Over the past few years, Marc and I have visited many French castles, from the châteaux of Loire Valley to Mont Saint-Michel to staying at a Bordeaux château for our wedding, you might as well call us a couple of castle chasers!
Last weekend, we added another impressive castle to our list – the famous medieval fortress in Carcassonne, located in the Languedoc region of southern France. Sitting high up on a hill, the citadel, known as ‘la Cité’, has definitely earned its spot as one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites. It’s hard to compare this with the other castles. How can you when it’s a whole city with double-walled fortifications complete with cobble-stoned streets, drawbridges and over 50 towers! I was thoroughly impressed.
Some fun facts:
- Its history is marked by 2000 years of conquest and by the imprint of the Crusades and Catharism
- Its location made it a strategically valuable city for both commerce and the defense of France’s southern border from Spain
- Carcassonne has been used as a backdrop for many movies
- Legend has it that Carcassonne got its name because of a Madame Carcas. At that time, Carcassonne had been under siege for four years, disease was rampant and the city was running low on food, water and everything else. The invaders were also exhausted from the siege. Madame Carcas decided to bluff the enemy. She threw a pig over the walls at the invaders to make them think that she still had plenty of food. The bluff worked and as the invaders withdrew, “Madame Carcas a sonné les cloches” (Madam Carcas rang the bells) as a sign of victory. “Madame Carcas sonne les cloches” – thus Carcassonne!
The highlight of the trip for me was walking on the castle walls. It was like a trip back in time, with a beautiful view of the city. You don’t realize just how high the walls are until you are physically on the wall, with bricks as your only protection. It’s not hard to imagine yourself fighting enemies and shooting arrows. If you do visit Carcassonne one day, keep in mind that it gets very windy on the walls.
Before the trip, I was told that I had to try the famous local dish: le cassoulet. Frankly, I didn’t know what to expect since the images from google didn’t seem all that appealing. Luckily, we went to a restaurant recommended by a local and it was yummy! Slow-cooked in a casserole, cassoulet is a hearty dish consisting of white beans, pork sausages, duck and pork skin. It sounds heavy and it definitely was! However it was deliciously flavourful, not to mention perfect for the chilly weather that day. I also took a panna cotta au caramel-salé (salted caramel) as dessert to top off the perfect lunch!
To complete the Carcassonne trip, we watched a hilarious well-known French movie shot in Carcassonne called ‘Les Visiteurs’. I highly recommend it!
À la prochaine!