Travel Destinations in Languedoc France: Medieval Carcassonne France hotels, family vacations in France

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Travel Destination - Carcassonne, France

Part 3
by Wade Rowland

We rounded a corner bracketed by grey stone warehouses and there, on a rise beyond the river, was Carcassonne - a vision for which no photograph could have prepared us. We pulled over to the curb and got out of the car to stand and stare. Nowhere in Europe has a fortified medieval city been preserved so perfectly, or on such a scale. Despite the sheer mass of its miles of walls and its sixty towers and barbicans, it seemed to float above the surrounding fields and vineyards, like a mirage.

Carcasonne France - French Medieval Towns

The town site on its rock outcropping overlooking the River Aude has been prized for its strategic importance from ancient times and may have been fortified even before the Romans built the first of the walled citadels there. The final touches to the fantastic, many-towered marvel one sees today were put in place by Saint-Louis and his successor Philip the Bold toward the end of the thirteenth century. It survived virtually intact until the mid-1800's under the protection of the French military and was in the last half of that century completely and brilliantly restored under the inspired direction of architect Eugéne-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc.

There are naturally quibbles about details of the restoration and refinements are continuously being made. Slate roofs, for instance, are slowly being converted to the more authentic baked clay tile. Still, no one denies that the place looks pretty much as it did eight or nine centuries ago when knighthood was in flower, Crusades were in fashion and the stirrup crossbow was the latest and greatest in military hardware.

We had been told that, since we were staying at a hotel within the walls, we would be able to drive our car right inside the citadel, where the hotel had a parking space for us. That sounded reasonable over the telephone from Paris, but when we actually saw the city and its main gate - just wide enough to accommodate a pair of mounted knights in armour - we began to have our doubts. We held our breath as I eased the Peugeot into the gap in the eighteen-foot-high outer wall, across the broad lists to the second, much higher wall, under the portcullis of its massively-fortified gate and then inched our way through the pedestrians thronging the cobbled street inside, which is perhaps ten feet wide from doorknob to doorknob. There were places where neighbours could comfortably have shaken hands across the street from corbelled second stories.

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Travel Destinations - Travel reports from the world's best international travel and adventure travel destinations worldwide. Visit Carcassone, France with author Wade Rowland in this in-depth article.

World Travel Guide - Travel article about travel in Languedoc France: long-term vacation rentals in France, gite rentals, family holidays in France, Carcassonne France hotels, Cathar castles, and France medieval times.

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