History and a Dash of Fine Dining
Famous for gastronomy, wine and its mediaeval history, Carcassonne is a wonderful weekend away
Article by Kate Morfoot
Carcassonne is an incredible city, steeped in history, surrounded by beautiful countryside and acres of vineyards – it is a unique place to visit for a city break. We checked into a well-run hotel located in the countryside at Saint Martin.
The owners Alain and Isabel manage the family friendly, Hotel La Bastide Saint Martin, which is perfect for a relaxing break in a quiet location and only a short drive to the mediaeval city. Nicely decorated with egg shell blue walls, traditional French furniture, marble and tiled floors, our room had beautiful French windows overlooking the rose garden and beyond toward the nearby picturesque Chateau Saint Martin.
Did you know that more and more people are now booking hotels so they can get ideas for their own interior design at home? According to Booking.com more than half of travellers return from holiday so enthused by it, that they are inspired to undertake interior design work to their own home. Travellers seem to want to stay in accommodation with different interior design to their own home, to experience different styles that they wouldn’t be brave enough to replicate in their own home. I can believe this, having been impressed by many of the hotels and their manicured gardens over the years it’s hard not to bring back some ideas, however, I tend to focus on the luxury Egyptian cotton bed linen and this hotel came up trumps.
The hotel has a wonderful outdoor heated swimming pool, large enough to work off the excellent breakfast provided by the hotel. Fresh bread and buttered croissants, an assortment of cheese, ham and eggs, yoghurts and pancakes not to mention the freshly squeezed juices; it’s a feast to set you up until a late lunch.
The Cite de Carcassonne was classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997. Made up of a collection of mediaeval buildings that are unique in Europe with regards to their size and their remarkable condition, the City is ringed by two belts of ramparts; an outer wall from the 13th century and an interior wall that dates back to the 4th century. The collection of buildings is made up of the Comtal Chateau which houses the gem merchants’ museum, the barbicans, a basilica, a drawbridge and 52 distinctive towers.
Our one hour tour was under the aegis of a 13th century costumed knight. Taken round the castle, we were shown the defensive measures taken by the castle guards to ensure their safety when under attack. Some of the attractions are not for the faint hearted as we discovered when we visited the Museums of Inquisition and Instruments of Torture. Here you will find a crude collection of instruments dating back to the 12th century, including the 200 years of history that tells of persecution and the extermination of Cathares and Heretics – not forgetting their horrific journey from trial to be burnt at the stake.
With over two million visitors a year, the old part of the city gets very busy – visit the castle as early as possible. It’s particularly pleasant to visit in early evening when you can enjoy a spectacular sunset with a picnic overlooking the city.
Take a walk to the centre of town, the Bastide St Louis, via the bridge, Le Pont-Vieux completed around 1320. From the bridge you will see the castle in all its glory overlooking the town. The centre is lively with many shops, cafes and restaurants. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturday mornings there is a fruit and vegetable market in the main square of the Bastide Saint Louis, the Place Carnot.
Carcassonne is on the famous Canal du Midi, also classed as a World Heritage site, runs through the centre of the city, boasting 63 locks, 126 bridges, 55 aqueducts, 7 canal-tunnels, 6 dams and 1 tunnel. It’s possible to hire barge style boats without a permit and enjoy a cruising break for several days from the city. Nearby La Cavayere Lake attracts walkers and nature lovers where you will discover wetlands, woodlands and fallow fields. Pedalos, mini gold, boules and beach volleyball courts all add to the attraction of the lake.
The city is famous for its gastronomy and beautiful wine, with three Michelin starred restaurants to choose from or there many traditional French restaurants where you can find typical dishes including grilled fish, local ham, terrine or escalope of duck foie gras. The most famous of all their dishes is the unmissable Cassoulet its history dates back to the 16th century when beans arrived by ship from the Americas. Cassoulet is made with white beans, pork meat and rind, sausages and goose or duck confit and green beans it is served in a terracotta plate. The best place to try this dish is at the Chateau Saint Martin a formal restaurant located next to Hotel La Bastide Saint Martin.
Seen as as the capital and gateway to the vineyards of the Aude department, Carcassonne is a the jewel of Languedoc, acres of vineyards stretch as far as the eye can see. The Minervois region is located to the north-west and stretches across endless terraces, producing distinguished reds as well as white wines and rose that are fresh, rich and aromatic.
Hotel La Bastide Saint Martin: book at www.Booking.com / Double rooms are from £79 per night, Breakfast £12 per person. Car hire is advised or use taxis to get into the centre.
Where to eat:
La Cantine De St Roch, La Place Carnot
The Domaine d’Auriac (1 Michelin Star)
Le Table Franck Putelat (2 Michelin Star)
Chateau Saint Martin (Cassoulet)
Travel: Ryan Air flies to Carcassonne