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Carcassonne is a beautiful and historic hilltop town located in the Southern French region of Languedoc. We visited it almost by luck since we chose it as a rest stop during our most recent road trip from Spain to Italy. We normally plan carefully our time while on the road and we love to include destinations that are rich in history, gastronomy and natural beauty. Still we are continually surprised when we find these beautiful places we have never heard about before.
We decided to stay in Carcassonne since it represented a good point to rest, there ware abundance of hotels and in general these were more affordable than other places around. We were actually passing through during the very high season of tourism. Beyond the practical reasons we have to admit that initially there were no other motivations to stop there.
We crossed the Pyrenees from Balaguer in Spain, it was a dramatic drive, with narrow roads and impressive natural beauty. We stayed at the Hotel Le Campanile, this is a French chain of hospitality that is doing very well in the country. The hotel was basic but affordable, well located -very close to supermarkets- clean, with free parking and good internet.
Days before the trip we did a quick research and we were happy to find that Carcassonne offers a lot to visitors. Just arriving we were blown away by the view of the medieval old town: probably one of the best preserved examples of these kinds of ancient cities.
After resting for couple hours we decided to explore the historic center. It took us just around 20 minutes walking from the hotel. The weather was beautiful and we stayed until late night. The following day we went back but since it was raining we drove, there are several parking lots around the Old Town, one has to pay during the day and it is free after 8pm and before 6am.
That afternoon we enjoyed a great walked, this is a fascinating city to discover, one is welcomed by a system of double walls, there is a canal in the middle like the ones where it is possible to imagine a dragon would live, there are many restaurants, museums, cafes and different kinds of stores. The place was packed with visitors mostly from Spain and we have to say that it was a lovely evening.
The following morning we explored the surroundings, it is awesome to appreciate the walls, the castle and the many churches from around. The newer part of town is as well very nice. It has a unique French flair with beautiful buildings and parks.
We wish we could have stayed longer in this fascinating town, we departed after lunch with a deep desire to go back in the near future. Carcassonne has been included in the list of heritage sites by UNESCO, once one is there it is very easy to understand such a distinction. There is always so much to discover in Europe, many times these little towns off the beaten path become the nicest surprises of the trip.