Gazing through the casement window of Room 19 of Hotel du Pont Vieux across ochre roof tiles to the sturdy stone battlements and tall turrets of Carcassonne’s medieval citadel I felt transported through time.
No wonder English author Kate Mosse slept here and describes it as “holding a special place” and has Alice, a lead character in her best-selling mystery novel, ‘Labyrinth,’ stay here also.
Standing at the end of a 14th century bridge on Rue Trivalle, a quiet street between the old city and La Bastide (new town), this boutique hotel is convenient for travellers intrigued to find out more about strange events surrounding the Cathars and the Crusaders and the sacking of the fortress in the 13th century. From here to the drawbridge of the citadel is a mere 10-minute stroll.
Cosiness is a byword for this friendly, family-run hotel, a sense enhanced upon hearing the soft purring welcome of Isidor, the resident cat, as one walks through the front door. While the black and white feline may not register you in the guestbook, she’s likely to give you the once-over with her piercing green eyes.
Soft, brightly colored seats in a corner of the front lobby and a relaxing breakfast room behind the reception desk reflect the homey atmosphere experienced hoteliers Jean Michel Robbe and Catherine Forestier have imbued upon their surroundings. This overall sense of quiet comfort is further increased by the delightful surprise of a pretty internal courtyard where breakfast is enjoyed in warm weather and wine, beer and soft drinks are served in the evenings. Serene, sheltered by high, ivy-strung walls, it features a stone pavement as well as olive, bamboo and pine trees (complete with bird box), potted plants, umbrellas for shade in hot weather and an assortment of comfortable seating.
A winding stone staircase topped by a metal railing led us to our room (19) on the third floor, past a leisure room with Cluedo, Monopoly, Trivial Pursuits and even a mystery game entitled ‘Carcassonne’ on the table, alongside a collection of books.
A low ceiling with a painted beam and long couch with throw cushions plus scenic ‘can almost touch’ views from the casement window to the citadel made us feel snug and warm even though outside temperatures had fallen precipitously and a cold wind had started blowing. Lying in bed, turning our heads on the pillow, we gazed, imagination racing, at the lighted towers of the largest walled city in Europe, a world of history in every stone.
Though dinner is not served at Hotel du Pont Vieux, breakfast should not be missed. The full buffet includes cold cuts, cereals, fresh fruit, eggs and at least three types of bread, but the highlight for me was ‘Confiture de Catherine,’ delicious assorted homemade jams, including fig, strawberry and plum, housed in pretty little pots.
By listing Carcassone’s citadel as a World Heritage Site UNESCO helped make its ramparts France’s second-most visited tourist site. As such, Hotel du Pont Vieux, occupying part of an 18th-century convent, enjoys a most advantageous position, an easy ten-minute walk away from its cobbled streets. More than that, however, it is also located on a narrow street with ample cafes, restaurants and galleries. Entertainment couldn’t be much closer. In addition, it is but a short stroll over the old bridge into the new town, filled with boutiques and shops of all kinds.