Carcassonne is two cities in one separated by the Aude river which flows down from the high Pyrenees.
The old "Cite" , which most tourists come to see, dates back to pre-Roman times. It is the most impressively preserved wall city in Europe and has a thriving center of numerous restaurants, hotels and gift shops.
It's position on the old border between the kingdoms of France and Spain -in the middle of the wide plain between the high Pyrenees and the southern tip of the Massif Central, made it the center of power in this area of France.
Carcassonne's most interesting passage of history is the medieval times when the Cathar religion flourished in this region. With a separate religion,language and culture it could well have been a separate country by now associated with the neighboring Spanish Catalonia rather than modern France.
However the Pope,King of France and northern nobility had different ideas and a Crusade followed by the inquisition sorted that out for good.
The lower town or the "New Town" dates back to the 13th century.
It is a Bastide town built as a symbol of the new order with grid-iron streets with central square and defensive walls.
This part of the city is often overlooked by tourists who come to see the old "Cite".
It is a thriving modern town with excellent shopping and many good restaurants and cafes. It is worthy of a visit by itself being the contrast of the tourist haven of the "Cite" which overlooks it.
The Canal Du Midi passes along the northern end of the lower town and it is well worth a stroll along the tree-lined banks.
Carcassonne is well worth a weekend break or a longer stay as the base for visiting the numerous tourist venues all within a hour's drive. To name a few worth visiting:
The four towers of Lastours along with the cave systems of Limousis and Cabrespine all within 10mins of each other and 20 mins drive from Carcassone.
Drive from Carcassone to Montolieu, the picturesque book village and then onto Saissac with impressive views of the Pyrenees and beautiful village with Cathar castle onto St. Ferreol lake for a walk or swim and onto Revel - a smaller Bastide town with beautiful Sat. morning market.-Return via Castlenaudary along the Canal du Midi.
Visit Limoux and the surrounding producers of the sparkling white wine named after it and which surpasses the quality of Champagne any day! The nearly spa town of Rennes Les Bains and the upper valleys of the Aude river with impressive river gorges.
A trip to the med is within a hour on the motorway although a more picturesque route is following the Canal Du Midi as is meanders along the countryside towards the sea.
The road passes through Trebes as is crosses over the canal.
Along this route try to take in some of the sights- Minerve(slightly off the road),the Olive oil factory at Bize-Minervois, Le Somail-incredibly picturesque hamlet on the canal,L'Oppidum d'Ensérune-a roman settlement on a hill overlooking the canal and curious l'Etang de Montady, the Seven connected locks at Fonséranes on the edge of Bezier onto Narbonne with is half finished cathedral and Roman Via Domita in the central square.
The beach at Narbonne Plage is only 10 mins away although if you want something more picturesque try Le Franqui or Leucate some 20mins further down the coast towards Spain.
Slightly further afield is a trip up the Orb valley following the course the river from Cessenon Sur Orb with nearby rapids at Reals onto Roquebrun (beautiful village) onto the Gorges D'Heric(stunningly beautiful high mountain river gorges accessible on foot from car park near village of Mons) onto Olarges (beautiful village). Make your way back to Carcassonne through the Minervois and visit the numerous wine producers or Caunes Minervois with it's beautiful Abbey.