#9 – Carcassonne
My name is Sally, and I am a giant nerd.
I’ve been this way my whole life, but this trip to Europe really cemented the title. When Katie and I first started planning our trek through France (before we even knew who else was coming) one of us had the brilliant idea to go to Carcassonne. We love the board game of the same name – it’s one of the best two-player games ever. In it, you build walled cities, claim roads, farm fields, and complete cloisters. You know, typical activities of the French countryside.
Because this isn’t some made-up place (ahemahemCatanahemahem) – it’s an honest to god city in France, and we planned basically our entire
lives trip around going there.
It was everything we dreamed it would be and more. The walled city itself was incredibly beautiful – cobblestones, winding paths where you have no choice but to get hopelessly lost. Abandoned fountains in courtyards, chip shops run out of literal holes in the wall, a beautiful cathedral. Everywhere we turned we saw sunshine slanting between towers and over the stone walls.
The main castle at Carcassonne – Château Comtal – was built in the 12th century. Over the years, this French city actually served as the border with Spain (which is crazy, if you see if on a map today). The city had a turbulent history which mostly involved many phases of people taking over the walled city, driving out all the old inhabitants. and gradually developing suburbs (from which they tried to lure people back into the city to actually fill it).
The castle was restored in 1853, back when preservation/restoration was still a relatively new idea. It was a challenge to find a single period to restore the castle to, so they went with a bit of a mish-mash and the result is fascinating. Horseshoe shaped towers stand next to ramparts that are separated by hundreds of years. My favorite parts were the views from the top of the hill (way to pick a prime castle location, builders of yore!) and the simple, practical design of the entire place – like the carefully crafted yard by the drawbridge that was designed to give archers easy aim at anyone who snuck in. Imagine shooting fish in a barrel and you’ll know how likely it was that the people on the ground weren’t going to make it to see the inner courtyards.
Our day in Carcassonne was nothing short of spectacular. It was a reminder of the value of the past – and the joy of the present, which lets NH nerds visit the land from their board game dreams.
Tips for visiting Carcassonne:
- You don’t need to stay overnight – we took a train in the morning from Toulouse
- Spend some time winding you way up to the castle – the bridges leading there are gorgeous (but you can skip the museum in the city center)
- Take the audio tour – it gives you some seriously amazing history
- Splurge on some fun souvenirs – where else are you going to get a Carcassonne shot glass or tea towel? NOWHERE.
- Generally, follow your weirdest, nerdiest dreams and you’re bound to find some pretty great adventures in the real world along the way.
The #9 is brought to you from a playground in a schoolyard in Carcassonne.
All photos are my own unless otherwise stated.