I’ve survived the 4.30 a.m. start and reached Carcassonne from Andorra. This is another bucket list tick - I've wanted to go ever since I read Kate Mosse ( and others), on the mysterious history of the city. It has pre-Roman origins, but the main interest is the eleventh century medieval city with ‘A veritable anthology of stone: throughout its three kilometres of ramparts, through its 52 towers, two gates, its barbicans, its castle and its basilica, in the labyrinth of its crenellated ramparts, its stairs, chicanes and gates, you can read the whole architecture of the Middle Ages', runs the promotional blurb. It was a strategically placed fortress to defend the border and is probably most well known for acting as a stronghold for the Huguenot Cathars during the Albigensian crusades.
This 'anthology of stone' is approached through a pleasant pedestrianised area in the modern city. past an arch and the remains of some of the old Roman walls. A church or two. Then I cross over Le Vieux Pont, a bridge that certainly looks battered enough to be ancient, where I get my first glimpse of the lines of turrets atop a hill. Then there's a windy stretch of older streets, full of restaurants and boutiques, laid out enticingly to entrap the tourists as they promenade through. The regional offerings featuring heavily are cassoulet and pigs trotters. And a climb up to the medieval city and the castle itself.
The city in the bailey consists of more winding streets, a couple of churches and more shops and restaurants. All very quaint of course. There are more witch hat topped towers than you can shake a stick at. I'm hoping for a view from the ramparts; you have to buy a ticket for nine euros to see that. I’ve been warned that Carcassonne can be horribly crowded in summer, but I was hoping for a Venice like outcome. The streets are still bustling however and I queue for maybe 15 minutes to buy my ticket. Perhaps that's good compared to a normal summer. Though of course this is the New Normal. The signs tell me that masks are recommended in the medieval city. What on earth does that actually mean? Is Boris making the rules here as well?
There are two different rampart walks so I ask to do both but I'm told I have to choose one. If I want to do the second I can come back and queue again and buy another ticket. I'm not impressed. This place is definitely being run by Boris or a clone. The 52 towers are photogenic, the views fair. There are plenty of red tiled roofs below to admire but it's not as pretty as Verona. And on the way out I discover yet another rampart walk with a view - and it’s free.
My Hotel in Carcassonne
The Astoria is chosen as it’s cheap and just round the corner from the station. It’s clean and basic. Not remotely stylish and somewhat awkwardly modelled. But it’s fine for one night and the owner is helpful. I just wish it was better sound proofed.