The ancient walled city of Carcassonne, sprawling over a hilltop, looks like the stuff of fairytales, all turrets and towers. It's so fantastical in appearance that the suggestions that it was the inspiration for Disney's Sleeping Beauty seem justified. The reality is more serious of course, as it was designed as a fortification, not as a fairytale. Still, the ancient job of repelling invaders has been done, and now this UNESCO World Heritage Site has the new role of drawing in visitors, who come in their hundreds to wander over the drawbridges and along the atmospheric cobbled streets.
There are actually two cities in Carcassonne, the one within the walls and the lower town on the slopes that is full of history itself, dating back to the Middle Ages. It's the perfect place to come back down to earth after visiting the towers above, to stop for a glass of local wine in a café or bar or to linger over the delicious local speciality of cassoulet at one of the many restaurants. Another option is to pack a picnic and make for the banks of the Aude, strolling over the Pont Vieux, a medieval bridge with a Gothic chapel at one end, on the way.