Sunday, 16 February 2020

68 hours in Carcassonne and Toulouse, France


We’ve recently returned from a weekend away in the South of France. To be specific, a small town called Carcassonne. When I mentioned our trip before we went, a lot of people had not heard of Carcassonne, and to be honest I hadn’t known about it long. We bought a book a couple of months back which has a bunch of recommendations for trips away in Europe and Carcassonne was one of them. Flights were super cheap with Ryanair from Manchester (£40 each return) so we booked up and found a cute little Airbnb to house us for our long weekend away.

The South of France is of course known for its hot climate and is a popular destination in the Summer, but not so much in the Winter. When we met our Airbnb host she warned us that some restaurants and shops may not be open due to the time of year. Once we started our exploring it didn’t bother us too much, it was very tranquil and added to the relaxing atmosphere. Obviously, it would be lovely to visit it when everywhere is open and in full swing, but for our visit it was great. 

We explored the streets on our first night looking for a supermarket to fill the fridge and a restaurant to fill our bellies. The newer part of Carcassonne is small and very walkable. There are quaint little streets that lead you to open squares with cafes and restaurants.

Carcassonne police station art deco clock
Carcassonne Saturday food market
Carcassonne streets

On our second day, a Saturday, we were told about the market that is held in one of the squares. In an effort to take in the French culture we had a walk along. It was such a bustling and vibrant market full of fresh produce. It was so fantastic to see that this was their way of living, popping out on a Saturday morning to buy their essentials, with very little plastic insight, and to chat to their friends along the way. There were many times we saw people bump into people they knew and stop for a chat. The simplicity of it all and the slower way of life makes me want to move right away. 

After this, we headed to the Medieval city. When I first saw it I was awestruck at how pretty and beautifully preserved it is. It is like a huge adult playground. We walked up the steep hills to get inside and it was a maze of streets with restaurants and small shops. If you’ve seen Game of Thrones it reminded me of King’s Landing. We walked around the fortified city many times seeing everything there was to see and taking in the many fabulous views of Carcassonne. Later on in the day, I told you it’s a maze in there, we finally stumbled across the main part where you can pay to on in and explore further (Le Château Comtal). It’s definitely worth the trip inside as you learn about the history of it all and you get to walk parts of the wall you otherwise can't.

Cité Médiévale Carcassonne - Medieval City
Cité Médiévale Carcassonne - Medieval City Views
Cité Médiévale Carcassonne - Medieval City
Cité Médiévale Carcassonne - Medieval City
On Sunday, we took the double-decker train to Toulouse. Unfortunately, almost everything was closed there on Sundays but we had a good look round at all the tourist spots and down to the river. We ate burgers and came across a super busy and very delicious tea room. The cake selection was small enough so that they did it well but big enough for a good selection. I went for the sickliest chocolate item I could find and Matt went for the biggest piece of apple pie he’s ever had. Having a pit stop amongst the French, eating our cake and drinking our tea was lovely. 
Toulouse France City Hall
Toulouse France City Hall
Toulouse France River Garonne
Toulouse France Street

On our last day, we were back on the streets, wandering around for some breakfast and of course, we had the most French breakfast there is; pastry, baguette and jams, juice and tea - all served out in a typical French square. Again, a little later on, we went for cake. With so many fabulous bakeries and patisseries, it would be rude not to take advantage. My cake was stunning and then it was sadly time to leave.

Although our time in Carcassonne was very quiet, it didn’t hamper our trip or put us off future visits. If anything we got a little flavour for this French town and are eager to go back.

If this is somewhere that you're adding to your travel list, I’ve got a few tips for you:

  • Decide if you're happy with it being quite quiet, or if you want to come in high season and enjoy the full Carcassonne experience. 
  • Use the airport shuttle bus. Carcassonne airport will most likely be the smallest airport you ever did see. When you get out of the airport, a bus will be waiting. Pay €6 each and the bus will take you into town. It usually waits around 45 minutes from the plane landing until it sets off so don't worry if you think it isn't moving. In terms of transport from the airport, there is a severe lack of it with no taxis in sight and no rail connection, so the bus is probably your best bet and it takes less than 10 minutes with no traffic. The first stop is the train station and then there are a couple of other stops after taking you further into town. Then for getting back to the airport, as there aren't many flights the bus has transfers just for these. Check the train station bus stop for times dependent on your flight. 
  • If you're around on a Sunday night, make sure to stock up your fridge the day before. For us, almost everywhere was closed so we couldn't get anything to eat and so went hungry for the night. 
  • Learn a bit of French to get by. A lot of places here only speak French so it’s good to go with a little knowledge of what is being said and what you’re asking for. They are all very friendly people and will try, but it's always nice to learn the language. 
  • Stay in our Airbnb. It was super cute and a great location and also very reasonable for the price. Isabelle the host is also really nice and will show you her recommendations, including a cake shop around the corner which is amazing!
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