Once upon a time, there was a traveling queen. She was tired of her busy capital and decided to travel to the southern reaches of her realm and explore all that the region had to offer. Possibly by less than coincidence, this included a rather large and splendid castle just awaiting her visit (and quite possibly permanent relocation) and so she set off as soon as she was able.
This castle just happened to be named “Carcassonne” (as was its surrounding city) and may or may not be otherwise known to you, dear readers, as apparently one of France’s top most-visited attractions. Yes, shockingly, the above anecdote is about yours truly, and I decided to hit Carcassonne on my third day of blitzing around Toulouse. The castle is about a 45 minute to 1 hour train ride away (depending on what sort of train you take) and perhaps a 20 minute walk from the Carcassonne train station, easily enough located given its massive presence on top of a hill overlooking the town.
I set off for the castle a bit later than intended (vacations merit a lie-in here and there, no?) but still arrived with the sun shining and nary a cloud in the sky (which may have actually been detrimental to the quality of my photos, oh well.) I made my way to the Pont Vieux, or old bridge, which pedestrians may cross over a quaint river and park from the new parts of Carcassonne into the old town, and from there through winding streets up the hill to Carcassonne Castle’s outermost walls.
You can actually see a huge chunk of what there is to see at Carcassonne without spending a dime–you are free to walk through all but the inner keep, meaning MULTIPLE layers of walls and pathways winding around the entirety of the compound await you, not to mention the tiny town set up within the walls’ limits (full of your typical tourists goods and restaurants and a few bed and breakfasts here and there that probably cost an arm and two legs.) It’s really a lovely walk no matter what level at which you do it, and you can get stunning views around the town and surrounding farmlands–on a clear day like I had, the distant Pyrenees were even visible!
Eventually though, I had to see the main event. Carcassonne Castle, with origins dating back to the Romans (as one can see in the reconstructed semi-rounded towers today) was maintained for several hundred years, undergoing facelifts as it became a more and more important stronghold in the south against the Spaniards and eventually a battleground between dueling Christian groups. However, things eventually fell into disrepair due to weather and plundering and lack of use, and it wasn’t until the 1800’s that a serious restoration was considered. The same architect (please excuse me for being too tired to google his name) who updated the Notre Dame cathedral received the task of reconstructing the castle, and attacked with gusto–and frankly, a precision that is damn impressive, especially considering that he did them so long ago and with such old tools that even the reconstructions can now be looked at as historical!
Entrance to this final barrier has a varying cost depending on your age and nationality, I ended up only bargaining it down to 5.5 Euros, bit of a shame as I could technically get in free if I ever bother to get my Pass d’Education, a museum pass of sorts for educators in France. In any case, the entrance was worth it. The castle is, as previously mentioned, HEAVILY restored, and pretty much entirely unfurnished. That being said, the restorations and original architecture are really just impressive, and it’s entirely too easy to imagine oneself reigning from a throne in a large dining hall there…
Er, right, reality. Coming back to it now.
Anyway. One can roam all about the castle and watch a very informative movie towards the beginning of the tour–I did several rounds of the castle at different levels, given the various access points to towers, walls, and so on. At the very end of the main “tour” are a few rooms furnished with décor from both the original castles as well as nearby architectural ruins of the same age, to sort of provide examples as to how things would have looked in the past. And, naturally, there is a gift shop.
Although I had originally planned to visit the more modern area of Carcassonne as well as the castle, the fact was, I went on a Sunday. That’s France’s sleepy, stay-at-home-close-everything day. So I figured nothing much would be open in the town and decided to go for one more round around the walls from an entrance only accessible if one has done the main castle tour, and then I headed out BEHIND the castle, following a tiny little deserted road up past some farm fields…and then I shuffled a bit INTO the farm fields to try and get some better pictures of the castle. The thing is MASSIVE and very difficult to photograph in scope from inside (impossible, I’d say) so going off into the distance with nothing but low plants in front of me provided a much better view, although even then the right half of the castle didn’t really make it in. However, I was vastly more satisfied and took my time getting the best angles possible, and finally wandered back down, past the castle, across the bridge, through the modern town, and to the train station where I hopped a little locomotive heading back to Toulouse where I collapsed into a chair with some cocoa and a book to relax after a long day of beautiful tourist-ing in a fairytale castle.
Until later, lovelies!