Carcassonne, Festival de la Cité
Ode to l’Aude
Aude is one of the regional departments formerly of the Languedoc Roussillon now part of Occitanie that borders Haute Garonne, the department where Toulouse is located. As you drive along the A61 from Toulouse, the ‘autoroute des deux mers’, towards the Mediterranean you have the Canal du Midi to your right, and the Lauragais rural area all around you. Once you get out of the city, which doesn’t take very long you will see lots of farm land and shimmering sunflower fields. In Aude you will find some of the prettiest spots along the Canal du Midi, vineyards, crumbling remains of Cathar castles and one supremely restored medieval fortress.
From Toulouse drive for about 45 minutes and suddenly on your left you will see Carcassonne.
The city of Carcassonne is the largest and most well restored medieval fortress in Europe. Although usually associated with the Cathars and their massacre during the Albigensian Crusade, Gaul settlements here trace back to the 6th century. The castle itself was built in the 12 and 13 centuries. When Carcassonne lost its’ strategic importance in the 17th century it became an obsolete fortress with crumbling walls and began to fall into ruin. It was set to be demolished but many people objected and in the second half of the 19th century it was restored by the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. In 1997 it was included by UNESCO in the world heritage list. It is a very popular tourist destination in the region and is known for its’ spectacular fireworks display every 14 July, Bastille Day. Within the city walls is the Basilica of Saint Nazaire with exceptionally beautiful stained glass windows. Just next to the Basilica is the Jean Déschamps Theater, an open air venue. Opera, ballet and all sorts of musical concerts take place in the summer but this is an amazing place to see a rock concert. There are between four and five thousand seats. Anywhere you sit in this theatre you have a great view. On Wednesday we saw Robert Plant, who gave a great gig with the Sensational Space Shifters. The city offers free wine degustation after each concert during the festival. I used to rush out from concerts here to meet friends at the Place Marcou before I knew about the wine tasting. The first time I realized that it was free and for everyone was after a memorable Motörhead gig after which the city received a record number of complaints about the decibel level. RIP Lemmy. The Motörhead crowd wine tasting in the gardens in front of the tower was one of the times I regret not having had my camera with me. Truth be known and just for the record the hard rock crowd is infinitely more polite and cool than any jazz’ foule’ I have ever seen.
Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters
La basilique Saint Nazaire
Carcassonne is a dream destination for any child in their ‘knight faze’. It gets extremely busy in the summer but it is worth the visit even in the high season. There are loads of shaded outdoor restaurants and bars and lots of jewelry shops and other interesting stores, not unreasonably expensive. The best way to see Carcassonne is early in the morning or late afternoon. If you really want to get the best experience you need to stay overnight in one of the hotels within the rampart.
There is the Hotel de la Cité, M Gallery 5 star property if you really want to splurge. There is also the Best Western Hotel du Donjon 4 star hotel, and a couple of B&B’s which are much less expensive.
There is a bar à vin, or wine bar near the concert venue with a huge shaded garden and loads of ambience. You can’t miss it. It is unoriginally, though descriptively named Bar à Vin.
Bonnes vacances à Carcassonne. You can follow my blog and read about my travels in beautiful Occitanie.