Carcassonne is the largest settlement in the Aude, and also its administrative centre.
colourful spices for sale in Carcassonne Market
Add a little spice to your life - A spice stall in Carcassonne Market
The lady who runs this stall is very keen to practice her English and enjoys giving advice and recipes. Her lamb couscous is delicious
The railway station at Carcassonne
On the main line between Narbonne and Toulouse, Carcassonne is served by Intercités and TGV trains.
Carcassonne moorings on the Canal du Midi
A quiet section of the canal just after the railway bridge in Carcassonns where canal boats often moor overnight.
Canal du Midi
Boats moored by the Boulevard du Maréchal Foch, just below the canal basin in Carcassonne.
Place Carnot, Carcassonne
Place Carnot, in the centre of Carcassonne, where everything of importance in the town takes place
Place Carnot, which is incidentally called after Lazare Carnot, military strategist, politician, mathematician and revolutionary, is in the centre of Carcassonne's Ville Basse, which distinguishes it from the region's main tourist attraction, the old city of Carcassonne. The Neptune statue, which stands on top of the fountain in Place Carnot, must be the campest Neptune in the whole of France. Take a look as you stroll past and see if you agree with me. When you walk around Place Carnot look at the base of the fountain and the paving stones you are walking on. You will see that much of it is fashioned from the red marble quarried in the nearby Minervois. A food market is held in Place Carnot twice weekly on Tuesdays and Saturdays with Saturday mornings being the busiest and most colourful. Fruit and vegetables in abundance, fat olives of all varieties, cheeses you've never seen before, salt cod and oysters, bright spices, and little stalls run by old peasant farmers selling fresh eggs, herbs and honey, all fait a la maison ( in other words, home produced) and flower and plant stalls all glowing under the southern sun, make up the market. The cafes, which surround Place Carnot, have to retreat to the pavements on market days, but as soon as the market traders leave, at around 12.30, the bright cafe parasols blossom under the Plane trees in the square. My personal favourite cafes are, Le Petit Moka, for its friendly staff, good snack menu and usually impeccable lavatory. If you buy a sandwich at the shop next door you can buy a drink and eat your lunch at one of Cafe Moka's tables, and La Cite des Aromes, on the corner of Carnot and rue Victor Hugo, for the good wine it sells by the glass and its ambiance. A Dutch neighbour prefers the PMU cafe, Longchamps. where you can place a bet and watch the racing. During the summer he cycles the 25 kilometres from our village to Carcassonne, eats half a dozen fresh oysters with lemon and a little paprika, at a market fish stall and then has a cold beer in Longchamps. A small Spanish tapas bar just off the square provides a good lunch of one tapas per person with a drink for around 5 euros each. However, as this cafe supports the corrida (bull fight) which takes place in the old city during La Semaine Espagnole (the Spanish week) once a year, I try to avoid it. Everything of importance in the town seems to centre on Place Carnot. A stage and spotlights are set up there in the summer, and in other square throughout the town, for the free music and dance festivals which seem to overlap each other during the summer season. At Christmas a village of wooden chalets and a skating rink is set up in the square. The bare branches of the Plane trees are decorated with tasteful twinkles and soft pink and blue lights sweep the square. If it snows children can skate surrounded by pink and blue flakes. The decorations and Christmas activities do not appear until after December 12th and disappear as soon as the local children go back to school. Christmas seems much more laid back in Carcassonne and a time for adults as well as children. While children totter on the ice parents regale themselves with vin chaud (hot sweet spiced wine) and hot duck sandwiches. The people of Carcassonne are friendly and obliging but they do like the English to have a go at their language. The second language in the region is more often Spanish than English. Here is an article I wrote about Carcassonne and why I came here: I hope you enjoy it. Carcassonne to me was once a name on a bottle of red wine, and on the label. I remember, was a dark purple silhouette of the old city, looking like something conjured up by Disney. This must have been what? Ten, twelve years ago, just after Ryanair had started a regular service from Stansted to Carcassonne. Every bottle carried the chance to win a return flight with a message on the cork. So I kept buying the wine and each time drew a blank cork. We lived in the north of England and as there were no flights from local airports to Stansted, Ryanair's activities in opening up France held no interest for me...But, a free flight, that was a different matter. So I bought the wine and became more curious about Carcassonne and the Aude. I was musing thus as I sat in my favourite Carcassonne cafe on Saturday morning. It was a beautiful day and although the morning was sharp it held the promise of being hot for the end of March. The market with its sensual blend of colours and aromas was in full swing. Then I heard two English voices one saying: "Beautiful day." And the other replying: "Sunshine, well that's what we're here for, isn't it?" That?s what started me thinking about why and how me and my family came to be here. All us expats must have, somewhere along the line, made the decision to come to France to live. Made the quantam leap in our minds before we actually watched our furniture being carried into a removal van. We couldn't just somehow have drifted here. Thinking back, I really should have seen it coming like a great beckoning hand in the wide blue yonder saying, "It could be you-oo." I took early retirement from a stressful job as arts editor on a local weekly paper but I wasn't really ready to retire. I decided to go to a French conversation class and brush up the GCE stuff. Then I took an examination which was now called a GCSE. Then I took this new fangled exam called the AS level and of course went on to take the A level. Then I sort of found myself at the local university doing a French degree. Every summer my daughter and I took off for France. Dad wasn't much into holidays and preferred to stay at home. I was teetering on the dangerous threshold of a love affair with a country, a cuisine, a culture, a way of life. When I started to look for a house in France my head told me that I would be better going to the Loire. Not too far from Paris. Not too far to drive from the ferry ports. But my heart was telling me that I loved the south. Holidays at a friend's cottage in the Vaucluse had made me accustomed to the villages perche, the orange tiled roofs, a perfect contrast for the deep blue Provencal sky, and walking and driving between fields full of vines and cherry trees, seeing Monte Sainte Victoire shimmering mauve in a heat haze. I did my homework and found out that the Aude and the area around the mythical Carcassonne was perhaps the best area in which to buy a reasonable house. So, I caught a bus to Carcassonne, and the journey was horrible. We were tipped out at Lyon just as a pale grey dawn was rising. We caught our coach to Carcassonne by way of Avignon, Nimes and all points south. At Carcassonne I picked up a cute red Citroen Saxo from what the person on the phone had described as, downtown Carcassonne. Our first contact with an immobilier was Toutes Direction. I'll explain. She was a tall slender American woman with a fashionably spiked hairdo and a little Yorkshire terrier called Twinkle darling, under her arm. Her idea of a village was a medium sized town and the house was a poodle parlour which needed extensive renovation. She showed us more unsuitable properties using our car and making my daughter hold her revolting little dog which yapped continuously. "If you find a house in your price bracket which just needs a lick of paint for starters. I'll eat Twinkle," she told us. I never took her up on it. We christened her Toutes Directions which perfectly described her hair style. By th way, Toutes directions is the sign you follow if you want to get out of any Fench town. Walking sadly out of Carcassonne we passed a tiny immobilier and in the window was a photograph of a cottage which completely charmed me. I went in and met Ghislaine, who immediately got out her car and took us to see the cottage. When we got there I stood in front of the cottage and said to myself:"Yes, I"ll buy that view." It was the right price and everything about it seemed right. You know the feeling. That was eight years ago. We've lived here definitivement now for over four years and, yes, I do miss the children. However, when they visit here and we visit them we have a good time and it probably adds up to more time than our, meet you in Costa, and Sunday lunch or a barbecue once a month. Like Edith Piaf, I have no regrets.
Canal du Midi
Cruising the Canal du Midi from the Atlantic to the Med
Pierre Paul Riquet, the creator of the Canal du Midi, was born in 1609 in Beziers. He started his working life as a tax collector and ended up as France's top engineer on familiar terms with King Louis 14th. Riquet was indefatigable and gifted with a formidable imagination and a spirit of enterprise. He was also endowed with wisdom, being a good leader of men and at the same time irritable, solitary and unable to delegate even the simplest task. Many engineer had scratched their heads over the problem of continuing the course of the canal, which ran alongside the Garronne river from Bordeaux to Toulouse, through the Midi to join the Mediterranean at Etang de Thau. What perplexed them was the problem of the water supply through the hot dry Midi. In 1648 Riquet moved to Revel, in the extreme north west of the Monagne Noire, near Toulouse. He was convinced that the plentiful waters of the Montagne Noire could be harnessed to feed the rest of the canal. It was whilst watching a fountain on the Plateau of Narouze that Riquet had his Eureka moment. A stone fell from the coping and seperated the fountain. Riquet saw, to his surprise, that the water ran in two directions, to the west and to the east. The Montagne Noire was a watershed. He immediately saw how the waters could be harnessed in huge lakes. Although far from rich Riquet used his own money to construct the streams to lead the water in the right direction. Fortunately the King also had a Eureka moment and coughed up the money to build the canal. The building took 14 years and the canal was finished in 1660 just a few months after the death of Pierre Paul Riquet in Toulouse. Engineers still wonder today at the ingeniousness of the water supply, the amazing bridges, dams and the many locks built in such a short time without today's technology. It was first known as the Royal Canal but later, to suit revolutionary sensibilities, it was changed to the Canal du Midi. It was also known as the Canal des Deux Mers. At first the Canal du Midi boosted trade between the Atlantic and Mediterranean and farther afield. It is said the, thanks to the canal, trade tripled and quadrupled in a few years. It is now used by holiday craft and its towpath provides a place for runners, walkers and cyclists. Many of the pleasure craft for hire also provide bicycles. The Montagne Noire still remains today the cradle of the waters for the Canal du Midi.
One of Riquet's ingenious locks
Engineers still wonder about the construction of these before their time locks
To see a brief history of the Canal du Midi go to the photograph of the canal barge cruising the canal or look at http://canal-du-midi.org/en/canal.aspx for a more detailed description
Canal du Midi at Carcassonne
The bassin on the Canal du Midi at Carcassonne
Barges often moor up here overnight or for a few days to see the other UNESCO heritage site, the old city of Carcassonne
A café in Plas Carnot
The hear of Carcassonne town centre is Plas Carnot, and it is encircled by pavement cafés.
Moorings below the canal basin at Carcassonne
In high season many boats moor up just below the Carcassonne basin lock on the Canal du Midi.
Saturday market in Plas Carnot is a busy affair, with a many food stalls filling, and spilling over from this big central square.
Travel to Carcassonne by Ryanair
Ryanair use Carcassonne as the central southern France hub from several UK and European airports, so getting here can be quite simple and affordable. Car hire is available at the airport. It's best to book it in advance of arrival.
Old fashined perfumerie in Carcassonne
On Rue Georges Clemenceau. There are also several chains in the town centre including Sephora etc.
Rue Georges Clemenceau in Carcassonne
In la Ville Basse - the modern town below the cité - this is one of the main shopping streets in Carcassonne.
Acoss the Pont Vieux to the Cité de Carcassonne
Looking across the the walled Cité de Carcassonne from the new bridge over the River Aude.