LABYRINTH BY KATE MOSSE
When she first visited the medieval city of Carcassone in south-west France in 1989, writer Kate Mosse was so inspired by the fairy-tale like setting that she ended up not only buying a house there but also writing a novel based on the complex history of the city, which she rigorously researched. It is the fortified city’s castle, drawbridges and secret passageways, as well as the surrounding undulating countryside, that form the backbone of the archaelological blockbuster, Labyrinth, set both in the Middle Ages and modern day France. Her medieval heroine Alaïs, for instance, lives in the central Château Comtal, which dates back to the 11th century. While the nearby town of Montségur and the hidden caves beneath the Pic de Soularac is where her novel both begins and ends. To quote Kate herself: “The real Carcassonne is there in the hills, in the brilliant Midi light, in the violent summer storms and the evening wind that blows down from the mountains, just as it did 800 years ago. It is a land of secrets still.”
WHERE TO GO
The Château Comtal, within the medieval city walls of Carcassonne, simply known as the Cité, is a magnificent sight and a must for fans of Labyrinth (catharcastles.info). Incidentally, fans of Disney, will also be delighted as it is said that Walt Disney used it to base his Sleeping Beauty’s castle on. Travel in summer and the modern addition to the city’s amphitheatre is the place where dramatic pageants and reconstructions are staged – ideal for taking you back in time. It’s also worth a trip to Montségur, the ruined citadel overlooking the Pic de St-Bartélémy and the Pic de Soularac, both of which feature in the book. But essentially it’s the whole of Carcassonne, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, which is wonderfully atmospheric, especially at night (it takes about two hours to walk around the central ruins). As the iconic archways fall into shadows and the towers and turrets are eerily lit up – you’ll find yourself joining Mosse’s modern heroine Dr Alice Tanner and slipping into a bygone past.
WHERE TO EAT
The small but charming Auberge de Dame Carcas (damecarcas.com) specialises in regional dishes – think cassoulet and pork with honey grilled over a wood fire.
WHERE TO STAY
It doesn’t get more scenic than the ivy-covered Hôtel de La Cité (hoteldelacite.com) found in the heart of the historic citadel of Carcassonne. A magical place, it marries the best of the past (think romantic gardens, neo-gothic lobby and stained glass windows) with what you’d expect from a luxury hotel in the 21st century (exceptional cuisine, sumptuous beds to lose yourself in and impeccable service).