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Carcassonne is a beautifully restored old city in the south of France. The Citadel (La Cité) is located on a plateau on the right bank of the Aude River. It is Europe's largest fortress and a major tourist attraction. The city on the Aude's left bank is called La Bastide and the oldest parts of this 'new' city date back to the thirteenth century. Annually, Carcassonne attracts three million visitors. At night, the old fortress is beautifully lit and every year on Quatorze Juillet (July 14, France's National Day), spectacular fireworks take place near the fortress town.
Already in the eight century BC there was a settlement near the current Citadel, but the Romans laid the foundation for that fortress. The city walls around Carcassonne were built in the fourth century. The inner walls of the Citadel still largely date from those days. Because of its strategic location, Carcassonne was often under attack. The Visigoths captured the city from the Romans and in the eighth century Carcassonne was looted by the Moors.
The city's main attraction, the Château Comtal, lies right near the main gate, the Porte Narbonnaise.
The Basilique St-Nazaire, for which the foundation stone was placed by Pope Urban II himself, is the largest church within the Citadel. The church's stained glass windows are among the oldest and most beautiful ones in France. It also houses beautiful tombs. You can climb the church's tower and not a single visitor wants to miss out on this opportunity to enjoy the views over this historic city and its surroundings. Carcassonne's rich, and often turbulent history is explained in the archeological museum, the Dépôt Lapidaire.
The Citadel is definitely not Carcassonne's only attraction. The 'new' city also exudes history, like the Gothic Saint-Michael's Cathedral and the Church of St Vincent. Wander through the picturesque streets around La Bastide's heart, Place Carnot, where a fresh-food market is held three times a week, with next to it a fragrant flower market. The Musée des Beaux-Arts houses a fine collection of paintings from the seventeenth until the nineteenth centuries. In addition, it contains a collection of pottery, tapestries and works of art.
Right next to the city – to the southeast – lies Le Parc Australien. Kangaroos, emus, didgeridoos and boomerangs: Australia in France! The challenging adventure route through the forest – including two zip-lines over Le Lac de la Cavayère – is particularly fun for both children and adults. There are seven trails with varying difficulty levels, so young and old alike can enjoy it.
Carcassonne is situated in the Languedoc-Roussillon Region and there is a lot to discover: Ancient cities and castles, sublime scenery and not to forget the many wine-growing areas. Take your rental car for a trip along the wine-growing areas of Carbadès, Corbières, Fitou, Limoux, La Malepère and Minervois. Or take a boat trip on the Canal du Midi that runs straight through Carcassonne.
Getting out of your rental car for a bit to stretch your legs? A route has been mapped out from Carcassonne, through the beautiful Lauquet Valley, to the Saint Hilaire Abbey. There are six stages that you can cover either by foot, by bike or on a horse. In total, this so-called Pèiras e vines route is 24 kilometers long.
The fortress (La Cité) is completely pedestrianized. Near the access road there are large parking lots where you can safely park your car. From the parking lots you walk up the hill to the Porte Narbonnaise, the old fortress' main gate.
Carcassonne Airport is officially called Salvaza Airport and this is also how the airport is sometimes signposted. The airport is located three kilometers east of Carcassonne and can be easily reached by rental car via freeway A-61 (L'Autoroute des Deux Mers), exit 23.