an impenetrable fortress repelling all invaders in the heart of
the French Ardennes, Europe's biggest fortified castle is now
luring tourists with offers of nights among the shining armour.
After decades of neglect, a three-star hotel opened in August
within the towering walls of Sedan castle, a medieval compound
in northeastern France close to the Belgium border.
Some 40 rooms have been totally refurbished with all the modern
comforts of the 21st century confined within the original stone
ramparts of the castle which dates back to the 15th century.
"We wanted to offer a real step back into the past,"
said hotel manager Albert-Jean Ruault, who has also decided that
in keeping with the castle's historic atmosphere cars will soon
be banned within its walls.
hotel is not quite finished and by summer another 13 suites and
luxury duplexes are due to be opened, as well as several conference
rooms and a restaurant.
Medieval paintings adorn the massive inner stone walls in the
castle which with its 35 000 square metres is said to be the largest
"We have lots of clients from Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany,
Britain and Holland," said Ruault, who reckons their occupancy
rate has been some 63 percent in the first six months of business.
Clients are drawn by the castle's stunning location, towering
above the town of Sedan on the banks of the river Meuse, as well
as being seduced by the romance of staying in a castle dating
back more than 500 years.
are other hotels in French castles, but few are older than the
18th century, and there are some castles in Germany which have
been turned into hotels. But it's pretty unique to have one in
a medieval fortified castle," he added.
Jousting and jokers
Medieval weekends are organised in the hotel, featuring banquets
from the era complete with minstrels, falconers and jugglers.
And in May, Sedan will host its 10th medieval festival across
the town with jousting, competitions and encampments.
"We didn't have enough high-quality establishments in this
area," said former mayor Jean-Paul Bachy, who is hoping that
the Ardennes can shake off its image as just a place to transit
through on the way to other tourist spots in France.
Ruault said the hotel project, undertaken by France Patrimoine,
a company specialised in constructing hotels in historic monuments,
virtually saved the castle from falling into rack and ruin.
The property of the army until 1962, the castle was then handed
over to the town hall for one symbolic franc.
A vote was held at the time on whether to save the castle or
raze it to the ground. The protectionists won the day by only
one vote. But then in the 1990s, the castle was virtually abandoned
due to a lack of funds. "Three or four years ago it was a
ruin," recalled Ruault.
Thanks to EU funding, and the mobilisation of local investors,
building work to repair and save the castle finally began at the
end of 2002, a welcome shot in the arm for local businesses.
"There were lots of constraints. We had preserve the exterior
as it was, the size of the windows, the colour of the walls, and
we had to find local materials and stone to replace those that
were missing," said Ruault.
Today the hotel covers about one third of the castle, which welcomes
some 60 000 visitors a year to its remaining museum buildings,
part of which are also to be restored in the coming years.