Carcassonne: Thank God it’s Touristy

Carcassonne, France

“No one goes there any more. It’s too crowded.” –Yogi Berra

When did tourism become such a bad word, especially among – you know – tourists? I always find it a little strange to hear tourists complain that a place is too touristy. It sounds a bit like golfers complaining that the fairway is unnatural.

Of course it’s touristy, you’re here to tour the place aren’t you?

It’s also hard to miss the underlying snobbery that implies “things were so much better before all of THESE people arrived.” The delicious irony is that those people are thinking the same thing about us. While we may see ourselves as sophisticated travelers, to everyone else we’re just another lowly tourist taking up space. 

That’s not to say there aren’t legitimate complaints. Mass tourism does have the capacity to homogenize a place. And none of us enjoy fighting our way through crowds. Certainly we’d all prefer to have the world’s most amazing destinations to ourselves. But that begs a somewhat philosophical question: if nobody visited these popular places, would they still exist?

Sometimes the answer is no.

Carcassonne, France

Fifty-two towers and a double ring of ramparts protected the hilltop stronghold of Carcassonne in southwestern France for more than four centuries. And yet for all its defenses the castle nearly succumbed to a completely unarmed enemy: simple indifference.

After serving as a frontier stronghold since Roman times, land boundaries eventually shifted and, by the mid-1600s, Carcassonne no longer held any military significance. It fell into a state of disrepair, ravaged by time and by builders pillaging stones for construction in the lower town that grew up around it. In 1849, the French government declared that Carcassonne was set to be demolished. An outcry ensued, and a campaign was launched to save and restore the fortified city.

Carcassonne, France

Several movies, a popular novel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation, and even a board game later, Carcassonne is thriving once again. But not everyone is pleased. The imposing fortress is “a little too Disney” for one reviewer on a travel website. Others raised their noses to sniff that “it’s too touristy.” Even guidebooks get in on the disparagement with Lonely Planet saying:

Sadly, the inside of La Cité, as the old walled town is now known, doesn’t quite live up to the fairy-tale façade. With over four million visitors every year, it feels depressingly devoid of any magic and mystery in summer, and the plethora of tacky souvenir shops and cheap cafes does little to contribute to the mystical atmosphere.“

There’s a certain narcissism in this point of view. It’s as if the writer expects that places like Carcassonne should exist solely for him to explore.  

The contribution tourists make in keeping these places open and affordable is never really considered. It’s doubtful any of us would have the opportunity to see Carcassonne, let alone on Lonely Planet’s “shoestring” budget, if not for the hordes of tourists who contribute to its upkeep.

And if you want magic and mystery you don’t have to look any further than the sheer existence of a medieval fortress in the 21st century. To see Carcassonne and not be awed by the ingenuity that built it or the centuries of unrelenting hostilities that made it necessary is to miss the entire point; not just of Carcassonne, but of travel itself. If all you can see are tacky tourist shops and cheap cafes then perhaps you’re a little too jaded.

Carcassonne, France drawbridge

So don’t listen to the naysayers. As you cross the drawbridge and enter Carcassonne, forget about the present-day tourists clogging the streets. Imagine instead the clatter of horses’ hooves on cobblestone and the clang of a blacksmith’s hammer striking steel. Hear trumpets calling men to defend the walls and feel centuries of history wash over you.

But most of all, remember, we’re lucky Carcassonne is still here for us to gripe about.


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23 Comments on “Carcassonne: Thank God it’s Touristy”

  1. Smorgasbord - Variety is the Spice of Life. August 25, 2014 at 10:33 am #

    I come from a place that is both a seaside town and a tourist attraction and it is amazing how blasé the local residents become about treasures that are on their doorstep and some even have a certain pride in not being one of the tourists paying not only entrance fees but also bringing business in for refreshments and accommodation providing jobs. If without children you have the luxury of choosing times to visit very often out of season for bargains and more space…


    • Brian August 25, 2014 at 12:18 pm #

      You’ve made lots of worthwhile observations in that one little paragraph.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Smorgasbord - Variety is the Spice of Life. August 25, 2014 at 2:02 pm #

        oh good – I enjoyed the blog very much – beautiful place – we have similar here near us in Madrid and we are guilty too after 15 years – easier to put visitors on the train…..


  2. shewrite63 August 25, 2014 at 10:37 am #

    As I commented to my sisters during our recent Québec City / Vieux Québec visit, “It would be a more enjoyable experience if it weren’t for all the tourists!”.


    • Brian August 25, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

      Love it. That’s the kind of stuff that gets said all the time. Of course it only works if we don’t consider ourselves to be “tourists,” which of course we all are (sorry “travelers” you’re tourists, too.)

      I like to imagine what would happen if an evil, or even just an excessively literal, genie overheard that comment and wanted to grant you your wish. He’d make all the tourists disappear and you along with them.

      Now it’s true that Québec might be a far more enjoyable place as a result (it’s kind of how I imagine the world post-Rapture) but you’d never know because you’re no longer there to enjoy it. 😉


  3. Charity Patindol August 25, 2014 at 11:33 am #

    Reblogged this on charitypatindol and commented:
    hope someday I can go there…


  4. lesouffleurdemots August 25, 2014 at 12:01 pm #

    Beautiful! I like very much


  5. Wingclipped August 25, 2014 at 2:29 pm #

    “I always find it a little strange to hear tourists complain that a place is too touristy. It sounds a bit like golfers complaining that the fairway is unnatural”.

    Had you been in Bergen at the same time as the Tall Ship Festival this year, like we were, you would have hit your golf ball into the rough and gone to see what lies therein, like we did!!


  6. Wingclipped August 25, 2014 at 2:30 pm #

    ps – your picture of the towers taken through the arch is just beautiful!


  7. theroboticone August 25, 2014 at 3:42 pm #

    I agree! Those words have come out of my mouth on more than one occasion, and I’m not too proud of it! Although Sometimes I utter those fateful words without thinking, when what I actually mean is, as a man who isn’t too fond of crowds, why won’t all these people leave me for 5 minutes to look around instead of wondering if I’m going to be in the way if I stand too long or waiting for the next elbow in my back as I’m shoved around an attraction. As you say though, even with all of that… I’m just glad these things are still around to enjoy. Thanks for a great read!


  8. thenomadicpanda August 25, 2014 at 5:43 pm #

    I’m planning to go there in September while in France 🙂 People are really funny sometimes. I love making up my own mind about places. The world is out there for everyone to see, isn’t it? Great post 🙂


  9. lucinda032 August 25, 2014 at 8:53 pm #

    So well said. I feel kind of sorry for anyone that can’t see beyond the tourists and the souvenirs to the magic and history of a place.
    A well-visited area is just a different experience. I still loved the Grand Canyon, the “touristy-ness” of it was very well done. Sure, hiking a trail with 500 others isn’t my favourite way to hike, but without those 500 others there wouldn’t have been the services, information and well-maintained track for me.
    On the flip side, my local national park is one of my favourite places, but because it gets virtually zero tourists, there is very limited information available and very few maintained tracks, which makes it a bit harder for me to enjoy.
    So I agree – enjoy the experience, and learn to look past the “tourists” and you’ll love it just as much.


  10. wisemonkeysabroad August 26, 2014 at 12:45 am #

    You raise great points! Thanks for sharing a different perspective on “touristy”.
    PS Carcassonne is an amazing place 🙂


  11. digger666 August 26, 2014 at 9:44 am #

    Reblogged this on digger666.


  12. Betty Londergan August 26, 2014 at 10:37 am #

    Really good points you make, Brian, and ones I’ve often considered when I read disdainful travel writing. I love the photos and am happy to be living vicariously thru your travels!!


    • Brian August 26, 2014 at 11:01 am #

      Hi Betty,
      Thanks for following along. I’d say you do enough living on your own that we all should live vicariously through you. 🙂


  13. highland hind August 26, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

    I’ve just spent a weekend with someone who complained constantly about her recent holidays because they were so crowded and mobbed by TOURISTS, so this really strikes a chord today!


    • Brian August 26, 2014 at 12:16 pm #

      Ha ha. Next time tell her you have a sure fire way to avoid the crowds. Stay home! 😛


  14. Debra Kolkka August 31, 2014 at 6:00 pm #

    We loved Carcassonne. Tourists flock to places because they are fabulous so it is quite obvious that some of them will be crowded.


  15. Heather August 31, 2014 at 7:11 pm #

    Sometimes sights are so outstanding that they get very popular … some people need to get over themselves!


    • Brian September 2, 2014 at 6:37 pm #

      The path is beaten for a reason, as we like to say. 😉



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