On a typical Saturday morning at home, it’s not uncommon for Travis to still be in bed at 10 am since he’s always sleep deprived after the work week. But when we’re traveling, sleep comes last.
“We can sleep when we’re dead!” he likes to say.
We’re always conscious of how little time we have to explore and how much there is to see when we’re traveling, regardless of where we are.
Our morning at Camping De La Cité was no exception, and I popped awake before the sun was even up, rarin’ to explore Le Château Comtal (The Count’s Castle) and the Cité de Carcassonne, the famous medieval citadel surrounding it. Unfortunately, we couldn’t check out early because the payment office didn’t open until 9 am, a practice which we’re discovering seems rather common at European campgrounds (that and keeping your id over night until you pay and check out.) After realizing we couldn’t leave for hours yet, I tried to go back to sleep but it was too late – I was too excited.
Rolling out of my sleeping bag, I deflated my sleeping pad and camp pillow and packed my bag in its stuff sack. When Trav joined me, we quickly broke down our small tent, mowered down breakfast, and headed for the delicious, free hot showers on site. By the time we were done, it was 9 am.
With the car loaded up, we popped in at reception to pay. We ended up hanging around for another hour while the day staff tried to locate my id, which the night staff had apparently misplaced. I was a bit irked until they served us fabulous coffees on the house, and then the gal at the front desk comped part of our purchase as an apology because she felt so bad. We left later than we’d planned but with warm memories of our night at the campground.
The castle parking area was quite near our campground so in a matter of minutes, we’d parked and were entering the outer wall of the medieval city at Porte Narbonnaise, the eastern wall of the complex. Complete with moat – now dry – and draw bridge, it was impossible not to be swept up in the site’s charm.
I can’t explain why, but I have a thing for draw bridges.
For the first hour or so, we made our way around the perimeter of just the medieval city, walking between its thick inner and outer walls.
Rounding the end of the complex, we followed the road between the high stone walls until we reached Port d’Aude, the western entry point for the medieval city.
We weren’t sure what to expect or where the actual castle began, and we didn’t realize at first that we still weren’t even in the castle. The entire complex is much larger than we first thought and the layout wasn’t clear until we finally looked at one of the maps the gal at our campground had given us. On the map, the inner and outer walls of the Cité, Carcassonne’s medieval city, immediately became clear with the main entrances clearly marked, the castle located against the western city wall (#24), and the huge Basilique Saint-Nazaire (#25) located to the south.
We passed through the massive arched western gate, Port d’Aude, and suddenly we were no longer walking along the quiet, mostly empty street that surrounded the city. Gift shops, artisans’ workshops, and fancy restaurants were densely packed together just inside the inner city wall. Later in the day, the streets would be so packed we could barely move through the network of narrow streets. I particularly loved a little gift shop gallery, not for its wares, but for the interesting old fashioned windows with beautiful brilliant greenish blue bubbled glass set in iron with elaborate brown wooden trim.
Later in the day, the streets would be so packed we could barely move through the network of narrow streets. I particularly loved a little gift shop gallery, not for its wares, but for the interesting old fashioned windows with beautiful brilliant greenish blue bubbled glass set in iron with elaborate brown wooden trim.
Angling our way north through the city streets, we found the entrance to the castle and purchased 2 tickets.
Note that visiting the actual medieval city and outer walls is all free, as is entering the Basilique.
It was a bit unreal crossing the long stone walkway to enter the castle.
I was disappointed to find out after our visit that a portion of the movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves with Kevin Costner was filmed within the Cité’s walls. I wish it had been posted at the castle itself, perhaps with movie notes or photos showing where different scenes were filmed. I’ve loved the movie since I was a kid! In fact, if they had offered a “movie tour” for a couple bucks extra, we probably would have jumped on it!
Yes, I’m aware that Americans watch too much tv and place too much importance on movies. But it’s only because movies are awesome!
It’s interesting to note that this 12th-century UNESCO site was nearly destroyed by the French government in the mid-1800s because it had fallen into such disrepair. Several locals campaigned to save and restore the complex. In 1849, the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc was granted the right to begin work on the site and is largely credited with the renovations, though he deviated from the site’s original construction materials and architecture.
This same architect also restored much of the exterior of the Basilique Saint-Nazaire, the cathedral located within the medieval city walls.
Though the interior supposedly has retained more of its original Gothic architecture, the exterior clearly still reflects its Gothic origins as well. It features classic stonework, ornate gargoyles, and a massive arched rose window.
Despite a recent conversation with a French friend about their use of the word “cult” vs the American definition of the word, we were still bemused to see “Roman Catholic cult” on the sign for the church.
In French, they simply use cult to mean religion. Meriam-Webster defines cult as ” a small religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion and that has beliefs regarded by many people as extreme or dangerous”. I doubt Catholics would describe themselves this way!
If you happened to tell most Americans that you belong to a cult, they’d assume you’re about to “drink the Kool-Aid,” if ya know what I’m sayin’. Maybe it’s just because we have more than our fair share of miscreants willing to follow the likes of David Koresh and Jim Jones. Or maybe it’s because anyone in the US is free to practice any religion they like, even if it’s a religion that preaches anti-religion, as is the case with the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But if you’re ever in the US, I’d recommend you not refer to your religion as a cult – unless you actually do belong to a cult.
Speaking of Kool-Aid and spaghetti, we realized we were famished after leaving the cathedral. We hit up a place that looked like a street vendor from the sidewalk. It had a casual walk-up drop-down window, but just beyond that was a full-on gleaming stainless steel kitchen. For about 7 bucks, we ordered a giant bucket of real French fries (real because we were in FRANCE!), ridiculously tasty fried chicken- greasy and seasoned like my mama used to make, and a couple of chocolate crêpes for pre-dessert, meaning I ate them first.
By then it was early evening, so we started to make our way back to the car. On our way, we passed the Cemetery of the City near the eastern gate and stopped in to briefly wander the rows of headstones. Most were topped with personal memorabilia, photos of the deceased, and stone crosses – so many crosses.
After a long day visiting the medieval city, the castle, the basilica, and the cemetery, we hit the road once again and headed toward the French Riviera.
The French Riviera!
All my life I’ve heard about the famous French Riviera. It didn’t seem real we would actually be there.
After several hours of driving, we reached the Mediterranean Sea. With a fairly abrupt terrain change, we were suddenly cruising past swaying palm trees and luxurious sailboats gently rocking in the waves. Unable to continue driving, we pulled off at the first place that had beach access and clambered down the rocks so Travis could touch the Mediterranean for the first time.
We drove a few more miles, then swung into a campground called Camping Le Dramont not far past the tiny town of Saint Raphaël. We were amazed to find that despite the hour, several seaside tent sites were still available, and we excitedly nabbed a spot. Amazed at our good fortune, we hurriedly pitched our tent in an attempt to beat the setting sun, then headed up the hill to the little pizza shop on site that was still open.
Since it was the last night of our road trip and we hadn’t eaten at a single “nice” restaurant, we decided to splurge, each ordering our own pizza. Ten minutes later, we ran back up the hill to pick up our pizzas, returning just as quickly to the pebbly beach where we sank contentedly onto the warm low rock wall bordering the beach.
Pizza never tasted so good!
Piping hot, cheesy, perfectly prepared fresh seafood pizza devoured while listening to the gentle waves lapping shore, warm sea breezes washing over us, the sky pink with the last of the sun – it was the perfect last night for a memorable road trip!
- Tickets to tour the interior of the castle currentlyy cost €8 per adult. It’s free to visit the inner walls of the medieval city and the basilica.
- Official site for Le Château Comtal (EN, FR, ES)
- Our TripAdvisor review for Le Château Comtal
- Official site for Camping Le Dramont (EN, FR, ES, NL, DE)
- Our Trip Advisor review of Camping Le Dramont
The dark blue pins mark our travel for day nine, from Carcassonne, France to our camping place in Agay, a seaside resort town on the French Riviera. The blue line roughly follows our entire 10-day travel path.