Marion Hume | July 11th, 2010
Photos by Peter Woodcock
When I see the letters, ‘B&B’, I think cosy chintz, a selection of jams in little pots, maybe a snarly cat curled up in the corner. I do not think modern design done subtly and well, ceilings so high and white that a whole wall beneath can be painted jet black and yet not look gloomy, a glorious sitting room for my use alone or indeed, fabulous sheets on the huge bed with a thread count higher than in many a five-star hotel. But that is because, up to now, I had not thought of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, that cheeky hotel group, for B&Bs. And now I will, having stayed in 42 rue Victor Hugo, in Carcassonne.
This B&B is in the ville-basse, as opposed to the walled city of Carcassonne with its Disney-style turrets, that is awesomely impressive from a distance but within the walls of which you can hardly move for fear of being swiped by an eight year old in plastic armour wielding a toy sword. Not that the lower area of Carcassonne outside the ancient walls could be described as in any way new - you arrive at your apartment via a sweeping staircase that predates the French Revolution.
Then you meet Peter and Debrah, who run this joint, and strangely, your heart does not fall because they are English rather than gnarly old Southern French, because they are instantly engaging. He was an ad man, she still is a brand designer who commutes back and forth to London.
Check-in is fast - none of that annoying showing you how to turn on the telly - just “what time might you want your breakfast tray? And by the way, we offer dinner too. Want to join us tonight?” At the mention of little known but delicious local wines you think, “why the hell not?” (and thus will you learn, at 8 pm with a glass of bubbly in hand, that Dom Pérignon was a wiley old monk because he nicked the sparkling trick from this neck of the woods and took it home to Champagne). Dinner kicks off with a good white served with a plate of fresh peas and beans mashed with mint (trust me on the deliciousness of this, or better still, trust your host, Peter Woodcock, who, it turns out, is an excellent cook). A hearty red comes with the confit du canard, served with Dauphinoise potatoes and a watercress salad. The cheese reeks like old socks, as it should and desert features chocolate, as it should and is served with a sticky and delicious desert wine. Suddenly it is well past midnight. Apparently, many guests stay up much later, drink much more and spill far more secrets.
Why visit 42 rue Victor Hugo? Because it’s unexpected in that it feels, with its combination of interior design and urbane chatter, somehow, more like the kind of joint you’d hope to find in Manhattan yet with market-fresh, seasonal produce to eat. Ryanair flies in to Carcassonne Airport, just 15 minutes away, so it’s easy and cheap to get here. And what other B&B throws in a world heritage medieval fortress as an added extra?
To book a room at 42 rue Victor Hugo, please visit Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s website or call + 1 866-610-3867.