“Carcassonne-Land” – My own personal hell.
I was really looking forward to visiting Carcassonne. The history, the bloodshed, the intrigue; all focussed on an amazingly preserved medieval hilltop town, perfect.
As our bus crossed Pont Neuf and I looked at the city…I missed the stop for it (no, really I did). So the kids played in the fountain and park in Gambetta for a while before I insisted that we were here to see the old city, and so see it we would. This is despite the fact that I think that missing a stop or two on a bus is just another way of discovering the better stuff in any given location. Its a tactic, often seen as a mistake. You know, those alleyways that look like visitors weren’t meant to go down them, that’s where the interesting stuff is normally hidden. On this occasion, perhaps unfortunately, the tourist attraction won the day.
As we backtracked and approached the medieval city, I took the photo above. It’s a postcard shot and, for me anyway, an image that promises so much. A well preserved Carcassonne, with its story laid out for visitors as they meander along its narrow streets and between its individually named towers. Unfortunately I now wish I had taken that photo and then swiftly returned to my ‘mistaken’ bus stop and discovered Carcassone the city, the one where people actually live.
Instead we continued on and discovered “Carcassonne-Land” where you can buy any Ice cream flavour known to man or become the proud owner of a branded crossbow, knife, lollipop, or nodding wooden chicken. Within 5 minutes of entering the gates that had repelled so many, I needed to leave.
It’s not that I dislike tourism, it was just the total lack of interpretation and the absence of even the slightest nod to the history of the place that made me feel genuinely sad. It was like a Christmas or birthday present that when you tear the wrapping away… is just an empty box. Beautiful and exciting on the outside…but there’s nothing more.
The saving grace was being with a 7 year old boy who absolutely has to lead, gives ‘not a stuff’ for convention or marked pathways and so, managed to find a rampart walk that had no shops, no restaurants, and few people.
Carcassonne could, and should be so much more than a medieval shell in which to house restaurants and souvenir shops. It is, without doubt, a destination that should not be missed. However, in my opinion, it is currently better viewed from the outside with a small dose of imagination and a little bit of history. Because the inside, even in low-season, adds little and was not the Carcassonne of my dreams.