Why go there?
Just 40 miles from the Mediterranean, this huge fairytale fortress perches on a rocky pinnacle above the River Aude. Visit before summer’s crowds and you’ll stand alone on its turreted ramparts, looking down on a busy market town with a grid of medieval streets between the river and Canal du Midi.
What to do
Explore the citadel’s labyrinth of medieval streets, browse antique shops in the ‘ville basse’ lower town and take boat tours on the 17th-century Canal du Midi, a World Heritage site. Further afield, find scenic vineyards offering wine tastings and relax on the beaches at nearby Lac de la Cavayere.
Where to stay and eat
The atmospheric four-star Hotel Donjon (doubles from £115) stands among narrow cobbled streets within the citadel. Expect roof beams and bare-stone walls. At the foot of the medieval citadel, the Restaurant Le Parc is perfect for a special treat. Monsieur Putelat is an acclaimed local chef with two Michelin stars.
How to get there
On the way, take easy detours to pretty Dordogne spots such as Sarlat, Beynac and Domme that are close to the A20 ‘L’Occitane’ autoroute south. If you use the alternative A75 ‘La Meridienne’ route through the Auvergne, you’ll have the memorable experience of driving across the Millau Viaduct, the world’s tallest bridge.