Five days of easy walking over 105 kilometres (65 miles) along the Midi Canal brings us to Carcassonne—a large, busy town divided into two distinct sections. The lower town (Ville Basse) surrounds the canal and accommodates the train station and all the modern commercial activities.
On the edge of town, and easily accessible by bus, lies the UNESCO-listed medieval city—a highlight of many a coach tour and featured in most French guidebooks.
Founded by the Romans in the first century BC, Carcassonne was an important post on the ancient trade route from Toulouse to Narbonne and, while under Roman rule, a wall was built around the town to protect it from attack.
Carcassonne flourished for the next thousand years and, during the twelfth century, construction began on the fortified château which dominates the town.
But by the seventeenth century, the city’s strategic importance had diminished and Carcassonne began to fall into disrepair. Some of the stone from the buildings and wall was removed for use in the construction of the lower town.
Since then, the medieval city has undergone several restorations—and there is no denying that the château, church and quaint alleyways we can wander through today form a charming backdrop to dozens of restaurants and gift stores. But, gazing out over the rooftops and turrets, it can be quite difficult to imagine how the city would actually have looked in its heyday.
On the northern wall, U-shaped towers built by the Romans in the fourth century still stand. During the nineteenth century, restoration work on the towers was completed by under the supervision of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, who was also responsible for the restoration of Notre-Dame and Saint-Chapelle in Paris. He added pointed cones covered in local slate to the top of the towers in keeping with the other towers. These, however, were replaced with flat tiled roofs during restorations in the 1960s. (For a fascinating tour detailing the evolution of the medieval city through the centuries, pay the small entry fee to access the old wall and château. There are several exhibits, a short film and a small museum to explore.)
I have to confess that while I find Carcassonne a little ‘over-restored’ and commercialised, there is, without a doubt, plenty to keep you entertained for an afternoon. It is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a time long-passed and a must-do detour off the canal.
Which long-distance walk visits Carcassonne?
Where is it? Find it on Google maps
Distance from Toulouse: 105 kilometres (65.8 miles)
Market day: Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings in the lower town
Accommodation is available at:
Hôtel de la Cité
Le Domaine d’Auriac
Hôtel le Donjon
Hôtel le Parc
Hôtel du Château
Hôtel des Trois Couronnes
Hôtel-Restaurant du Soleil—le Terminus
Hôtel-Restaurant le Bristol
Villa les Lauriers
Camping de la Cité
Hôtel Le Donjon