Travel Report for our holiday in Carcassonne, France, in November 2005.
A long weekend break in Carcassonne in late November, prompted by Ryanair offering return flights from Stansted for a penny each way. Of course by the time you've added in the various taxes, fees and surcharges, it cost about £60 for the two of us, but still good value.
Check out Carcassonne's excellent web site - lots of useful information and a great map.
Carcassonne's Cité Médiévale, a huge walled fortress, sits on top of a hill overlooking the modern town, a few hundred meters from the river Aude. The ancient Pont Vieux (now pedestrians-only), crosses the river below the Cité to the main part of the town, which includes the Bastide St-Louis, another area of ancient buildings.
Carcassone airport is tiny and slow. There is one short carousel in Arrivals, and in Departures the check in area is partly outside in a tent – not good when the weather was as cold as it was. We hired a small Citroen from the Hertz “temporary” building in the muddy car park just a few yards from the terminal. Not a good experience – as usual, you find that the insurance you've bought isn't enough, and you have to pay more. The car had no rear windscreen wiper – but the woman on duty just shrugged when I pointed this out.
We had booked to stay three nights at the Le Donjon Les Remparts hotel right at the very heart of the ancient and picturesque Medieval City. But the day before we left we were contacted by the agent (needahotel.com) to tell us that the hotel's central heating had broken down, and they offered us the Mercure instead. We were VERY annoyed about this. The Mercure is not as good a hotel as the Donjon - the rooms are quite cramped, and it was a few hundred meters outside the Medieval City.
We were EVEN MORE annoyed when I walked into the Donjon hotel the evening we arrived (ie the day after they switched us) and asked their receptionist if there was a problem with their central heating. She flatly denied this, and looked at me as if I was mad. Somebody lied to us. After we came home we complained to the Agent who assured us that the hotel confirmed that the heating had been out of action for three days, and had only been repaired on the day we arrived. Strange that the receptionist knew nothing about it a few hours later....
Don't get me wrong - the Mercure was a perfectly acceptable hotel. The rooms were a bit on the small side, but comfortable, clean and well equipped, with room safe, TV, minibar, heating and airconditioning. The efficient heating ensured we were always snug and warm during this cold spell. Good clean bathroom. Buffet breakfast, with plenty of choice - bread, fruit, juices, yogurts, cereals, ham, cheese, even scrambled egg and sausages. The evening meals were good, if a little pricey. The hotel had its own car park - an advantage as parking is strictly controlled in the Medieval City area. (The Donjon also had an awkwardly-accessed gated car park round the back in the City). It's just that we'd been promised a room in the heart of the old city, we didn't get it, and were lied to.
The Medieval City is quite stunning to walk around, even in the bitter cold wind – we spent a day wandering around the ramparts and exploring the narrow streets and lanes. The local authorities are to be congratulated – they have clearly spent a lot of money on preserving the City's appearance. Most of the cafes and restaurants were shut, and we had the whole place almost to ourselves. Another day we walked through the Medieval City down to the river Aude, along the east riverbank for a few kilometers to the Pont du Garigliano, and back along the other bank to the Pont Vieux. Then after a stroll around the Bastide Saint Louis, another old area with narrow streets and ancient buildings, we crossed back over the Pont Vieux and back to the Mercure.
We followed some of the scenic driving tours listed on Carcassonne's web site. One north to the Montagne Noir (where it snowed), and another south-east including the stunning Cathar Castle of Quéribus on the top of a rocky outcrop 700m above sea level near Cucugnan. The view from here was magnificent – it was a beautiful clear (if cold) day, and we could see the sea nearly 20km to the east, and the Pyrenees to the west.
On this latter tour we tried and failed three times to get a drink in the early afternoon! The proprietor in the first bar/restaurant said that they were just closing for a bit and could we come back in an hour. The second in the next village looked at us in horror and said that she was a restaurant, not a bar, so she couldn't sell us a beer (the place was completely empty). The third place, despite having an "Ouvert" sign on the road, was locked.
Eight or ten photos to a page, each page totalling a megabyte or two.
A cold but rewarding quiet long weekend in the spectacular surroundings of the Medieval City.