Our five-day roadtrip in the South-West of France ended in the footsteps of Cathar knights, with the visit of the amazing medieval town of Carcassonne that has come down through the centuries in such an incredible state of conservation! We found out that the city had “five sons” and we visited on of them, the impregnable castle of Peyrepertuse ! Our last stop before going home was the lovely little village of Saint-Lizier in the Arriège department.
Carcassonne might not be the only medieval town in Europe that we can still visit today but it certainly is the most impressive of all! Its size (10 hectares or the equivalent to 10 soccer fields!) and its amazing state of conservation are what makes it so unique. We were in for a time travel back to the days of knights!
Exploring Carcassonne means taking a stroll by its impressive 4-meter-thick fortified walls, visiting its castle, getting lost in its maze of little lanes… We started with the wall from where we enjoyed a lovely view on the surrounding area. Once again, we thought that the spot had not been randomly chosen!
– A few history words –
The story of Carcassonne started as far back as the Gallic and Roman times when a first fortified town was built on this very strategic site. From the top of this hill, watching the surrounding valley was very easy. What’s more, as the city was located at the crossroads between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean and between the Iberic peninsula and Northern Europe, it quickly became an obligatory step for travellers and merchants.
The strategic spot aroused keen interest as it was attacked in turns by the Romans, the Wisigoths, the Moors, the Franks… Later in the 13th century, the pope himself had the city besieged to fight against the the Cathars, these knights who were condemning the richesses of the Catholic Church and who wanted to create a new religion.
Despite all these attacks, the city managed to reach our present time in a impressive state of conservation and this is partly due to the restauration works undertaken by famous architect Violet le Duc in the 19th century. Today the city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We then gladly walked around the little lanes as we had this little gem just for ourselves in this month of January! We were very lucky because with 4 millions visitors each year, Carcassonne is one of the most visited sites in France.
And then finally we visited the imposing castle at the heart of the city.
We then hopped back into the car, heading towards an impressive castle with an unpronounceable name: Peyrepertuse.
Once again, our GPS had decided to play tricks on us and led us to the tiniest mountain roads to go from Carcassonne to one of her “five sons”. The clock was ticking as the sun was beginning to go down… We were in the middle of nowhere!
After several long hours spent on winding roads, we finally reached the little village of Peyrepertuse. The setting was gorgeous! The hilly landscape offered a beautiful frame to the lovely little village. But we still had not found the castle!
So we continued on the little winding road until we finally spotted the castle! It was perched on the top of a very high hill! But how could the Cathars build a fortress up there? We continued our way, hopping that we would get to explore the site before the sun went down…
The fortress was in ruins but we were impressed by its location and by the beauty of the setting. The Cathars must have led a quiet life perched on this 800-meter-high rock!
We started walking up to the fortress, the eyes fixed on our watch.
We discovered a fortress in a better state of conservation than expected when we had arrived at the foot of the castle. Impressive walls were still standing.
After exploring the fortress, we went back down, delighted by this discovery. The fortress perched on its rocky hill set in a beautiful mountain landscape was definitely worth a visit!
The next day, we made a final stop in a lovely little village before going back home. We were in the Arriège department.
We discovered a village that seemed to come straight from a different time. A charming little church seemed to be watching over the tiled roofs gathered around her. The majestic Pyrenees were rising out in the distance. Saint-Lizier has managed to maintain its original cachet.
– Our roadtrip in the South-West of France –