For their eleventh birthday, the Little Kid (who is now much less little) requested that we all go to Carcassonne. GG & Pops have now joined us so we were a tidy little group of six.
Carcassonne is located in the Occitanie region of southern France about halfway between Toulouse and the Med. We decided that it might be simpler to fly to Toulouse from Paris as the train wasn’t direct and required a change in Bordeaux. Well, after the hour long car ride to CDG and an almost 2 hour delay departing Paris the train looked way more appealing than what was supposed to be a short flight. Anyways… we finally made it to Toulouse, picked up our rental cars and made our way the hour long drive to the medieval city of Carcassonne.
This was our second time to Carcassonne, the first time was 3 years ago when we stopped for an hour on our way from Provence to our friend’s wedding in Auch. We were so amazed, we vowed to return for a few days so we could really experience the town and the Little decided that it should be their birthday trip.
It worked well that we could line the trip up with the arrival of the Grandparents as we knew that the Pops would love this place. And at last we were back.
Carcassonne is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which dates back to Gallo-Roman times around 100 BC. It was a stronghold for the Visigoths and the Cathars before falling into the hands of France. An important battlement built to protect the crucia trade routes from the Mediterranean and all countries to the south through to Northern Europe and the Atlantic coast. Now it’s THE place to buy arms for your kids!
Seriously! Every piece of medieval weaponry, with the exception of perhaps a full size trebuchet, are available in kid-sized replicas in every other shop within the city walls. Battle axes, cross bows, swords, helmets, shields, you name it. Everything your little Chevalier in training might need to be able to learn the ways of medieval warfare.
Our Little picked up a Battleaxe last time that never really recovered after we had to dismantle it for the flight home. This time, they opted for a wooden crossbow complete with suction cup arrows. The crossbow lasted about a day and a half before the trigger broke off. Not exactly medieval quality. We certainly would have lost the town in a siege had we been left to defend it with these subpar weapons! We don’t even need to mention how gullible we were to drop almost €40 on this piece of crap!
We decided to have the full Carcassonne experience and chose to stay at the Hotel de la Cité within the walls of the fortress. We weren’t sure what to expect, but in fact what we found inside was an utterly charming and comfortable respite from the hordes of tourists outside our window. A beautiful courtyard, filled with songbirds and a swimming pool. Plus there was champagne and chocolate mousse cake to celebrate the birthday!
The highlight of the trip was our tour guide Remi, who steered us around the fortress showing us how the architecture was as important as the army defending it. The amazing loopholes built into the walls for archers to aim their arrows, the death holes inside the massive gates where they could drop rocks on unsuspecting invaders below, the crooked drawbridge that defended against battering rams and advancing cavalries.
I asked the Little Kid mid-tour how they were liking their birthday trip so far. “Oh my GOD” they said. “I had no idea that this whole place is just about DEATH.”
How right they were. Neither did I. Perhaps not the ideal spot to celebrate an eleven year old’s birthday but nevertheless, here we were. At least the hotel served some mean Nutella crepes for breakfast!
Carcassone is impressive. You can see how Walt Disney used it as visual inspiration for his recreations of fairy tales. Definitely worth a stop if you’re in this part of Europe.