wander after dinner. Go armed with the knowledge that it's gonna be a zoo from 9 am to 5 pm, gird your loins, and make the best of the time you have. Works in Carcassonne, Mont St Michel, Cinque Terre, Toledo, and most other places that have become screen-savers around the world. Glad you enjoyed your time there.

Posted by
12882 posts

Hi,

I visited Carcassonne once, did a day trip there. That was in the summer of 2001, a very nice and interesting place. Would I go back again were I in its vicinity? Yes, if I had ample time for another day trip. In 2001 I had ample time to explore the town.

Posted by
3343 posts

Agree, "nothing wrong with Carcassonne." We were there in 2013 for one night. Like other overly touristy locations, Carcassonne became magical at night. I can still taste the BEST CASSOULET at La
Maison du Cassoulet. Darn, so envious of the conga line! Thanks for reminding us of this enchanting
Historic fortified city! Great report.

Posted by
5251 posts

We had two nights and a day there several years ago, in the spring, and enjoyed it. We stayed just below the ramparts, in a place I wouldn't recommend but it was close and inexpensive. Our host recommends spending a night inside the walls to get the late evening and early morning experience, and I think his guidebook also notes that the "new town" is attractive and interesting -- sadly, we didn't spend much time there.

Of course the Tour was a bonus, would have been a great experience in any town. Glad you had a good time with it all.

Posted by
1669 posts

We really enjoyed our time in Carcassonne September, 2018. We stayed at a hotel within the ramparts for two nights. We spent our one full day exploring the Cathar castles and enjoyed two evenings exploring the medieval cite. We did NOT enjoy the Rick recommended restaurant our first night but were happy with our choice the 2nd night.

Posted by
3551 posts

The walls are amazing and worth plenty of time. Evenings are wonderful with the lighting etc.

Posted by
86 posts

We were just there 11/15-22 (we move slowly). We mostly had the place to ourselves, and the weather for our castle and ramparts tour was perfect (overcast, light breeze, low 60s temp). Several times, I thought about how hot it must be there in summer. We stayed just over the bridge and walked all around on both sides of the water. I enjoyed a hammam and pedicure just outside the walls. And we didn't have to wait to see the cite lit up because it was dark by 5:30pm.

Posted by
189 posts

David. Yep best way to see touristy sights is early or late. I saw the sunrise over the med each morning in Collioure. WOW !!! The light in that place is amazing. No wonder so many artists were drawn to it.

The thing about Carcassonne is there is a real living town full of charm, history and fun outside those famous walls.
Most of the stuff I have seen dismisses the rest of the town. I would suggest that it is worth while to slow down and enjoy the whole of Carcassonne not just the Cite.
There may not be a long list of "must see" sights outsode the walls. But "must see" sights are not everything. I think sometimes we forget to soak up the full experience of the wonderful places we visit.

Posted by
11805 posts

The knock on Carcassonne is the number of people mid-day, high season. Apparently, it's a zoo and tourist trap. I was there in June last year and had a nice time camping walking distance from the old cite. I didn't go in during the day but used it as a base and explored the cite a couple of evenings. I'm really glad I went. If I'd had more time, I would have tried to see the castle inside the cite during business hours.

Driving into the area I saw all these yellow lines on the cite. Walking closer, I saw they were made of a sticky reflective yellow tape (I'd used it before to make basketball courts on blacktop at Spokane's Hoopfest). I didn't get the full idea until I looked from the one viewpoint outside of town. It was pretty cool but only supposed to be temporarily. I saw it on TV when TDF rolled through.