Though a bit dated and at first glance expensive, the Auberge de Jeunesse in Carcassonne is the only Carcassonne hostel and offers a great base to spend a day or two exploring one of the most magnificent fortifications in Western Europe.
Location & Getting There
The reason I picked the Auberge de Jeunesse (apart from this being the cheapest accommodation around in the middle of August), is its fantastic location: it sits smack bang in the center of the cité, the fortified original city of Carcassonne, 2 minutes from the Comtal castle, and less than 5 minutes from Porte Narbonnaise.
And because car access is very limited, it’s quiet. Only for a few minutes at about 7 in the morning, the sound of the cleaning car combing through the streets can be heard.
Carcassonne is well connected by train to Toulouse in the North and Narbonne (and with that Barcelona, Spain) in the South. You can walk the 2.5km to the cité, but parts of the cobbled streets are rather steep and uncomfortable to navigate when you are carrying luggage. So for only €1, a bus takes you from the train station straight up to Porte Narbonnaise.
Upon arrival at what at the core might be a 17th-century building but has been thoroughly renovated in typical late eighties/early nineties style, guests are greeted by enthusiastic staff always willing to give advice on where to go and what to do, and even introducing roommates to each other.
The first thing I noticed upon entering room 19, was the choice of sheets provided: instead of changing the cotton sheets between guests new arrivals find a sealed plastic bag with a fitted sheet, a pillow cover, and a sheet that are reminiscent of the booties one puts over their shoes when entering a lab or an OR. I opted to use the fitted sheet and the pillow cover but cover myself with my sleeping bag liner (lucky, I had just washed it after it had been dormant in the depth of my backpack for more than a year…).
Warm blankets were available from a pile stored in a room that has also space to hang clothes on hangers and two wash basins.
Though room 19 shared the two co-ed shower stalls and toilets at the end of the hallways with the rest of the floor, the6-bed dorm boasted two wash basins with mirrors in a separate room (without a door) to brush my teeth and get ready in the morning.
The space with the basins was also the only storage capacity: a built-in closet offered room for hangers and a few shelves. Otherwise, there were no lockers (reception told me other rooms did have them), no storage, no shelves, no table, and only one chair, which the woman who had arrived before me had snatched.
A testament to how out of date – out of touch with requirements of modern hostels – the house is was also the fact that, even though all beds were equipped with their own nightlight there was a total of 2 sockets in the dorm.
Cleanliness was OK – no hairs on my bed, no dust mice, the bathroom was cleaned a few times during the day – though I did notice that there was some coffee spilled on the floor in the room, which did not get cleaned during my 2-night stay.
Fun fact: of the two toilets on the floor one was marked “Men”, zero were marked “Women”.
The Carcassonne hostel has plenty of common areas: a lounge (with a funky brass-covered fireplace), a kitchen with separate eating area, the cantine where breakfast and dinner are served, and outdoor space with tables on a terrasse and a small lawn.
Internet is free and worked well in my room but only in some of the common areas.
The floor plan indicated laundry facilities but I was not able to locate them to verify prices.
Printing my train ticket at the reception cost me 50 cents.
Breakfast was included in the member price of €24.50 per night in the female 6-bed-dorm. It was served every day from 7 to 9 and included the usual: fresh baguette bread (toaster available), 2 instant juices, coffee, (black) tea, milk (and chocolate on the tables), cornflakes, sugary chocolate muesli, butter, jam, honey, cream cheese, natural yoghurt, tinned fruit. It wasn’t grand but filled a hole.
There is an option also to get dinner. Just enquire at reception. A cassoulet meal (cassoulet is the local white bean and sausage specialty) including a glass of wine was advertised for €13.
There is a multitude of restaurants in the cité catering to the tourists. I tried two more budget options: the tapas place L’Escargot (near the castle), and bistro Le Tauquet (at the Petit Puis). I enjoyed both of them and paid €20 and €16 respectively for a menu plus an alcoholic drink as an aperitive.
Since the Auberge de Jeunesse has a kitchen, you might as well cook for yourself. To buy groceries you have to head down to Place Carnot: twice a week in the mornings there is a market selling fresh produce, and in the vicinity, you’ll find Monoprix and Carrefour supermarkets.