Help make our trip to Europe amazing, Carcassonne edition
April 23, 2016 8:02 AM   Subscribe

Our family will be spending a few days in Carcassonne, France in June. We're traveling with kids, so our plan is for a mostly low-key trip filled with lazily exploring the city. But we're also looking for other unique or special experiences we could do as a family that would really make our trip special.

We would love to hear any ideas that might involve:

- Meeting and interacting with locals
- Visiting special places in the city/area that might not show up in guide books
- Anything food or wine related that shouldn't be missed
posted by quantum to Travel & Transportation around Carcassonne, France (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Carcassonne is a pretty small city but the castle is stunning. I spent a lot of time walking around the castle walls. Also, if you can hang out in the lower city at night the castle is lit up beautifully.

Best things I did:

-The farmer's market. One of the best I went to in France, and the locals were very nice to me, even with my horrible French. It looks like they have it Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The lady at my hostel circled it on a map for me-it was in the lower city. Best thing there: fresh milk. There were two guys and they filled an empty water bottle I had with the best milk I have ever drank for less than a euro, IIRC- it was fantastic.
-Reading this book: The Perfect Heresy. It's a popular history of the Cathars, a religious sect in the region in the 1100s, and it gave a lot of context to a region of France I knew little about.
-Eating cassoulet. It's a duck and sausage stew and it is soooo good. Your kids might not like it, and it's really rich, but if you like duck at all, you need to try it!

Less exciting was the a short canal cruise, but it was pleasant and the guides provided some interesting historical info in English, French and Spanish.

I know you're looking for low key, but I spent ~a day and a half in Carcassonne and felt I saw most things. If you have time, I highly recommend Toulouse, only about an hour away by train.
posted by clarinet at 10:40 AM on April 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

are your dates set already? Because the fireworks in Carcassonne on Bastille Day (July 14th) are supposed to be legendary.
posted by alchemist at 11:32 AM on April 23, 2016

Agree with the above - you can probably do everything you want to do in Carcassonne in a day or so. Use it as a base and go explore the area around, too. Toulouse is great and is an easy choice for a local "big city", but I'd probably either head to the coast or to the Pyrenees. You're almost certainly too late in the year for skiing in the mountains, but towns like Ax-les-Thermes in the Pyrenees - or frankly anywhere within the national parks - are a lovely place to go for a walk in some spectacular scenery. Or - my choice - head to the Mediterranean coast - S├Ęte and Montpellier in particular - they're wonderful and easily accessible by convenient, cheap train - and probably less completely rammed with tourists than the Riviera a bit further along to the east.

And yes, when in Toulouse, eat Cassoulet.
posted by parm at 11:37 AM on April 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

The old city of Carcassonne is a one-day thing. A full day, but I think a second day would seem really tedious.

The Hotel de la Cite is pretty great, both because it's a good high-end hotel and because it has you staying actually in the old city. It's quite nice to be able to walk around at night once most of the tourists have left. When I was there several years back the fancy restaurant La Barbacane was quite good. Not a place I'd take kids though unless three hour fine dining is a regular thing for them.

Cassoulet is indeed the traditional regional food, and it is delicious. It's also very hot and very filling, not a light summer lunch.

Seconding the suggestion to read up on Cathar history. It's crazy and interesting.
posted by Nelson at 2:44 PM on April 23, 2016

I would urge you to go to Albi, less than a 2 hour drive away. It's another medieval city, but very different feeling. We went there on our last day of a trip to France 3 years ago, and it was my favorite place. There's an incredibly beautiful and awesome cathedral, the Toulouse-Lautrec museum (he was from Albi), and "old" bridge (built in 1035!) and the "new" bridge across the river Tarn, a wonderful indoor farmer's market, and more. Really beautiful.
posted by primate moon at 4:48 PM on April 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

I stayed at the hotel Domaine d'Auriac which is just outside the city wall and which has a Michelin starred restaurant. Nice place. Best cassoulet I've ever had.
posted by w0mbat at 5:15 PM on April 23, 2016

Seconding Toulouse. Mr contour and I went to Toulouse for a conference in the middle of summer, and took a day trip to Carcasonne, which was great. You could easily do the same thing in reverse. When in Toulouse, eat casoulet and take a tour through the Basilica of St Sernin. (If you played World of War Craft you'll recognize it as the Scarlet Monastery)
posted by Illusory contour at 5:55 PM on April 23, 2016

It will take you two hours on the train (vs. 1h41 in the car) to go to Collioure, a delightful oceanside town. The multiple beaches are beautiful and there is one for anyone, including kids. You will find only good restaurants there. Anchovy pizza is one of the specialties you will find as is a sardinade: grilled, very fresh, sardines - and should there be a sardinade when you are there, you will meet the locals.
posted by jet_silver at 10:14 PM on April 24, 2016

Thanks, all! Great recommendations. Can't wait to try cassoulet, and looks like we'll be there for market day. Sadly, we'll miss the fireworks. That must be incredible!
posted by quantum at 6:47 PM on April 26, 2016

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