Former French palace reopens as hotel fit for royalty

CARCASSONNE, France -- In days of yore, this was a prosperous city visited by troubadours and enlivened by tournaments, hunts and festivals. Royalty continued to visit the town, and those who did -- the queen mother of England, Princess Grace and the duchess of Windsor -- stayed at the Hotel de la Cite, which occupies a former bishop's palace and is built into the walls at the top of the old city.

Hotel de la Cite CarcassonneTwo years ago, the Orient-Express hotel group purchased the property and annexed the Dame Carcas Hotel.

The group has now combined them into a newly reopened and grandly refurbished property. It remains a knights-in-shining-armor kind of place, where ceilings soar, stone floors gleam, enormous fireplaces loom and decor includes borders of heraldic shields and carved wainscotings.

Furthermore, lead-paneled windows set in Gothic arches open to views of towers, turrets and the hotel's private garden and heated pool.

Each of its 60 guest rooms, including eight suites and junior suites, are indeed fit for kings and queens -- appointed with canopy beds, antique furnishings and luxurious fabrics -- and all are air-conditioned and have marble bathrooms, televisions and direct-dial telephones.

The hotel's premier dining outlet is La Barbacane, whose newly appointed executive chef is Franck Putelat, formerly executive chef at the l'Olivier restaurant in St. Tropez, where he was awarded a Michelin star.

Less formal dining is offered in the hotel's new brasserie, Chez Saskia.

Both restaurants are supported by a distinguished wine cellar whose inventory emphasizes regional Languedoc-Roussillon wines.

Meetings facilities include three conference rooms that accommodate groups of up to 100 people.

Outdoor receptions -- which can include a medieval banquet for 250 diners -- are held in the gardens. Orient-Express Hotels. Phone: (800) 237-1236. Web: www.orient-expresshotels.com

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