Article Submitted to Travel Magazines on Montfaucon in France

by Nita Hughes

How many travel experiences remain indelibly imprinted in your memory long after returning home? 

In a lifetime of international travel, holidays in almost every popular (and some not so popular) destinations, one in particular has always come to mind - the experience of having flown on the Concorde.

Now, I finally have a companion memory to add to the list: a trip to the South of France. 

For all whose thoughts in reading these words are, “Gimmee a break! Everyone wants to go to the South of France, many of us have, and sure it was beautiful, but …"  

But ranking any one of the many barge and cozy gite experiences - even a luxury Paris hotel stay - as being outstanding, would be about as believable as comparing one baker’s croissants to another. Tasty. Worth recommending. But croissants, as with all parts and products of France, are sure to get a variable vote according to each individual’s personal tastes.

I beg to suggest differently. For those who have been to France many times, as well as for those who have never experienced France, let me attempt to support my claim that the memory of even a brief one week holiday at Montfaucon will echo the memory of a flight on the Concorde - beautiful, carefree, elite, comfortable, extraordinary fellow travelers, cosseted, comfortable and congenial - a place of peace and perfection. One longs to do it again, and although one mourns - in the case of the Concorde - the inability to do it again, one cherishes the warm memory of once having had the experience.

Now to indulge myself, I shall try to describe my rationale for claiming that the Montfaucon matches the Concorde experience. As in recalling a perfect meal it is both delectable and delicate to recreate with words. Even the photos accompanying this article cannot communicate that which makes a holiday so outstanding.

I arrived at Montfaucon in May, in the company of an artist friend who had been invited to check it out as a perfect place for a future workshop for some of her artist friends. We had both been to France before and delighted in learning that it was in Limoux, the center of Cathar country. Having written two books involving the history of the Cathars, I’d covered virtually every castle in the area in order to absorb the people, their time and place. However, I’d not known of Montfaucon, only remembering Limoux as a lovely village to drive through on the way to Montsegur.

We parked our rental car along a tree-lined street paralleling the river L’Aude and as we started to wheel our minimal luggage we were greeted by a small group of elderly men and women sitting in the sunshine on a bench fronting our street.  With great charm they chorused warm Bonjours! as we made our way down the narrow sidewalk up to the front door.

The streets ancient facades seemed a bit daunting - little changed since their construction in the thirteenth century. But at least the door to Montfaucon looked tasteful, its polished wood facade and elegant copper scrolled name revealing little hint of the comforts to be found within. Before we could raise the elegant knocker, the door opened to a casually dressed, smiling young woman whose look of joyful expectation was as welcoming as if we were long lost family.

Thanks to Amanda and her equally wonderful cohorts, Gabi and Nathalie, we quickly fell into a genuine camaraderie and a truly relaxed sense of being at home. Or at least of being in the Dream Home in France that we had nurtured in our fondest travel wishes but never thought to experience.

Amanda effortlessly scooped up our luggage and led the way up the spectacular staircase - a beautiful work of lovingly polished handcrafted wood which swirled elegantly up the three floors. Antiques, works of art and bouquets of flowers at each landing brought sighs.

But not as loud and long as the sighs that escaped at the sight of our rooms.  Spacious beds with dreamy coverlets of French patterned chintz and sheets of pure linen monogrammed with the name “Montfaucon”.  My focus as a writer quickly went to the mahogany desk and its sophisticated accoutrements assuring connection via phone or computer to first world electronics.

Ahhh ... but the bathroom nearly eclipsed even that! It was a far cry from any French bathroom I’d experienced before. Heated towel racks, forty pound terry robes and delicately perfumed soaps worthy of framing as art, assured even the most sophisticated of occupants, complete comfort.

We freshened up and headed down to the living room to greet our fellow artist/writer community. Small, as the hotel only services eight guests at a time, each one was quick to become family. Sitting around the fireplace and sipping Blanquette de Limoux, a golden elixir eclipsing champagne in delicacy, we began to entertain an amazed delight at the discovery that we had arrived at a very special place. If anyone reserved judgment, the elegant five stars - course after course - dinner served by Jon Luc Robin, a superb chef, sealed unanimity that we had entered a perfect setting.

So the residence was exquisite, and the food was impossible to describe without tasting, but many places in France could be described equally enthusiastically. What really made the trip to Montfaucon unforgettable was that which made the Concorde flight memorable - the people, the service, the warmth, the feeling that one’s comfort, pleasure and satisfaction were genuinely considered, not as a “must give great service” mandate, but as an “isn’t this perfectly wonderful and aren’t we delighted to be here to share it together?” commitment.

And share it we did. Amanda was open to the desires of each member of our week’s ‘family’, whatever their primary focus. Although this particular week was designed to display the facility in the hopes that each guest might arrange to bring future groups whose interests might be specific to art, writing, bicycling, Cathar castles, business meetings, etc., the staff remained flexible to each person. Some of the artists wanted at least a couple of hours a day to paint, others quickly decided that, given they’d never been to France, they wanted their focus to be on seeing the wonderful sights of the area.

Thanks to the effortless-seeming skills of Amanda, et al, we experienced a smorgasbord of all that is wonderful about the South of France - and completely without any daily concerns of where to go, what to do, when and where to eat, to shop - nor even the problem of whether we were comfortable speaking French.

Like children in an enchanted fairy tale, every day was special - trips to ancient villages, abbeys, mysterious gorges and castles, meals at a farmhouse high on a mountain, even a private tour of Rennes le Chateau by our fantastic chef, Jean Luc (who had lived the prior eight years in the strange priest Sauniere’s home and recently wrote an excellent book on his theories of what the real mystery could be).

If you want a trip to France that assures your experiencing the best of treatment from the warmest of people in an incredible home away from home that - with all the luxury of a mini-Ritz Carlton, and the charm of a wonderful, young, unpretentious and delightful staff - you should visit Montfaucon and experience the magic of this very special area of France.

As a resident of Maui, I learned an added dimension of what Aloha is all about in the big smiles of the villagers of Limoux and the warm welcome of Montfaucon’s unmatched trio. So wonderful was it, that even now I wonder: “Was it only a dream? Might it someday go the way of the Concorde? If so, how grateful I am to have known it."  

As with the Concorde experience, the price for a week’s stay isn’t ‘economical’, but the experience is so outstanding that the glow of the memory has one saying - as one of our team did - “Wow, and I was about to spend more on the latest 'hang-on-the-wall' television set!”

© Nita Hughes