Add 12th century fortifications to an existing Roman wall and village, and the results are fairly magical. On top of that, layer on the huge renovation project of the 19th century, and you have something Disney would envy.
Carcassonne is the best-preserved fortified city in the world, and its charms are no secret to the 8 million people who flock here annually. As planned, we missed the incredible summer crunch, but yesterday’s crowds were enough for us. Cobbled hilly streets? Strollers? Strollers with dogs? Really???The merchants are ready to pounce at every turn. There is no lack of confectionery shops, ice cream vendors, or general purveyors of things only bought on a whim on vacation and of absolutely no practical value. They must do well in the summer.
But first, a word about how we got here. You can’t actually park inside the walls if you are a tourist. If you are staying at one of the three hotels actually within La Cité, you park nearby and are driven in a tiny shuttle bus to your hotel. We were amazed to find our driver plowing across the main entrance across the moat, making the other tourists leap for safety as he careened down tiny alleys. The ride itself was worth the price of the private parking! And then there was our hotel, which I have artfully shortened to its proper name. The room was magical, with windows overlooking a tiny square.
So we merged with the crowds and got oriented to this stunning place, though we did avoid the Torture Museum.
And then something truly magical happened. As the afternoon wore on, the crowds started disappearing. And then it was night, and the streets were abandoned. That’s when we went out again and saw some of the same places in Carcassonne through the filter of night. When someone was coming near, it was easy to imagine the chill one might have had in the 12th century on these dark lanes. Friend or foe? It was just spectacular to see it in its evening wear, almost returning to its medieval past. Incredible.
Today we ventured out for one last tour, this time seeing the castle that housed so many of the frequent conquerors of this area. While the 19th century renovations have been faulted on some points, overall we must be grateful that this lovely city was saved from complete decay and destruction. Otherwise, we couldn’t sleep in a fairy tale for one lovely night.
We also toured the Cathedral, where St. Dominic spoke in 1213. Then it was back to the parking lot in our little shuttle, scattering people right and left. Onward!