Each weekend, the queues of passengers stepping onto their Carcassonne flights at airports around the UK attest to the popularity of this part of France. Many of them see Carcassonne only briefly as they make their way to their second homes in this beautiful département. But the city is a weekend break destination in itself. The modern city is built around two medieval ones. The fortified city stands on the north bank of the River Aude, commanding the surrounding countryside all turrets, towers and ramparts and with its own basilica, the Basilica of St-Nazaire. This is Europe’s largest medieval town with the city walls intact (completely restored in 1853 by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc), where the old stone streets ring with entertainers, gift shops, restaurants, tapestry galleries and outdoor cafes.
The other medieval city is on the south side of the river, the 13th-century Bastide of Carcassonne with its wide boulevards and elegant Place Carnot with its 18th-century Neptune Fountain.
The Canal du Midi crossed by the Pont Marengo is another great tourist draw. The canal, lined by overhanging trees, was constructed in the 1600s, and is popular for bank-side strolls and boat rides.
Carcassonne’s medieval city is small enough that you can easily walk around. But for the rest of the city, you may want to take the bus, which is efficient and reasonably priced. Buy a transport pass for the entire day or just for an hour – it will only cost a few euros, and it gives you unlimited rides over the entire transport system.