The largest and most impressive medieval citadel in Europe, parts of this World Heritage Site are over 1,400 years old.
A fairytale ‘must see’ city with drawbridges and towers said to have inspired Walt Disney’s film of ‘Sleeping Beauty’.
Carcassone is actually 2 towns - the double-walled ‘cite’ above, once defending the old French border with Spain, and the medieval ‘ville basse’ by the River Aude, where the town’s rebellious inhabitants were banished in the thirteenth century.
Wander the narrow streets of the ‘cite’ with their cafes and craft shops and visit beautiful St-Nazaire church. If the weather’s fine, take a picnic on the riverbank beside the fourteenth century Pont Aude.
As capital of the largest Roman province in Gaul and an important port until the Middle Ages, Narbonne’s past status depended on the sea. With the silting up of its harbour, the town suffered a decline.
Revitalised into the pleasing town it is today by nineteenth century growth of the surrounding wine region, Narbonne set around the tree-lined banks of the Canal de la Robine has a well restored medieval quarter.
There is ample evidence of Roman occupation in the deconsecrated church of Notre-Dame-de-Lamourguie housing Roman sculptures and inscriptions, the Roman Horreum (underground grain store), and Archbishop’s Palace Museum which includes a large mosaic and Roman ship’s rudder. All open all year on a joint ticket.
Close by, Narbonne’s unfinished Gothic cathedral of St-Just-et-St-Pasteur overshadows the town with its massive 40m high keep. Inside you can see beautiful fourteenth century stained glass and Aubusson tapestries and some of the cathedral’s most precious treasures in the Salle du Tresor - open at selected times.
Surrounded by mountains deep in the heart of Cathar country, the spa town of Alet-les-Bains on the banks of the River Aude is the gateway to its upper valley. Alet’s twelfth century abbey and ramparts were destroyed during Cathar purges but the atmospheric ruins remain to roam around.
Nostrodamus, the sixteenth century French prophet, is said to have lived in one of the medieval colombage (timbered) houses around the square in Alet’s well-preserved town centre square.
Other sights include a medieval Jewish ghetto and restored Episcopal Palace, which is now partly a restaurant serving regional cusine. Buy one of the oldest brands of bottled water from the natural springs here.
From 1 May onwards, you can also swim in the waters in an outdoor pool. Said to be good for the treatment of anything from obesity to diabetes, do like the Romans and Frankish king Charlemagne, and take your own spa treatment.
Contact Les Thermes d’Alet-les-Bains tel: (00 33) 4 68 69 90 27 for details.
The sandy beaches of the department of Aude stretch south from the mouth of the River Aude along the Golfe du Lion. See chalets built on stilts along the beach at the fishing village of Gruissan backed by vineyards and pines.
Village houses circle around Gruissan’s ruined Tour Barberousse dating back to the ninth century where, in June, a procession to the sea celebrates Saint Pierre, the patron saint of fishing.
The resort has great facilities, including restaurants and nightlife, crèches, pleasure port, watersports such as sail-boarding and jet skiing, deep sea fishing and a ‘station kid’ for family fun. These amenities are also available at Narbonne Plage further along the coast. At the foot of La Clape Massif and just 15km from Narbonne, the town has a friendly feel with little shops and restaurants set amongst terraces.
There’s plenty for children to enjoy, including water and fun parks, at Port-la-Nouvelle on the edge of lagoons south of Narbonne. Sporting activities range from sailing to horse riding. Enjoy Port-la-Nouvelle’s golden beaches, explore the salt fields of the lagoon or take a summer catamaran trip up the coast to Gruissan. Buy souvenirs and local produce in the resort’s twice weekly markets and have fun at firework displays in July and August.
At the southern edge of Aude’s coastline on the edge of the Narbonnaise Mediterranean Regional Natural Park, Leucate Plage makes a picturesque holiday playground with its 17km of fine golden sands backed by a lagoon and the Corbiere Hills.
All kinds of nautical pursuits are available and the north-west Tramontagne wind has been turned to advantage by windsurfers and kite-buggy enthusiasts. Port Leucate has moorings for 1,200 pleasure craft. A ‘station kid’ or children’s fun park makes Leucate family-friendly, and panoramic Cape Leucate is a favourite with walkers and mountain bikers as well as migratory birds.
Confusingly, St-Pierre-sur-Mer, close to the border with Herault, is sometimes known as St-Pierre-la-Mer. Whichever you call it, the little town comes alive in summer as a beach resort favoured by a cosmopolitan European mix of holidaymakers. Its 8km of fine sandy beaches are reached by winding roads through the La Clape garrigue and limestone cliffs.
Along with 300 plus days of sunshine, enjoy the daily farmers’ market, water based leisure pursuits including parasailing and windsurfing schools, and guided tours on foot and horseback into the surrounding countryside .