Here are the ManorCastles’ recommendations & reviews of the best luxury castle hotels/chateau hotels to stay in France, hotels that provide accommodation which no other type of luxury hotel can match.
The very popular, very historic, city of Carcassonne has a little secret that allows one to soak in all that lovely medieval atmosphere without being disturbed by the tourists hoards. The perhaps blandly titled Hotel de la Cité is that secret. It is a Neo-Gothic structure which sits snugly into the old city fortress walls and gives special access to some very romantic path ways around the walls where you are free to wander in the quiet of the evening or night when all the tourists have long gone.
It is also the only five star hotel in central Carcassonne, and undoubtedly the city’s best, with a Michelin starred restaurant which might also be the city’s best, top of the range spa facilities, a swimming pool and some beautifully tended gardens from where you can enjoy the fantastic views. The service is impeccable and the interiors lack nothing in terms of comfort and old fashioned elegance. The hotel business goes back over 100 years and you’ll find most of the styling dates back to that era, the Belle Epoque, though with many contemporary and faux-medieval touches too.
Carcassonne’s La Cité goes back at least 2500 years, with the first signs of extensive human, Celtic Gauls to be exact, settlement there dating to around 600 B.C. It was the Romans though who, recognizing its great strategic value, made it into something that more resembles its current form, as a fortress city, when they built the first major ramparts there in about 300 A.D. and formed the city within. It would be, just like pretty much everywhere in Europe, overran by various smaller groups over the centuries, including the Visigoths and the Franks, who made various upgrades to its defensive capabilities in between, of course, winning and losing possession themselves.
It also formed a connection with an interesting bunch of renegades that became quite powerful in the South of France in the 13th-century. The Cathars who further built up the fortress to more resemble the castle like structure we see today, were a religious sect that held particular sway in the Languedoc region and who were granted a certain amount of freedom by both the Pope and the King of the time, as long, of course, as their ambitions didn’t stretch too far.
But as always ambition got the better of them and once they took a strong stand against the Catholic Church on issues of corruption and immorality, it didn’t take long for Pope Innocent III, with the support of King Philippe II of France, to form forces against them. The resulting crusade led to the deaths of thousands, most famously in the nearby city of Beziers, but Carcassonne itself escaped destruction when the man in charge, Viscount Raymond-Roger-Trencaval, made the sensible decision to surrender the city in August 1209.
Carcassonne would be attacked over the centuries but gained a reputation as supremely difficult to conquer. Black Prince Edward of England and his armies for example, were successfully rampaging all over France during the Great Raid of 1355, but try as they might they could never breach the great walls of Carcassonne.
As time went on, geo-political changes meant the city’s strategic importance would decrease and it sailed unperturbed and relatively anonymously through much later medieval and post medieval history. The once proud fortress had very much started to resemble historical ruins by the 18th-century and it became just another crumbling former Cathar Castle.
In 1844 though the powers that be saw something important in Carcassonne and commissioned one of France’s most lauded architects to restore La Cité. His name was Eugene Viollet-le-Duc and though he did an evidently sterling job he did add some more modernist touches that appalled some of the historians of the time, the addition of incongruous conical roofs on the barbicans being the most obvious example.
In 1909 the Neo-Gothic Hôtel de La Cité was built into the walls, a remarkable thing to do by today’s, more historically respectful, standards, and something which further appalled traditionalists of the time, but one which, with the passing of the years, is seen to be aesthetically fitting, and pleasing. The structure of the hotel got two major upgrades, in 1913 and in 1927, until being left as we see it today. It enjoyed a golden era as the fashion for beach holidays began to spread among the upper classes and was an elegant, opulent stop off for the rich and famous on their way to such Mediterranean resorts as Nice and Biarritz.
WHAT TO EXPECT:
The hotel consists of two buildings connected by covered walkways, and with a total of 59 rooms between the two. The atmosphere provided by the interiors draws one back to the Belle Epoque era of the late 19th/early 20th-century, a celebrated period of peace and prosperity for Europe’s upper classes. One aspect of that era, which in fact began over a hundred years before in Britain was a renewed fondness for Gothic architecture.
This led to the construction of many Neo-Gothic castles by the rich and powerful. Most of these would have been built in the late 18th to 19th-century so Hôtel de La Cité is a relatively modern example, but a rather fine one nonetheless. Thus the truly medieval walls that it is built into don’t seem so uncomfortable around it, and it can feel at once both medieval and early twentieth century with ease.
The rooms also have that quality, though they lean somewhat more towards one or the other. Whichever way they are incredibly plush and stylish, old fashioned opulence abounds and the quality and beauty of the furnishings and fittings will greatly impress. Modernity is also present of course, you won’t be lacking in modern conveniences, it’s a five star hotel after all.
The rooms range from superior rooms to what they call classic rooms. The superiors are of course more expensive mainly due to them having an outside terrace or balcony, and this being Carcassonne you will see the value in that, such are the views to be enjoyed.
You have access to world class spa facilities; the Cinq Mondes spa has a hammam and range of relaxation and treatment rooms. They have their own range of quality organic beauty skincare products too which you can also buy to take home. An even more star attraction at the hotel is their fabulous restaurant, La Barbacane which is the only Michelin starred restaurant in the city and makes a wonderful evening out/in, in terms of the lavish setting, the atmosphere and the fine cuisine and wines. There are bars and drawing rooms to explore too, you can stretch the night out with some great cocktails at the library bar which has an intimate, cosy feel.
The rooms are B&B and the lavish buffet breakfast is as good as you will experience anywhere, and though buffet style, you can expect a range of vegan, gluten free and dairy free options to be available too.
Outside there are outdoor dining & drinking spaces, and adjoining gardens where you’ll find a heated swimming pool (in use between May and September). As mentioned earlier, you also have access to the walls and ramparts which are lit up at night-time and are quite enchanting to stroll around when the hustle-bustle of the daytime day trippers has completely subsided.
A work in progress, more castle hotels in France to be added soon…