28 October 2014

Narbonne Day Two was a gentle day trip to historical Carcassonne

The original plan was to spend two days in Narbonne and then move on to Montpellier for two days but something was going on there and I was unable to get a hotel and had to settle for four days in Narbonne.

I confirmed on my first day in Narbonne that there was not a great deal to do there but my plan also included staying in a hotel close to the station to make it easy to go out for the day, to places like Carcassonne.

Carcassonne was only half an hour away, more of less due west, and I wanted to go there because of its old fortress, which is about as far as my research on Wikipedia went.

Carcassonne was ready for me and there was a tourist information place just 100m or so from the station and there was a cafe across the road from that where I had my breakfast (coffee and croissant) and had a look at the map. This informed me that the castle that I had come to see was some distance away, about 1.5 km, beyond the town on the other side and across the river.

I set off through the new (or newer) part of Carcassonne which was laid out in a convenient grid pattern. The castle was my destination and I tried not to get side-tracked from this and generally succeeded.

The map suggested some interesting places in the new town and the grid system allowed me to visit them without making the journey any longer. One of these attractions was the neat market square alongside the main road that ran north-south through the centre of the new town from the station.

To the east of the market was another attraction, Square Gambetta, and from there it was a short step to the river and Pont Vieux which crossed it. I could see the castle there on a hill in front of me but the main route in took me east across the top of it then south to the main entrance that faced away from the town.

Walking around a third of the caste gave me a good idea of its size and construction before I even breached its walls. There was a dip, once a moat perhaps, an outer and then an inner wall with both walls reinforced by towers.

Inside the main gate there were more walls and more towers. I have been calling it a castle because that is what I thought it was until I got there but it was really a heavily fortified town; it was Carcassonne until the defence became unnecessary and the river more valuable and so the town moved across the river to where it is now.

The old trades had long gone and been replaced by just one, the tourist trade, and the old town was full of gift shops and cafes. I managed to avoid the former and find a good example of the later. Another coffee was required before plunging in to the castle proper.

The castle within the fortified town had its own walls and towers and was accessed via a drawbridge that was guarded by ticket sellers. The queue was not too long and I was through in a couple of minutes.

There was a suggested route through the castle and I followed that to avoid missing anything. That worked out well for me and I traversed the walkways and staircases with confidence.

Some of the rooms and old relics and one had an exhibition on castles that, I was very pleased to see, included several examples from comics such as, obviously, Prince Valiant.

The views from the castle battlements were often as good as those of the castle. The green belt in the middle of this picture is where the river flows and the new town is just beyond that.

The sun was being indecisive that day and really could not make up its side whether to stay in or to come out but when it did show it made the most of the terracotta roofs of the houses below.

The castle had been abandoned rather than sacked and, while some of it had fallen in to disrepair, that meant that most of it was intact. At least all the main walkways were and it was possible to walk all around the walls of both the castle and the town around it.

I was also pleased that the restoration that had been done did not extend to putting safety railings on the walls. There were times when I was a little cautions, thanks to my vertigo, but I was always grateful for the uninterrupted views.

Carcassonne was made for walking and there were paths running in all directions. The best of them led through archways like this to places unseen and unknown bringing the tingle of exploration with them.

Back outside the castle and in the old town I found the cathedral and, close by, a very friendly restaurant that was ideal for lunch and a decent break. I had done a lot of walking that day and there was more to come.

Eventually it was time to go and I snuck out of the back of the old town, that was the west side facing the new town and the sun. I took a different route back to the new town and the station, one which involved crossing the river on stepping stones, something the little boy in me enjoyed immensely.

That was enough Carcassonne for me and I took the train back to Narbonne and went to try the restaurant that I had spotted the night before. It was a little shabby outside but fantastic in and I had a lovely pancake, or sort, and a local beer. I had found my restaurant for this part of the holiday and had no intention of going anywhere else.

Narbonne may have had its limitations but easy access to places like Carcassonne meant that it was going to be a decent place to stay for a few days after all.

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