The Walls of Carcassonne – Languedoc-Roussillon, France
A Disneyesque Creation of Medieval Military Might
An extraordinary example of early military architecture, Carcassone is the very image of a storybook medieval town. It is surrounded by the longest walls in Europe (nearly 2 miles), a fairy-tale concoction of turrets, watchtowers, battlements, and drawbridges begun in the 6th century. It would take thirteen centuries of alterations, additions, and embellishments by the Romans, Gauls, Visigoths, Arabs, Franks, and French royalty before the double ramparts encircling this prosperous fortified city, the largest in Europe, were completed.
The lices, a path between the concentric inner and outer fortifications, offers views within the preserved citadel as well as the lush green countryside and the River Aude without. Its nighttime illumination provides high drama, though torchlight is no longer used. La Cite is the older part of town, sitting on a 1,500-foot hill that for centuries was the border between the present France and Spain.
The 12th-century Cathedrale St. Nazaire has the most interesting architecture in La Cite. If you’re looking for an exquisite spot to check your bags, try next door at the Hotel de la Cite, on the site of a former Episcopal palace. Built into the ancient ramparts and incorporating one of the fifty-two watchtowers, the newly renovated ivy-covered hotel is one of the finest in the area and boasts an elegant restaurant, La Barbacane.