Carcassonne Travel Guide
Carcassonne is France's claim to medieval fame. Cité de Carcassonne, or simply La Cité, is a glorious, fortified castle-city, perched on a small hill above the river Aude in the south of France, its ramparts overlooking ville basse, the lower, more expansive city. The ancient city is actually the largest remaining fortified city in all of Europe, and a monstrously popular travel destination to boot. Within its walls is a maze of timeworn, cobblestone streets and ancient squares, as well as a good store of museums packed with relics, shops selling souvenirs, Cathar figurines and medieval tapestries, and cafés serving cassoullet – the region's native dish, which consists of a traditional stew made from white beans and meats, usually duck, goose and sausage, originally created in nearby Castelnaudary. In the surrounding countryside are Cathar ruins and châteaux from centuries past, and farther afield lurk the "circular villages" of the Languedoc and a few interesting little towns with open-air markets or a vineyard or two. There are also a handful of beach resorts along the nearby Mediterranean coast that add to the area's interest, all within easy driving distance of Carcassonne.
Carcassonne is the capital of the Aude Department in the southwest of France, in the region of Rousillon-Languedoc. It is located just to the north of Limoux, 11 miles (18 km), and east of Narbonne and Béziers, 43 miles (69) km) and 47 miles (76 km) distant respectively. From Perpignan, Carcassonne is 47 miles (76 km) to the northwest, and from Toulouse, 54 miles (87 km) to the southeast.
Carcassonne's principal interest of course lies in its old, upper city, La Cité, where the highlights include the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire, remarkable for its gargoyle-adorned exterior and stained-glass interior; the Imaginarium, an interactive museum with extensive exhibits depicting the history of the Cathars, the now-extinct religious sect, and the Albigensian Crusade of the Middle Ages; Saint Vincent's Church, with its octagonal tower and 47 chiming bells; and Vieux Pont, the old stone bridge across the Aude. Among the châteaux in the vicinity of Carcassonne, the pick of the bunch is Rennes-le-Château, rumored to be the hiding place of the Holy Grail and the riches of the Knights Templar. Two tiny yet charming thermal spa towns just a stone's throw from Carcassonne, Alet-les-Bains and Rennes-les-Bains, are worthy of a visit for their inexpensive treatments; while nearby Limoux's produce market and annual Carneval offer an additional allure.
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