Carcassonne, France

Carcassonne, France: A step back in time

I’m in Barcelona right now sightseeing and soaking up sunshine (more on that soon), but I realized I never gave Carcassonne it’s fair due! We were only there for one full day and stayed for two nights to break up our otherwise ten-hour journey from Nice to Barcelona. With Carcassonne acting as a midpoint of sorts, we made a quick stopover to checkout the medieval town. Note to Eurail users, we paid €3 to head from Nice to Carcassonne (the required reservation fee) while at the train station. Out of curiosity (I’ve been dying to know how much I’m actually saving with my Eurail pass), I asked how much a ticket would cost without my pass in hand. The verdict? €65 for that leg! I’m not sure how much the other trips would have been, but I can positively say that my €210 Eurail pass was worth every cent.

Carriage at the castle in Carcassonne!

You’ve never heard of Carcassonne? Yeah, either had I until I had begun doing some closer research on the region. It’s fairly close to Toulouse and not too far from Marseille with a population of 50,000 or so. Random, yes, but it’s also home to a medieval city with an old-school fairytale castle that we thought would be a perfect sight to check out for a day. As fate would have it, Carcassonne was actually infinitely cooler (temperature-wise) than any of the other places we had seen. We had grown accustomed to 95+ degree, sweltering weather and Carcassonne’s breeze and 70 degree weather were actually a nice break before returning to the heat in Barcelona.

Carcassonne CastleSurprisingly, Carcassonne is actually a rather expensive city in which to stay. When we looked at hotels within the city, we were looking at paying around €120 per night on the lower end. We wanted to enjoy the experiencebut in reality (we both were brought back to reality after looking at our twenty-something bank accounts) we wanted something cheaper. Far cheaper. Instead, we booked a room in the outskirts of the city at a place called Balladins. I think I speak for both of us when I say that we were both pleasantly surprised. Comfortable rooms at literally half the cost (we paid around €60 a night… much better). For budget travelers heading to the region, be sure to look at nearby alternatives to save some cash.

The castle from a distance

We got up, had breakfast at our hotel and jumped on a bus to the city center. After a few wrong turns and a stop off at the Visitor’s Centre, we made it to the medieval part of Carcassonne. All I could think when I stepped in was that I wished my dad could be there. My dad has always been fond of all things medieval and would have loved the charm of this medieval city despite its inherent tourist factor. We were immediately content with our decision to visit the city — it was charming and completely different from the beachy cities to which we had become accustomed.

View from the castle.

We headed to the castle almost immediately. While we debated (momentarily) whether or not we wanted to pay the €8 entrance fee, we quickly discovered that we both got youth discounts (there are benefits to being under 25!) and secured tickets for €5 each… for some reason when you’re watching every penny, that seems infinitely better. The castle and the views were lovely and definitely a must-see for anyone who happens to be in Carcassonne. In hindsight, the thought of going to the city and not going to the castle? Kind of ridiculous.

Castle courtyard

The castle aside, however, the medieval city is charming on its own. The streets are rather narrow and cobblestoned and wind around little gift shops, restaurants and creperies that dot every free inch. The pint-sized visitors (there were loads of excited kids there) were all too excited to buy their own knight and princess costumes, and the vendors were prepared with bows and arrows, swords, chain mail and the like. I mustn’t lie — I secretly wanted to buy the bow & arrow kit but there was no way I could fit it in my luggage.

Knight costume I secretly wanted to buy!

After exploring the entire city (a whopping five hours maybe), we headed back to our hotel to hang out and grab dinner before packing up to head to Barcelona. Although most people may not consider Carcassonne as a stop-off point between the south of France and Barcelona, it is definitely a cute place to stop if you have a day to break up your travels! Doesn’t everyone need a little more medieval in their life?

xoxo from Spain,

More about Shannon Kircher

Shannon Kircher is the founder and editor of The Wanderlust Effect. Founded in 2009, she has continued to document her international escapes as an expat in Europe and the Caribbean. Additionally, Shannon is the founder of Compass & Vine, a luxury boutique travel design firm, and is the Director of Marketing for the Frangipani Beach Resort. Shannon holds an MSc in Social Policy and Development from the London School of Economics and is a current candidate for WSET Level 3 in Wines & Spirits.