CARCASSONE, France, July 5, 2013 — If you’re looking for Snow White’s castle – the real one – you won’t find it at Disney World or Euro Disney. It’s in Carcassonne, in southern France. And on Bastille Day, July 14, the best spot in all of France is in the castle’s back yard.
Carcassonne throws France’s biggest party on Bastille Day, a celebration that culminates with a 100,000 Euro firework display over the medieval walled town. The show caps off the Festival of Bastide and commemorates the storming of Bastille in 1789, which marked the beginning of the French Revolution.
“Walt Disney stayed at our hotel in the early 1960s and took his inspiration for Snow White’s castle from the ancient ramparts he saw from our garden,” says Christine Pujol, whose family owns the four-star Hotel de la Cite adjacent to the castle.
While thousands crowd the banks of the Aude River to take in the light show, the best seats belong to guests of the Hotel de la Cite, which has hosted A List celebrities since opening in 1906. Flipping through the guest books of years past, I spotted the entries of Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Grace of Monaco, former France president Jacques Chirac, even Sting.
The hotel’s garden backs up to the rampart wall. Five feet over and a hundred feet down, Charlemagne and his army besieged the city twelve hundred years ago. Every nook and cranny of those fortified walls is crammed with history.
Jerome Ryon, the chef of the hotel’s Michelin-starred La Barbacane restaurant and its casual Brasserie Chez Saskia, serves what many regard as the region’s best cassoulet, the signature dish of the Languedoc. No self-respecting Frenchman would travel through Carcassonne without ordering a bowl of this creamy bean stew enriched with pork sausage and a leg of duck.
Ryon’s cassoulet aside, Carcassonne is best known for its 13th Century turrets, towers and narrow alleys. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s a perfect medieval city to explore during the day, shopping its markets, touring its eerie Torture Museum (touted as the largest collection of torture implements in Europe), and strolling along the River Aude. But in terms of sheer spectacle, it’s during the Bastille Day fireworks that Carcassonne really struts.
Once the Bastille Day crowds clear out, Carcassonne returns to its leisurely pace of long café au lait mornings and quiet midday strolls.
In the evenings, catch the sunset from the back porch of the Hotel de la Cite, where the old castle shimmers in hues of red and gold.
When You Go
Most major airlines fly to CDG airport, in Paris, from which you can connect to southern France by plane or high-speed train. Toulouse is the closest airport to Carcassonne, which is reachable by car or train.
Hôtel de La Cité, an MGallery Hotel, Place Auguste-Pierre Pont 11000, Carcassonne, France - Tel: +33 4 68 71 98 71. Reservations for lunch or diner at the hotel’s restaurants, La Barbacane and Brasserie Chez Saskia, may be secured directly through the hotel.
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