Carcassonne: Losing yourself in this 'Labyrinth' city
The Channel 4 adaptation of Labyrinth, the bestselling thriller by Kate Mosse, is set in Carcassonne. The story leaps back and forth from 13th to 21st-Century France and, between lingering shots of Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey's Lady Sybil), there are plenty of glimpses of the town to whet the traveller's appetite.
This charming city even has a specially created Labyrinth walk around the citadel (free to download at katemosse.co.uk) which visitors can explore in peace at this time of year.
The medieval cité alone attracts nearly four million visitors a year, and most come in the summer, when prices are higher, queues are longer and its choked alleys and battlements are much less appealing.
Crowded or not, escaping across the Pont Vieux to the ville basse (lower city) for adventures on less-trodden pathways is highly recommended.
Start on Rue du Verdun, where you can uncover hidden boutiques, stamp museums and dusty toy car shops.
The Chapelle des Dominicaines (19, Rue du Verdun) has a timeline of the city's history running round its walls. You should look in on the Eglise Saint-Vincent on Rue Albert Tomey – which is open Thursday mornings and Saturdays – for the 17th-Century paintings there.
Another, albeit rather different, attraction is La Ferme fromagerie with its enormous cheese wheels (55 Rue de Verdun; lafermecar- cassonne.fr). You may also spot a butcher or two proclaiming France's fondness for horse meat.
On Saturday mornings, Place Carnot, the central square, holds the best of all French food markets, where locals compete for the shiniest vegetables of the day.
In general the square is a sociable place to watch lower Carcassonne go about its business. If hot chocolate is your kind of thing, nearby Le Carnot has 10 varieties.
Heading north to the banks of the Canal du Midi, the busy town opens into stunning countryside, lined with regal plane trees. To see it at its best, you can walk, cycle or take a guided boat tour.
If you have wheels, go for a spin through the rolling landscapes of this part of France. Head towards the village of Lastours, 10 miles north of Carcassonne. Up here, in the Black Mountains you will spot four mythical-looking Cathar castles which have clung to the hillside for 10 centuries. You can walk up the hill to examine their ancient stones or drive to the Belvédère viewing point.
All that fresh air will leave you hungry so pick up a quick crêpe at any of the restaurants around Place Carnot. A good option for longer lunches is the Brasserie du Dôme (35 Rue des Trois Couronnes; 0033 468 250348). Order cassoulet, a hefty Languedocian meat stew, as you soak up the centuries-old atmosphere.
After lunch, cross the River Aude to the inner rings of the citadel. Pull faces at gargoyles on a tour of the huge Château Comtal built on Roman foundations in the 12th Century by the Trencavel family. Afterwards, the fearless might enjoy the gruesome Musée de l'Inquisition (17 Rue du Grand Puits; restaurantdesmusees.com).
A five-minute drive from the citadel, Le Parc restaurant, (Chemin des Anglais; 0033 468 718080; restaurantleparcfranckputelat.fr; dinner from €65) has an uninspiring interior but the service, sommeliers and exceptionally inventive dishes make up for this a dozen times over.
Labyrinth by Kate Mosse is published by Orion. The TV adaptation airs on Channel 4 tonight and tomorrow at 9pm.