Carcassonne – Back to the Middle Ages

We did a detour from our Provence, France route all the way to Carcassonne – more than 2 hours drive away from Arles. The reason was simple – I saw a picture online and at the first glance I thought it was from some movie and found it was an actual place! We left Arles at 9 and it did take 2 hours to get there, morning traffic wasn’t an issue on our side of the direction.

Approaching the toll ticket booths…green arrow and “t” meaning that lane is open for ticket:

Take whichever ticket it printed out from:

I had to take a picture of the gear stick of our car, it’s super TINY!

The first toll charge 5.50 euros, the booth takes cash or credit card (there are lanes for credit card only so make sure you drive into the right lane):

It was pretty self-explanatory, 1st insert the ticket, 2nd insert credit card into the “carte” slot or bills into “billets” slot or coins into “pieces” slot. If there’s change, it’ll dispense out from the slot on the right of the “billets”. And if you need a receipt for record purpose, you must press the green button under 3 “Recu” or else it will not print out a receipt!

The second toll charge was 13.40 euros, wow so expensive! I exchanged plenty of 10 euros and 5 euros bill at home for tolls and small items like drinks. I know the exchange rate at home is not as good as if I take out from ATMs in France but at that time the euros was dropping so I ordered some in case it goes back up (but it didn’t)!

I booked Hotel des Trois Couronnes, right outside of the walled town known as Cité de Carcassonne, just across the bridge because I would like to take night photos of the walled town so it would be closer if we stay outside and also for parking availability. The hotel is also less expensive than staying inside of the Cite. I booked the panoramic room with the view of the medieval city for $125 and used my $25 expedia coupon so it was just $100 for the night. We got there at 11 and the outside parking was full so I went into the hotel and asked. The lady who spoke okay English said we could park at their underground private lot but for 10 euros per day. It was reasonable so we parked our car and checked in but our room was not ready yet. Good thing, were able to store our luggage in the hotel luggage room! Before we headed out, I asked the lady in the reception for a local map, she circled places of interests, thanks! The exterior of the hotel, taken on the pedestrian bridge that connects the Cite to the town called Pont Vieux:

The bridge and the medieval fortress on the background, it was unbelievable that we are here!

The only downside was it was completely overcast day 😦 I had no luck with weather for real! I like those unique lamps on the bridge! Walking across the bridge and getting nearer to the medieval castle, there were many parking lots there for visitors! While we were walking on the bridge, we were scouting for spots for our night photos but those annoying trees blocked the whole view GRRR!

Immediately after crossing the bridge, the street “Rue Trivalle” leading to the entrance of the medieval fortress is incredibly picturesque with many cute houses! The 15 minutes walk to the entrance of course took twice as long, need to stop for photos!

The old town was different than Arles, although mostly yellowish but some houses did have some light colors:

This long wall painted a story of its medieval times:

OMG here it is, the walls of the fortress, I felt like I traveled back to the medieval time!

It was so unreal on how well it preserved and maintained!

I was astonished by how beautiful it is!

We were actually walking in there…so unreal!

Right after walking through its main gate, I turned left and OMG, I was speechless!

Castle must have horse carriage rides 🙂

Entering the gate of the inner wall:

Inside medieval town, there are a lot of stores, it was very touristy and crowded….well not as crowded as big cities!

Cute outdoor seating of a restaurant:

We found this corner for the great view of the fortress wall and the watch towers:

I couldn’t imagine how much more beautiful it’ll be if it’s blue sky and sunny day!

We kept walking and we ended up out of the wall but the view was incredible!

There was this guy playing absolutely relaxing music with an unusual musical instrument:

Every corner was great backdrop for photos!

 

There were actually people constantly walking in and out but the wait was worth it for photos!

Like a fairy tale book?

We discovered another entrance to enter the medieval town! We placed the camera on the wall and got a photo of us two 🙂

It was totally lunch time so we headed back into the town for lunch…..stop for photos of course!

And more….

We saw a restaurant with seating on the 2nd floor terrace so we picked that one…already expected it’ll be a tourist trap but a non-English speaking tourist trap LOL! Their menu is translated but the set menus are not! I had to flip back and forth to match up and figure out the dishes. The waitress came, she’s very young but speaks zero English….urg! I pointed her to the soup and after few body language back and forth, the soup ran out! She was looking at the waiter and ahhh he speaks some English, he said onion soup. Sure, we’ll take onion soup!

Our onion soup, it was so oily and no taste! How to say salt and pepper in French??

For main course, we both ordered the Carcassonne style chicken with fries:

It tasted alright with a light tomato sauce and vegetables. Better than overcooked dry chicken 🙂 We finished our main course and waited for someone to take our desert order. The restaurant was completely full by that time so we tried to be patient…I kept telling hubby, eating in France needs patience!

Dessert….once again a challenge, the choices were not listed in the menu. The guy who barely speaks English came over and barely described the choices. We picked yogurt with honey and pear with chocolate; both were surprisingly delicious!

The two set lunch and a bottle of Evian water came to be 29.50 euros….the restaurant name was Le Nesame or something like that, I couldn’t find it in Trip Advisor strange!

After lunch, we went up to the medieval wall. The entrance ticket is 12.5 euros per person.

 

We were ready to explore the fortress!

Inside there are some artifacts…statues:

A short movie on the history of the fortress:

A model of the whole fortress, inner and outer walls – two level of defense?

We kept walking and stopping for photos, really not sure how far we had walked!

Great views from the top!

Stairs to get up to the watch tower:

Entry defense?

Those walls are pretty!

This wooden bridge, I thought I could see the floor down stairs…remember I am afraid of height so I was freaked out!

Then, to discover that the floor I saw was really only few feet away, not the ground level I thought haha!

We made the whole loop and back down to the exit….where there are more artifacts:

We walked out to the courtyard…

That was not all….there was another path to another section of the wall which we did walk 🙂

The only good thing about overcast….not burning hot so we were able to keep walking! I guess not much people went to the back to see this section so it was completely empty!

On the wall, we saw people’s houses!

This family must be very rich, their garden is huge and well decorated!

We walked on that street earlier!

We finally reached the real exit!

It was already 3 pm, time to walk back to our hotel to get our room!

But we made a stop on the way we first walked in…the outer wall!

The painted wall again 🙂

Water safe to drink, fill up your bottle for free!

We stopped by the convenient store on our way back to the hotel to get drinks. On the bridge, we saw a tourist train….if you don’t want to walk, you can take the train!

Back to the hotel lobby, I like the butterflies hanging down!

Our room at the 4th floor…the elevator was so scary, it made a big bang sound whenever it stopped! When the elevator door opened, it was completely dark, it was so scary LOL. We walked out and the lights turned on….all sensor controlled lights for energy saving!

Our room, it was clean and the bed was comfortable! It was better than I have thought from low ratings from reviews…it wasn’t bad at all!

Except for the bathroom, somehow bathrooms in southern France hotel are split into two parts….when we walked into the room, on the right side is the door to the toilet and on the left side is the door to the shower and sink. The toilet literally like in a box of 4 walls…urg! So after using the toilet, you have to walk across the hallway (only two steps) to the bathroom where the sink is.

Weird why they designed like that way….not enough room to fit both into one room?

I walked out to the little balcony to check out our panoramic view, yes, we can see the medieval town from our room. Would be better if without those tall trees!

The little tiny fridge in our room, it has a glass door, I never seen a fridge like this before! It just fit our bottle of Fanta and water!

A desk and strong wifi!

We looked at the map and there is another part of the town that we haven’t discover where the receptionist circled for shops and fountains. We walked out, more old looking buildings but were nice.

A carousel, I think each town has a carousel in France!

Tons of flowers in that square:

This section of the town has bigger buildings.

We headed toward where the fountain is marked on the map but ended up with a statue…no fountain!

We turned back…the whole street (Rue de Verdun) has shops but they are clothing stores and hardly any souvenir shops. It was like a downtown in the city. We turned in some side streets and there were more shops but nothing we are interested in.

The building style however is interesting:

It was sort of time wasting, we wished we spent the time inside the medieval town instead! We walked back to the hotel and walked into a narrow road trying to get to the river bank and the buildings on that road are like abandoned! It’ll be pretty scary at night….

We found the spot:

Back to the hotel to rest while waiting for restaurants to open for dinner – at 6 pm! We watched an episode of drama and walked out across the bridge again to Le Passage (15 street Trivalle), it was right near the other side of the bridge. It’s a tapas restaurant and I read that it gets packed after 7 pm so we got there at 6 pm and the folks in the restaurant said it’s not open yet!!! I asked what time they open and urgg in French can’t understand….after some body language, we found out that they are open at 7 pm! We walked back to the hotel again, browse the web, and walked back out at 7 pm. It finally open and although no guests in the restaurant yet, it looked like the tables are reserved so we were only able to get a table inside the courtyard!

The tapas menu isn’t huge but enough to try out different dishes. We ordered the mussels and grilled octopus. The mussels were delicious, they were creamy but not over creamy that you feel oily or filling after few bites! The grilled octopus, on the other hand, was almost tasteless….forgot to add salt?

The bread kebab?

Those two dishes cost like 7 euros each and I ordered foie gras, I am in France so I have to…., the plate is 15 euros. The plate came and it was huge!

11 slices whahahaha!!!

The sauce is too sweet that it’ll cover the liver taste so I didn’t dip with it!

The 4th plate was the sliced beef steak. It was medium rare so it was good!

The four dishes cost 38 euros…we were smart this time not ordering bottle water and instead tap water for free! The meal was good, not impressive as the tapas we had in Spain but it was pretty good. If we have to order again, we would skip the octopus and order another dish of mussels!

Once again, need patience…….the waiters were so busy that we waited for a long time to get our check and then to pay. We couldn’t wait any longer since we’ll miss the blue hour so I walked up to the counter and pay there!

We walked back to the hotel, grab our tripod, and time for night photos! First, we walked to the bigger bridge where there was car traffic and the view was a little bit further off:

It didn’t have the “down the river bank” feel so we decided to walk to the quiet abandon road to get down to the river bank. In order to get down to the river bank grass area, you’ll need to climb down those rocks. I didn’t go down because would be hard for me to get back up, I don’t want to get hurt or anything like that in the middle of the vacation!

Photos from the river bank by hubby:

Much better view with the reflections of the different color lights from the bridge:

After a few photos, it did take some time since each pic was long exposure, we quickly walked out back to the big road. We also went back to the bridge and there is only one spot where the trees aren’t blocking as much!

At night looking at the whole fortress lit up was spectacular. We were short by only less than two weeks of their famous firework displays for the French Independence Day (Bastille Day) celebration on July 14th; we were there on July 2nd. Wished I could be there to photograph that! If you are planning to visit Carcassonne – consider July 14th!! We walked back to our hotel and got a good night rest.

My reflection on Carcassonne: I’ve been to few famous “fairy tale” castles like Neuschwanstein and Alcázar of Segovia rumored to inspire Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle but the Carcassonne fortress is not just a castle, it’s a whole medieval town and you can walk on it! It was like traveling back in time! Every corner of the fortress is so beautiful and unique, it’s my favorite castle/fortress!

The next morning, it was completely blue sky and white clouds, grrrrr!!! We were hunting for breakfast since it is not included in our hotel room rate. We crossed the bridge and there’s a bakery/cafe right there! We bought 2 croissants (I know how to say that in French lol “deux croissants”) and a chocolate filled croissants and it cost around 2 euros for 3! Those croissants were fresh and delicious especially the chocolate filling one!

The medieval fortress so close…yet…so far! AWWWW!

We checked out and headed back to Provence – Nimes and Avignon! The toll on the way back was the same 13.40 euros first one and then 5.10 euros for the second one! Bye Carcassonne – you’ll be missed!

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10 thoughts on “Carcassonne – Back to the Middle Ages

  1. We also did a one day stop from San Sebastian, Spain to Nice, France. An incredibly cool place to visit. Thanks for sharing. Brings back great memories. Can’t wait for Cinque Terre.

    • Thanks, yes we were glad that we did it although it was like a detour of our route, definitely worth it! Cinque Terre long way to go because we took so many photos there!

  2. I loved Carcassone.If you visit again the Carcassone Guest House b+b has the best location and view.Almost all the hotels have no view.This was my first trip planned thru google earth.I think i found all the old trails to the castle.I did not visit any cathar castles did you?

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