in France

Carcassonne is a beautifully preserved Medieval fortification with imposing churches in the southern French region of Occitane.

Carcassonne is a fortified city, or Cité, in the south of France. It is the largest fortification in Europe. The original settlement dates back to the 8th century B.C. Throughout history, Carcassonne has been conquered several times due to its strategic position, close to the Spanish and Italian border. With the Pyrenic Peace in 1659, this strategic advantage disappeared, and wealthy citizens started to built townhouses outside of the city walls. Carcassonne fell into disrepair, but renewed interest in Gothic architecture in the Romantic period led to extensive restorations in the second half of the 19th century by the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. The style of the renovation is controversial as Viollet-le-Duc took many liberties to create a more cohesive, but not always historically accurate, look.

These days Carcassonne is known as a tourist attraction. In fact, due to the number of tourists, less than 150 local citizens still live within the Cité. There are a few notable churches, with the Basilique de Saint-Nazaire as the most important one. This stunning Visigothic cathedral incorporates some of the features of the previous Roman structure as well. It is famous for its beautiful stained glass windows that are among the oldest in France. Last May, Carcassonne hosted a large art project culled IN SITU. They invited artist Felice Varini to be inspired by the historic city to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the inscription of Carcassonne on the UNESCO World Heritage list. He created unique modern art installations which are visible until September 2018. The local wine, Cité-de-Carcassonne, is made from grapes that grow on the hills of the Cité. Carcassonne is also a great place to try traditional regional dishes such as a cassoulet au croustillant sandwich.

Carcassonne can be reached by train, flight or boat over the Canal du Midi. The tourist office offers guided tours as well as self-guided audio tours of the Cité. The area around the city lends itself perfectly to hiking and biking. Carcassonne is especially crowded in the high season of July-August. Pleasant temperatures and fewer tourists make May-June and September optimal times to visit Carcassonne. The Feria de Carcassonne at the end of August and start of September is a festival dedicated to Spanish and Occitan culture, with music, dancing, and food. Christmas in Carcassonne is also magical as the city is covered in snow and lights, with Christmas themed markets and events throughout the Cité.