If you have time for only a short day trip to Carcassonne, definitely spend most of it in the old hilltop walled city, La Cité. However, if that’s all you see while in Carcassonne you’ll miss out on some of the interesting sights of the city. The “new” lower town Carcassonne is also worth a visit. Besides, it’s not as if you can get to La Cité without at least passing through the lower town. You can’t.
Old and new are relative terms. Some parts of the lower town is new only relative to La Cité, which dates from the Middle Ages. The oldest parts of the new town are still quite old from the perspective of someone like me. Apart from my travels, I’ve lived my entire life in a shiny, comparatively new North American city, Toronto.
Lower town Carcassonne was quite lively on the day I spent there.
A few intersecting pedestrian-only streets lined with shops grace the city centre. Those streets were bustling when I was there. That was a Saturday and, by coincidence, a little before noon, a small brass band entertained the passing crowds from a the patio outside a hall on one of the shopping streets. The hall, which sits beside Carcassonne’s main permanent indoor market, was hosting an event for local wineries.
There were also a few lively and attractive squares in central Carcassonne. I don’t know how many days a week it happens, but the main square hosted a colourful, thronged farmers’ market when I stumbled on it.
A River and a Canal Run Through Lower Town Carcassonne
A river runs through Carcassonne, the Aude river, to be precise. A charming old bridge over the river serves only pedestrians now, with a newer nearby bridge accommodating cars. A small, picturesque channel runs off the Aude and tumbles over a low falls. The falls are in a peaceful park that graces the space between the river and the channel.
A canal, the Canal du Midi (Midi Canal), also runs through Carcassonne. There’s nothing particularly extraordinary about the section of the Midi Canal that runs through the city, but that doesn’t stop the canal from being extraordinary. It passes through the heart of western France, right from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. Although close to the Atlantic it is a natural navigable waterway, rather than a canal—or so I read; I haven’t seen any of the canal much beyond Carcassonne.
The Midi Canal spans 65 locks and rises to a height of 189 metres (620 feet) above sea level.
Two companies run boat cruises on the canal from Carcassonne. Their respective docks are on either side of the main bridge across the canal. These tours cover only a small portion of the canal before turning back. The one I went on lasted a couple of hours. It went through, if I remember correctly, three locks, one of which was a double lock.
“If I remember correctly.” Because of that phrase you won’t read much more about the boat tour hear. I took it on a gorgeous, sunny, warm day. Trees with gently rustling leaves lined much of the shores of the canals. The tour guide provided interesting, entertaining live (i.e., not pre-recorded) commentary in three languages (French, English and Spanish). In short, I was too busy mellowing out and going with the flow to bother snapping pictures or taking notes. Consequently, because I’m memory-challenged, I’ll leave the narrative about the tour at what I’ve already written.
I’ll finish this post with a humorous aside. At least, I thought it was humorous. However, my sense of humour is kind of quirky, bordering on demented and/or non-existent, so I don’t know if you’ll find it funny.
As I was walking through the lower town of Carcassonne, I passed a takeout restaurant that advertised “American tacos.” I found that funny. Unless they meant “from the Americas” rather than “from the United States of America,” here I was deep in the heart of the land of glorious French cuisine and this place was pushing a rip-off of a cuisine ripped off from Mexico.
Now that I reread that, it doesn’t sound as funny to me as it did at the time. But it’s all I’ve got, so I’ll leave it at that.