Fairy Tale France
Walt Disney is said to have been inspired by its towers, turrets, and ramparts, and you can understand why when the sun rises up over the medieval city of Carcassonne in southeast France. It’s easy, too, to imagine a knight galloping up the cobbled streets and dashing through the portcullis to save his princess.
In fact Carcassonne, at the heart of Cathar country, was first recorded in pre-Roman times. It was, and continued to be for centuries, an important fortification with views up and down the Aude valley–west toward Castelnaudary and east to Narbonne and the Mediterranean; to the south tower the Pyrenees Mountains and to the north the Montagne Noir, or Black Mountains.
Today, the city of Carcassonne, capital of the Aude department in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, has two parts to entice full- or part-time residents and investors–the medieval Cité (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) up on a plateau on the right bank of the river Aude and the Bastide Saint Louis below the Cité on the left bank. The Bastide, commissioned by Saint-Louis in 1260, was built in an easy-to-navigate grid pattern. Though the medieval Cité is where the majority of tourists head, the Bastide is where the majority live. In fact only 47 people live permanently in the Cité.
The whole area has much to offer tourists and residents alike. Within the Cité there is, of course, the medieval castle and St. Nazarius Basilica, but there are also beautiful boutiques, artists’ workshops, Michelin-starred restaurants, and glorious hotels to explore, such as the Hotel de la Cité. The Bastide has a wealth of architectural styles centered on the Place Carnot (where a produce market is held three times a week), with its pretty fountain, street-side cafes, and restaurants. There are one-off and brand-name boutiques, museums, an impressive library, a daily indoor market at Les Halles, and the Canal du Midi, the Bastide’s own UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Just 10 minutes’ drive from the center is a stunning 18-hole golf course, and a natural leisure park with freshwater swimming, hikes, and picnicking. Within an hour from Carcassonne you can be sunning yourself on the sandy beaches of the Mediterranean, and within 90 minutes skiing in the Pyrenees. There are thousands of acres of vineyards producing many award-wining wines, the wilderness of the Black Mountains and the Corbières hills to explore, awe-inspiring medieval castles to visit, the cosmopolitan city of Toulouse an hour west along the freeway, and Spain just a hop and a skip across the border.
Tourism is thriving in Carcassonne–often too thriving for locals who move out during the summer, renting their apartments to visitors. Given the attraction of the Cité, the Bastide, and the surrounding area, property prices are very reasonable. Fully renovated apartments range from about €50,000 for a studio to €200,000 for a six-bedroom property. Houses in Carcassonne center are harder to find but are available from about €200,000. If you extend your search to 5 kilometers out from the center, there’s a far greater choice, everything from new-build villas to renovation projects. Rents start at about €350 per month for apartments and from €600 per month for houses.
If you are drawn to the Old World and history, have a love of wine and good eating, have a relaxed temperament, and like to get out and explore, Carcassonne could be an exciting place for you to consider.
I’ll have a full report on life in this glorious region of France in next month’s issue of the Overseas Retirement Letter.