In the Fortress of the Albigensians
Carcassonne looks like it was cut out of an animator's scrapbook of fantastic castles. But this is the real thing. The last stronghold of the Albigensians or Cathars who, unfortunately for them, took a different view to the catholic church on a number of issues of faith and so were scourged to within an inch of their heretical lives, eventually seccumbing to total annihilation or dispersal. This amazing stronghold, now a World Heritage Site, was brought back to life by the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in the mid-19th century. Lit up at night, it is like being transported to the Middle Ages where the clomp of horses hooves can be heard approaching the drawbridge, a rider with a message from the king. Stay INSIDE the walls (not in the new city) in one of the many great hotels, and go in the off-season, if you value things like peace and personal space...
By Anne McGlynn
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11000 Carcassonne, France