Standing in the courtyard in front of the Palace of the Popes in Avignon (Palais des Papes), it’s not hard to sense the power and influence that this building was meant to symbolize for the Catholic church. Its grand and imposing architecture spans 15,000 square meters and stands 50 meters high. Soaring into the blue Avignon sky, one wonders if its meant to give the impression that it’s reaching for heaven.

Medieval Carcassonne has been considered a strategic location since Neolithic times. Its first settlement dates to about 3500 BC. This ancient rocky hilltop is steeped in history and lore. The Romans were the first to build ramparts around the cité (walled town) in the 1st Century BC. The prime hilltop location made it easy to defend, and its strategic position between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean sea, as well as between the Massif Central and the Pyrénées made it an important trading place as early as the 6th century BC.