Carcassonne is a French fortified city located in the plain of the Aude between historic trade routes, linking the Atlantic to the Mediterranean Sea and the Massif Central to the Pyrénées. Its strategic importance was quickly recognized by the Romans, who occupied its hilltop until the demise of the Western Roman Empire. In the fifth century, it was taken over by the Visigoths, who founded the city. Its strategic location led successive rulers to expand its fortifications until the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659. Its citadel, known as the Cité de Carcassonne, is a medieval fortress dating back to the Gallo-Roman period and restored by the theorist and architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in 1853. It was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997. Carcassonne relies heavily on tourism but also counts manufacturing and winemaking as some of its other key economic sectors.

The fortified city consists essentially of a concentric design of two outer walls with 53 towers and barbicans to prevent attack by siege engines. The castle itself possesses its own drawbridge and ditch leading to a central keep. The walls consist of towers built over quite a long period. One section is Roman and is notably different from the medieval walls, with the tell-tale red brick layers and the shallow pitch terracotta tile roofs. One of these towers housed the Catholic Inquisition in the 13th century and is still known as "The Inquisition Tower". Carcassonne was demilitarised under Napoleon Bonaparte and the Restoration, and the fortified cité of Carcassonne fell into such disrepair that the French government decided that it should be demolished. A decree to that effect that was made official in 1849 caused an uproar. The antiquary and mayor of Carcassonne, Jean-Pierre Cros-Mayrevieille, and the writer Prosper Mérimée, the first inspector of ancient monuments, led a campaign to preserve the fortress as a historical monument. Later in the year the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, already at work restoring the Basilica of Saints Nazarius and Celsus, was commissioned to renovate the place.

In 1853, work began with the west and southwest walls, followed by the towers of the porte Narbonnaise and the principal entrance to the cité. The fortifications were consolidated here and there, but the chief attention was paid to restoring the roofing of the towers and the ramparts, where Viollet-le-Duc ordered the destruction of structures that had encroached against the walls, some of them of considerable age. Viollet-le-Duc left copious notes and drawings upon his death in 1879, when his pupil Paul Boeswillwald and, later, the architect Nodet continued the rehabilitation of Carcassonne. The restoration was strongly criticized during Viollet-le-Duc's lifetime. Fresh from work in the north of France, he made the error of using slate (when there was no slate to be quarried around) instead of terra cotta tiles. The slate roofs were claimed to be more typical of northern France, as was the addition of the pointed tips to the roofs. Yet, overall, Viollet-le-Duc's achievement at Carcassonne is agreed to be a work of genius, though not of the strictest authenticity.

We stayed at Hotel de la Cite Carcassonne, a 5 star hotel on Secret Escapes. We parked our car in their private car park outside the city walls, and wended our way in to the hotel on foot.

Unfortuneately they got their Receptionists from Bimbo Central, as regrettably most hotels seem to do these days. This was a major problem about large sums of money When we arrived, I was asked to sign 900€ away on my card - I assume that they thought I would run off without paying. I pointed out that I had paid in full for room and breakfast for our two nights, and that I was unlikely to run up 900€ for food and drink. I refused to sign, and with very bad grace the receptionist reduced it to 200€. When I checked out they wanted to charge me 400€ for all sorts of things that either we had never had, or were included in our room rate. It took reception FOUR bills to get the correct charge down to about 120€ The inept receptionists did not apologize, but each time I pointed out errors , just printed out another bill . Finally I asked to see the Manager, and the poor man felt obliged to knock another 45 Euros off for our troubles

Our baggage did not make it from the car park, and we had to go looking for it. We also had problems with service on the Terrace - where I ordered tapas and a bottle of wine - the waiter forgot the tapas. The hotel management should realise that overcharging is about the worst sin a hotel can commit. I do not think that I would stay there again

Though we did enjoy our lunch in their Michelin Starred Restaurant. It was very good value at 41 euros each including 2 glasses of wine , but lacked the depths of flavours that I have come to expect from such acclaimed restaurants. The setting though was exceptional

We walked round the Old Cite a couple of times , and took a longer walk down to the new town and the Canal du Midi

Click on a thumbnail below to get a larger photograph


Trip to Gaynor & Vic