Roman: Colonia of Julia Carsaco
An incredible great surprise and totally unexpected and unplanned. We came this weekend to be only in Perpignan, but after seeing everything on Saturday and with not much more to be done for Sunday, was nice to find out that the impressive medieval city of Carcassonne was only 1 hour 15 minutes away by train from Perpignan. And what a city! It completely eclipsed our original plans and thoughts we got from Perpignan the day before.
The city after all, is not that big, and while we thought we would have plenty of spare time as we started visiting the area around the train station and the Cathedral that took us only 2 hours no more; once we reached the Cité, that feeling changed. Only with this city-fortress you could easily spend the entire day if you also visit the museums within. So plan ahead or schedule well your time, otherwise as in our case, simply enjoy the time as much as you can. We are quite a heavy travellers and we are used to run from a place to the other hence managed to see everything while having some time to rest, have a nice lunch and then enjoy a dessert with a coffee at a terrace.
Walking along the city and specially on a Sunday morning (and afternoon) was all for ourselves! All the shops were closed, no one in the streets and even was hard to find an opened coffee place. Oddly, tourists seem not to come to this area of the city but head straight away to the Cité instead, where it was thriving and full all people. In the other hand we managed to get pictures everywhere without anyone in the streets.
The city is so beautiful that seems to be taken out from a fairy tale. No wonder it’s listed a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO. I cannot think on how glad the decision to come here was. It worked perfectly and also saved us from having to book a flight in the future to Carcassonne.
For those who like to visit World Heritage Sites, there is an extra in this city. The Canal du Midi passes along the north side, right by the train station area where there is a nice marina and a lock with constant traffic of boats up and down. There are many tourists boats along the canal which also offer tours, short or long in duration.
When it comes to finding a nice restaurant to eat, don’t think twice and wait until you are within the Cité. The choice is vast and even that the competence is so big, the prices between them almost don’t differ, so don’t worry if you think you might be ripped off or in a tourist trap. There are not such places. Just have a walk around and see that a day menu costs between 12 and 15 euros everywhere, for a starter, a main course, dessert and a drink. Here in Carcassonne is popular Cassoulet, and is also included as part of the day menu deals. This is a pot of slowly cooked beans, sausage and turkey. Even for those who don’t like that much turkey (as it’s my case), they way it is prepared is really delicious!.
For more information about Carcassonne check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. France’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Carcassonne
- Cité de Carcassonne This impressive medieval fortress is what makes the city special. Listed under UNESCO as a World Heritage Site; is the sight and landmark number one. So huge that has almost not equal, but beware of the amount of time you will need to fully see. The entire perimeter is formed of 2 concentric outer walls with 53 towers for protection.
-Porte Narbonnaise Is the main entrance to the whole complex, with the former ramparts and fossa. Really nice picture-perfect you will get from here.
-Château Comtal Is the castle within the city. Although entering the Cité complex is free of charge (after all it’s part of the city of Carcassonne anyway), entering the castle has a surcharge of 8.5 Euros. it is well worth it coming inside. You will be able to walk 1/4th of the perimeter of the outer walls getting the best views of the city inside and the “newer” middle age city, the 19th century and modern ones outside of the walls.
- Pont Vieux Meaning old bridge, connecting the Cité with the newer area of the city dating from the middle ages that expanded farther, Ville Basse, across the Aude River.
- Pont Neuf Meaning new bridge, is meters apart from the old bridge and from here you will get the postcard perfect views of the old bridge and the Cité in the background.
- Cathedral Built in the 13th century as a parish church, was enlarged and fortified in the 14th century after being damaged in war. It became the main cathedral when the status was elevated in 1803.
- Basilica of Saint Nazaire and Saint Celse A National Monument of France. Construction started in 1096 on top of the previous 6th century church, and was completed in the 12th century. Further enhancements gave it the Gothic look. It used to be the Cathedral of Carcassonne until 1803 that this title went to the current.
- Canal du Midi Listed an UNESCO World Heritage Site, borders the northern side of Carcassonne as it passes the city. The nicest spot is the lock right by the train station as there is also the old port with many cruising boats offering tours.
Getting to Carcassonne overland from elsewhere in France is pretty straight forward with high speed trains connecting either with Toulouse, Lyon, Marseille, Lille or as far as Brussels. Other important cities nearby are well connected by regional trains as is Perpignan, Montpellier or Narbonne. Even though if your route includes an interchange, travelling by train across France is really fast, reliable and comfortable. Check the most up to date timetable of trains for the entire region of Languedoc-Roussillon in the official website here.
While the cost of the trains is quite high bearing in mind a rather short distance, you can make use of a great tool instead that will save you lots of money and save you a lot of time too! This is Bla Bla Car. This app allows you to search for people who need to make a journey and offer their otherwise empty seats in the car at a really low money. It proved to be super popular in France and there are countless people offering the route Perpignan-Carcassonne and so the return way. Wherever is the country you registered your application with and your card, you will be charge in your local currency too, so no need to lose any currency conversion and card surcharges for paying in a foreign currency. Not only this saved us a lot of money and time, it also saved us the extra way we would have needed from Perpignan train station to the airport (20 euros by taxi!), as we were dropped off at the airport directly.
The city is served by a small international airport where mostly low cost carriers operate flights within Europe. The airport is few kilometers to the west of the city and frequent buses (specially ready when planes are landing) connect with the main train station for 5 Euros per way.
Within the city there is absolutely no need to take any public transportation, which in any case is composed of only buses. Walking from the train station on the west of the city to the Cité de Carcassonne is around 20 minutes if not stopping along the way (difficult not to! since you will definitely stop and enjoy the views and many pictures you will take along).
As we did not stay overnight here, but in Perpignan instead, I cannot recommend or give you any tip on where is best to stay. In the other hand, being such a tourist orientated city, and so much visited year round, the amount of hotels is quite large and options are wide. Still, as for anywhere in France, the prices for a night tend to be higher than average if looking to 4* properties. Even 3* can set your costs a bit higher that you would originally expect, but there is also a great choice of apartment like properties, similar to the one we stayed in Perpignan. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
Appart’City Perpignan Centre, on 12 Boulevard Saint-Assiscle, meters away from the main train station. Location was great, minutes walking distance from the city center and all the sights. Good comfort and caring staff. It was an entire studio flat with a kitchenette and plenty of space; very clean and up to good standards. This is not the first time we stay an an Appart’City while in France, and won’t be the last.
Once you access their website, you will need to select the city from the drop-down list, then check your desired dates.