On those days when you feel like climbing the walls, they might as well be winsome.
The bold ramparts of Carcassonne are a dazzling place to begin. Bedevilments fade when that great medieval fortress looms there in the South of France below the Pyrenees and above the River Aude.
The aura of old Carcassonne assaults the senses like a battering ram at full swing. There are magnificent drawbridges, gateways, turrets, loopholes, a 12th-Century castle and rings of crenelated walls.
Inside those steep walls are lush gardens, ancient armaments and the Basilica St. Nazaire, which was begun in the 11th Century and is compared, in lacy beauty, to the Sainte Chapelle in Paris.
Touring Southern Wall
I'd start the exploration with a guided tour of the southern wall, which leaves from the Chateau Comtal. After this warm-up you can ramble on your own among building signs of the times: large, uncemented blocks from the Roman period; brickwork in a herringbone pattern that dates from the Visigoths.
If you like to read between the lines of history, stroll between the walls in the wide-open spaces called lists. Imagine the thud of a catapult's stone, the snapping of heraldic banners. If you stay overnight at the Hotel de la Cite, there are no holds barred on dreams.
Another favorite walled town of France is Dinan in Brittany, not far from St. Malo and Mont St. Michel. Behind its thick walls are cobbled streets with gabled and half-timbered houses leaning gently, shoulder to shoulder. Artisans thrive in this pretty village: weavers and sculptors and painters.
Terraced gardens lead to the Duchess Anne Promenade that skirts the rampart above the River Rance. In Dinan's castle you can see a collection of famed Breton lace coiffes-- or headdresses--which are rarely worn today except for festivals.
I have climbed up shadowy steps inside the pale walls of Dubrovnik on Yugoslavia's crinkled coast. It was worth the odd dank moment to break through to the top and see the blue sheen of Adriatic, the gray ridge of mountain, the red rippled roofs of the Old Town, where motor traffic is forbidden and the leisurely sipping of strong coffee is encouraged.
(It was not worth it to return for a nightclub act in a cold, dark hole-in-the-wall.)
More than the snake charmers, more than the endless cups of mint tea poured by merchants, more than the haunting cries from the minaret Koutoubia, it is the burnt sienna walls of Marrakech that glow in the memory. The wide, squat walls of puddled clay are as irregular as a desert chieftain's tent in a shifting breeze. Unless you are too near the tannery, the air can smell of orange blossoms.
If I were to go climb a wall right now, it might be in the splendid Incan citadel of Machu Picchu in Peru.
It might be the walls of Chester in England, or those of Canterbury or York. It might be to that monumental zigzag, the Great Wall of China, whose length is more amazing than its height.
More likely, it would be to a wall I have not conquered, to a small, stone mountain I have not climbed.