Car­cas­sonne is per­fect for a his­toric mile­stone

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

For my 30th wed­ding an­niver­sary my wife took me to south-west France and the for­ti­fied city of Car­cas­sonne. We know it well, but it’s still com­pletely jaw-drop­ping, so solid and im­pos­ing that it’s hardly sur­pris­ing it has sur­vived to 2018.

Car­cas­sonne is the sec­ond most vis­ited site in France af­ter Paris and you need to time your visit wisely. In the sum­mer it be­comes so crowded that it may have all the charm of a me­dieval siege. Even at qui­eter times I’m sad­dened by all the sig­nage and tacky sou­venir shops.

Any­way, we were there in midApril when many of the shops and restau­rants were closed and the weather was, to say the least, vari­able. Our visit co­in­cided with the an­tics of a French con­cep­tual artist who had been al­lowed to daub half the walls in vir­u­lent yel­low stripes, but I quite liked his work. It was only tem­po­rary and made me feel as if I’d wan­dered into an episode of

The best thing was that we had many of the streets to our­selves and the unique at­mos­phere of the place, which dates back to Ro­man times and has seen off Franks, Sara­cens, Visig­oths and var­i­ous crusaders, came burst­ing through, par­tic­u­larly at night when the huge for­ti­fi­ca­tions and watch­tow­ers – much re­con­structed but still some­how au­then­tic – loomed against the sky.

Ac­tu­ally, I feel a fraud writ­ing about the city be­cause we were shown round by the au­thor Kate Mosse, and she is a world ex­pert on the his­tory and cul­ture of the Langue­doc. If you’re head­ing that way, you should read or her new se­ries,

first. She showed us the rooms where her char­ac­ters lived, the bat­tle­ments from which they jumped, the gates that pro­vided se­cret en­trances and ex­its, the tow­ers that had lad­ders but no stairs, and the moats that didn’t con­tain wa­ter be­cause it was a com­mod­ity too valu­able to waste. In no other city I’ve vis­ited does his­tory feel so alive.

Kate also took us to some bril­liant restau­rants. I can rec­om­mend Le Trou­vère in the clut­tered main square where I had a su­perb cas­soulet at a sur­pris­ingly low price. Bet­ter still was Au Jardin de la Tour, an ut­terly charm­ing, fam­ily-run res­tau­rant, which man­ages to be off the beaten track even in this con­fined space.

We went on the day of our an­niver­sary and as I sat in the gar­den with a bot­tle of Blan­quette – the lo­cal an­swer to cham­pagne – the sun shin­ing and with a dis­tant view of the snow-capped Pyre­nees, I felt that the three decades hadn’t been too bad.

There is more to Car­cas­sonne than the ci­tadel. Af­ter lunch, Kate took us across the river Aude to La Bastide, which is the name of the main town, founded in the 13th cen­tury but much re­built in the 18th and 19th.

Cross the Pont Vieux and you’re in a hand­some grid of clas­si­cal French boule­vards. You can climb the 232 steps up the tower of the Gothic church of St Vin­cent and be re­warded with a gor­geous view of the town and sur­round­ing coun­try­side. I also loved the Ho­tel Ter­mi­nus, which was once oc­cu­pied by the Nazis and has a belle-époque re­cep­tion area straight

The ci­tadel from the far side of the Aude

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