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How to Make the Best of a Quick Carcassonne Weekend

Spend a weekend traveling from Carcassonne to Toulouse France. Discover all the things to do from Toulouse to Carcassonne. Explore the Southwest of France on a weekend city break.
Once again, hats off to Ryanair for giving us the opportunity to travel to fabulous places we'd otherwise miss.  We touched down in Carcassonne in the southwest of France for a weekend of exploration. 

The plan was to spend a day and then travel from Carcassonne to Toulouse and fly home from there. We took the public bus into town from the airport arriving in the center while Carcassonne was just waking up. 

We did a quick 360 turn around the square and then headed into the heart of town. Family crests were nestled among the eaves. The path leading to the city's fresh food market was covered in marble tiles.

Carcassonne France: The walls of La Cite

A Carcassonne Farmers Market on Place Carnot

Things to do in Carcassonne: Visit the Farmers Market on Place Carnot
This is why we love France - so many amazing fresh fruits, cheeses, and more. Apricots and cherries were in season, not to mention our favorite donut peaches. 

A pile of watermelons sat at the base of a tree while locals sat nearby enjoying a coffee. Zucchini flowers were on offer. 

Neptune sat at the center of Place Carnot presiding over the market. Giants loaves of round bread were available. 

Quaint lampposts marked the four corners of the square. We popped into a local bakery with a line out the door and came away with a warm baguette. 

We paired it with a fresh goat's cheese wheel from the Carcassonne market and make ourselves an impromptu brunch. We sat at the foot of Neptune eating our bread and cheese watching the vendors clean-up for the day.  

It was about 1 pm. On to la Cité!
Things to do in Carcassonne: loaves of bread at the Farmers Market on Place Carnot

En Route to La Cité

After our trip to the market at Place Carnot, we were headed in the direction of la Cité when we spotted an unusual little exhibit. An old church seemed to have been converted into a cardboard replica of the streets of Carcassonne.  

We only got the gist of it as all the exhibit labels were in French but it was worth popping in to see the lovely stained glass window. Next up, we stopped at the Le Musée des Beaux-Arts de Carcassonne.  

The entryway featured a bald statue with a raised eyebrow and a winding staircase with sunburst.  We expect further treasures were on display inside but decided to forego a longer stop to ensure we had enough time at La Cité. 

Moving on, we passed an eerie display of hooded creatures crafted from twigs. The artists were still on site putting on the finishing touches to their creations. We took one last look at the Art Nouveau buildings of the square before moving on.
Bust at Le Musée des Beaux-Arts de Carcassonne

Carcassonne La Cité

Bridge to La Cité in Carcassonne
We set our sights on La Cité in Carcassonne.  We followed the convenient signs uphill from the 'new' town center. 

There were some amazing smells emanating from Cite Pizza but we managed to resist and carry on. We finally spotted La Cité in the distance across the river. 

An old stone bridge and another amazing twig sculpture loomed in the distance. We passed a strange, abandoned Art Nouveau building that was definitely a fixer-upper. 

Across the street we spotted a private park with a small painted tower. Soon the rain started to fall so we picked up the pace. Before long we were in the shadow of La Cité. 

We looked up at the fine stone walls and more modern turrets (restored by Viollet-le-Duc in a romantic but not historically accurate way). The crooked drawbridge (making the fortress all the more difficult to invade) beckoned us. 

As we were about to cross, a flock of pigeons stirred at a nearby fountain. We admired the solid walls as we entered. It was raining even harder at that point so we settled into a cafe for a coffee and a giant macaron which was divine as usual.
Giant macarons in Carcassonne
We traced a ring around La Cité between the outer and inner defensive walls to get a sense of the place. Wildflowers erupted in patches lending a shock of color to a gray and dreary day. 

Brilliant green fields rolled away in the distance. We admired the turrets and stepped profile of the wall. 

We detoured into town and stopped at the grand Gothic cathedral. Gargoyles wearing shocked expressions jutted from the facade. 

Inside, the church was voluminous and dark except for the light peeking in through the large stained glass windows. We admired the leafy exterior of the Hôtel de la Cité and popped in casually to have a look around the posh interior which featured a very expensive bar and restaurant. 

We jaunted back toward the wall, passing a strange sculpture installation en route which was nearly hidden amid the medieval buildings.
Gargoyle in Carcassonne

Carcassonne Castle

Carcassonne features a cavernous castle with a warren of paths to explore on your own.  We crossed the drawbridge to enter the site. The moat now boasted a lovely garden. 

One of the castle's interior courtyards featured an enormous and well-coiffed tree. We climbed to the upper reaches of the castle and looked down on the city of Carcassonne below. 

Old windows featured placeholders for stained glass. We could see the cathedral and the rest of La Cité in the distance. 

We peeked through a window at the courtyard below. A defensive footpath wound around the perimeter of the castle. The old stone roof was dotted with colorful mold. 

An art gallery filled one wing of the castle and featured a strange but oddly pleasing juxtaposition of old and modern. We finished our tour by admiring some of the medieval artifacts on the premises. 

Some were quite expressive. We crossed back over the drawbridge and lost ourselves again in La Cité
Things to do in Carcassonne: Visit Carcassonne Castle

Carcassonne Wine Break

I spotted a lovable furry dog lounging in the doorway of a bar across the street from the castle in La Cité. We sat down at the bar and indulged in a glass of French red wine. This pub was clearly a favorite with the rugby set. 

We were delighted when the owners' slightly more spry faithful friend jumped up to greet us at the bar! Meanwhile, the old loafer near the door decided she wanted some love which we were happy to provide. 

We lingered for a while and then reluctantly left Le Senechal for our walk back down the hill to the 'new' part of Carcassonne and our hotel for the night. We couldn't resist taking one last pass through the gardens in the shadow of the castle. 

We soon wound our way back to the wall and again admired the shock of wildflowers growing into the stone. The path led us down toward the entrance to town. 

We kept looking back up at the beautiful profile of la Cité. We walked across the old stone bridge back to town. We got a close up view of the twig sculpture we'd seen earlier from the road. 

The river ran fast and branched into two forks.  We followed the river's course to our hotel for the evening and a well-deserved rest after a busy day of exploration.

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: What else is there to do in the Southwest of France? If you have more time, you could consider exploring Montpellier and Langedoc by car. The flamingos of the Camargue are a must see and one of the all-time highlights of our travels. 

Carcassonne is also within striking distance of Costa Brava Spain where you could easily spend a day in Girona, seek out an alternative side to Lloret de Mar or really get off the beaten path in charming Palafrugell. Rather than backtracking into France, you could always continue on to Barcelona and fly home from there. 

An Evening Deluge in Carcassonne

We walked back into town in search of a pre-dinner drink.  We encountered a troupe of flamenco dancers strutting their stuff outside of a Spanish tapas restaurant. 

Spirits were running high as the chef stirred the paella. All roads in Carcassonne seem to lead to Place Carnot.  

We settled into Bar Felix for a glass of wine and to watch rugby with the locals.  The paintings on the wall mirrored the scene outside. 

We soon noticed it had starting to rain outside - we'd come in just in time! The rain continued to increase in intensity. 

I soon noticed a stream running down the road outside the bar. The water seemed to be getting higher and higher but none of the locals seemed overly concerned. 

Within 15 minutes, the water was lapping at the door and then I was standing in 3 inches of water! Again, no one seemed overly concerned although a few people moved to higher ground while the staff squeegied the water back out the door. 

Even our waiter jumped up on a chair to have a smoke. We retreated to the back of the bar where we admired the stained glass light fixtures. 

We snuck out the back door where the street was surprisingly dry. Circling back around, we caught a glimpse of Bar Felix from the front.  The flood waters were starting to subside as we went in search of dinner.
Flooding in Bar Felix on Place Carnot in Carcassonne

Dinner in Carcassonne

Given the state of the weather, we didn't want to venture far for dinner and settled on Le Saint Roch on Place Carnot. The inside of the restaurant was bright and modern. 

We settled in and ordered ourselves a bottle of locally produced wine. We tried the three course menu of the day which included smoked salmon, refreshing gazpacho, pork medallions and Carcassonne's signature cassoulet brimming with beans and chunks of meat. 

It was truly fantastic and the perfect dish after getting soaked in the rain. For dessert, I opted for the warm flourless chocolate cake. Oh...my...God...so delicious. We also tried the creme brulee. 

Overall, it was an amazing meal.  There was just one mystery to solve as we left the restaurant.  We noticed a pile of numbered stones sitting on a tray.  I'm not sure what they are for but it's fun to imagine - medieval bingo balls perhaps?
Cassoulet in Carcassonne France

Photographing La Cite After Dark

After dinner we walked back toward La Cité.  The citadel was striking after dark.  I'll let this picture, one of many amazing photos of France, speak for itself…
La Cite in Carcassonne after dark

Where to Stay in Carcassonne

For our one night in Carcassonne, we stayed at Entre Bastide et Cite.  Situated in a renovated townhouse, Miriam, our host, breathed new life into the place with her pleasing aesthetic of whitewashed walls and slightly distressed antiques. 

We climbed the stairs to the upstairs sitting room.  We smiled at a WWII era radio featuring different countries up and down the dial. 

Comfy seats were tucked in under the sloped roof. We emerged onto the rooftop terrace, sipping a Nescafe and drinking in views of la Cité. 

The next morning, we awoke to a gorgeous breakfast featuring cheese, bread, homemade cake, and homemade yogurt. No time to waste!
Where to Stay in Carcassonne: Entre Bastide et Cite

Getting from Carcassonne to Toulouse

We bid our farewell to Carcassonne walking due north to the train station where we would be whisked to Toulouse. 

How far is it from Carcassonne to Toulouse? Toulouse is about 100 km from Carcassonne. It takes between 60-90 minutes to drive but just 45 minutes by train.

Toulouse Food Market

We emerged in Toulouse after the 45 minute journey from Carcassonne. The rain continued to flow but we didn't let it dampen our spirits. 

Instead, we made our way to the food market in Toulouse. Housed in an old parking lot, the Toulouse food market features a stunning array of culinary delights.  

Fruits and vegetables lined the outside walls. Inside, a myriad of different fish were on offer. Mmmm...bacon... Cheese of every description called to us. 

Tripe seemed quite popular as there was a whole aisle devoted to this specialty.  More to our liking, we spotted all manner of sweets including a flaky apple tart. 

Lobsters awaited their fate along with a large number of other crustaceans. We stopped at Chez Catherine for a quick espresso to get us going. 

Across the aisle, my eye was drawn to huge loops of raw sausage. As always, the bread made my mouth water and we picked up a baguette for later. 

Lighted signs added atmosphere to the place. Colorful spices overflowed their vessels outside. We finished our visit to the Toulouse food market with a nice glass of local white wine.  It seemed to be the thing to do on a Sunday morning.
Toulouse Food Market

Lunch at Le Magret in Toulouse

The food market in Toulouse features a second story full of restaurants which was very popular with the locals on a rainy Sunday afternoon.  We did a quick loop around the outer terrace before settling in for lunch. 

We perused the menus before settling in on Le Magret. We were seated at one of the last available tables. We opted for the 3 course menu of the day.  

Due to the inclement weather, we were in no rush and decided to try a carafe of the house wine with our meal. Goat's cheese on toast kicked things off. 

We tried salmon with rice and the namesake grilled duck and fries.  Both were delicious! For dessert, we had a small slice of tarte tatin and chocolate mousse. F

orty euro for two people seemed like a bargain given the quantity of food and the quality.  Delicious food is one of the many reasons we love coming to France.
Where to eat in Toulouse: Goat's cheese on Toast at Le Magret

Sunday Afternoon at the Capitolium in Toulouse

The streets of Toulouse were deserted on this rainy Sunday afternoon - I think everyone was having lunch at the Toulouse food market!  

We made our way to the Capitolium, a welcome indoor diversion to wait out the rain. We walked through the striped stone courtyard until we noticed an unassuming door to our left. 

We tested it gingerly and discovered that the building was indeed open! We walked in and our mouths immediately dropped open at the sight of a soaring, richly painted ceiling. 

We ventured through a carved and gilded door. Romantic paintings adorned the walls and the ceilings. We spotted noble busts alternating with the paintings. 

The busts seemed to capture famous French thinkers from a variety of disciplines.  We spotted Fermat,  the mathematician with the famous last theorem. 

We entered the main hall and again our jaws dropped.  The room was spectacular. We practically had the Capitolium to ourselves. It's always a good idea to go exploring.  

The Capitolium looked to be an average government building from the outside, but inside it was full of artistic treasures.
Painted ceiling of the Capitolium in Toulouse

An Afternoon Walk in Toulouse

We enjoyed a break in the rain in Toulouse and used the opportunity to go exploring down the winding streets of the old city.  Brilliant Art Nouveau style could be found at every turn. 

We stumbled upon the lovely Eglise des Jacobins. Inside pillars exploded into angular beams supporting the roof. Impressive stained glass let the light in. 

A mirror was set-up to give a unique vantage point for viewing the roof. We emerged from the church, saw the sun peeking out, and pointed ourselves immediately toward the Garonne River.

Garonne River Walk in Toulouse

We arrived at the picturesque Pont Saint-Pierre along the River Garonne in Toulouse. We spotted an art installation along the opposite bank of the river that was part of Artist Comes First - Toulouse's international arts festival. 

We followed the shaded path along the river. We sat down for a rest on a park bench.  It was such a relaxing scene, I nearly fell asleep right there! 

We looked back at Pont Saint-Pierre and a spec of yellow caught our eye. A guy in a giant yellow bird suit was making his way across the bridge.  

There's something you don't see everyday! We continued along the path toward Pont Neuf admiring the local architecture as we went. 

We crossed the river and spotted the Galerie municipale du Château-d'Eau - an art gallery in an old water tower. We spotted human and animal faces watching us as we walked past. A giant metal rooster greeted us on a small sleepy square.
Things to do in Toulouse: Walk along the Garonne River
We circled around to Jardin Raymond VI which featured old walls and creeping vines. We soon arrived at the Musée des Abattoirs, a modern art museum built in an old slaughterhouse. 

A major exposition of Tony Smith's work was underway and displayed alongside that of his daughters Kiki and Seton. We wandered around the museum briefly, enjoying the jarring sensation of this bold modern art in a historic setting. 

We found a small plaque near the backdoor which seemed to pay tribute to the previous use of the building. We ducked out the back for a quick coffee at the cafe in the museum's courtyard. We emerged along the river; summoned by the sound of burbling water.  

We were delighted to find a small waterfall flowing at this section of the Garonne. We retraced our steps (in the sunshine this time!) through the garden and through the winding streets of Toulouse toward Pont Neuf. 

Just before we crossed the river, we caught a glimpse of the dock for water ambulances.  The entrance was used in times of plague to bring the victims in for treatment without putting the rest of the town at risk. Fascinating history…

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Looking for other ideas for places to visit in France? Have you thought about:

Old Town Toulouse

We closed out the day with a random walk through Old Town Toulouse. Half timbered medieval houses lined narrow streets. 

Once again, new was super-imposed on old as shops took up residence in the ground floor of sagging medieval buildings. We wandered down a quiet, narrow lane. 

We eventually made our way to Basilique Saint Sernin. Inside, services were just about to start but we were able to do a quick, inconspicuous tour around. A pipe organ was nestled along the high white walls. Statues of various religious figures lined the walls. 

Back in the street, we made our way back to the bus terminal for our return to the airport.  En route, we passed riotous greenery everywhere we turned. We definitely enjoyed our whirlwind tour from Carcassonne to Toulouse.  

By combining two French cities in one weekend, we were able to make the flight logistics work (i.e., there is no return flight to Dublin from Carcassonne on Sunday and no outbound flight to Toulouse on Saturday) so that we could travel without taking any vacation days.

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Toulouse to Carcassonne in a weekendCarcassonne to Toulouse in a Weekend

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: How to Make the Best of a Quick Carcassonne Weekend
How to Make the Best of a Quick Carcassonne Weekend
Spend a weekend traveling from Carcassonne to Toulouse France. Discover all the things to do from Toulouse to Carcassonne. Explore the Southwest of France on a weekend city break.
Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog