Hôtel Le Château Fort
Porte des Princes; 08200 SEDAN
Tel. 33 (0) 3 24 26 11 00
By air: One hour from the Luxembourg airport
By car: 4 hours from the Geilenkirchen area
The Drive: About 4 hours by car through Belgium and into the Ardennes region of France quite near the Belgian border, the landscape is made up of deep rolling hills with forests and villages nestled among them. Known for its beauty, the large green forest covered hills are simply beautiful.
Getting to the castle: Though the Chateau Fort Sedan is the “largest fortified castle in the whole of Europe,” you won’t see it from miles away and even blocks away, you can miss it. My GPS got us to Sedan, but couldn’t find the address. So, we wandered and looked for signs. Eventually, we took a road to the right (following a sign to Chateau Fort), then drove around to the left and through this big entryway to the hotel entrance. The hotel is set in one part of the castle and the large courtyard is the parking lot. The place is HUGE. If you are just visiting the castle, there is a long narrow parking lot near the visitors entrance on the other side of the castle, but if you are staying as a hotel guest, you can enter through the narrow archway and park in the large courtyard inside.
The hotel: The hotel, like most of Europe, boasts an interesting mix of the old and new. They’ve repaired, but preserved the original castle walls and incorporated them into the modern framework of the guest areas. The lobby in is a large open area flanked on both sides by old stone walls, but with modern furnishings and decor. The bar in the back is serves all day with juices as well and music plays in the background. On the inside wall are old arched doorways in the stone leading to smaller, cozier sitting rooms with fireplaces and television. In one tiny alcove there’s a nice Dell flatscreen computer with a free internet connection (the French keyboards are not easy to navigate).
Although the castle does get a few English speaking tourists through the tour area, the hotel itself see very few Americans, so most of the hotel staff spoke little to no English at all. But, we tried and they tried and they were very friendly and seemed to appreciate that we were there.
The rooms are small, but nice. They do conserve electricity, so you have to put your key card in the slot to use the lights, but it’s a system that works great. Just like the lobby and hallways, the rooms also have part of the original castle walls and windows. The beds are comfortable and the heaters worked really great when we were there.
The Restaurant – Dinner: Ahhhh, dinner. It is not often that I just relax and enjoy a nice meal, but I was spoiled on this trip. I learned that “aperitif” isn’t the food variety of appetizer, but an alcoholic treat. We ordered a half-bottle of the most amazing Champagne that I’ve every had. Laurent-Perrier is light and smooth, slightly sweet, and without any harshness that has existed in every other champagne I’ve ever had. But, we were in the Champagne region of France where they are produced, so we’d suspected that it might be better here. So, the bottle arrived, the champagne was poured, and the peanuts were served (yep – peanuts and fine champagne… I wouldn’t have expected that). Rolls arrived without oil or butter, but they were still delectable. They brought out a tiny plate with little cold white sausage rounds with shallots and parsley. We ordered Foie Gras (goose-liver pate) with walnuts served with gingerbread toast and pear chutney. Honestly, the idea of it was a bit of a challenge, but I did try it and though the flavor was quite rich and heavy, it was good. I would have been happy enough with a basket of that yummy gingerbread toast though! I ordered the Magret Du Canard – a rosemary honey duck dish with a brown gravy and a very creamy portion of slivered potatoes and vegetables. Then, for dessert I ordered “Brochette de fruits frais rotie en cassonade et craqueline de sorbet citron.” In English – fresh fruit skewered lightly roasted with a brown sugar glaze and served with a chocolate covered mini ice-cream cone cup filled with the sourest citrus sorbet I’ve ever had. I’ve eaten crab apples, limes, and the sourest candies, but nothing has ever been sour enough. This actually made my cheeks hurt, it was so sour. Mmmm… I’d love to have the recipe – it was fabulous!
Anyway, the service was absolutely fabulous and the atmosphere was elegant. It is a restaurant for adults or very well-behaved older children. Young children most likely wouldn’t enjoy the menu or the more reserved atmosphere.
The Restaurant – breakfast: For breakfast, do take the kids. It is a very nice buffet and anyone would be welcome. We actually had been running late and thought we’d missed breakfast, but the maitre’d saw us and told us to please come for breakfast in his very poor “Frenglish.” He was so friendly, we had to go. When we arrived, the table was beautifully set with nice little jarred jams in the center. The dining room was completely empty except for us and we had the whole buffet to ourselves with coffee, juice, croissants and other yummy rolls and pastries, jams, meats, cheeses, cereals, and fruit. It was a very nice buffet.
The Castle Tour:
The castle tour is self-guided and can last a couple hours or longer if you take your time. We had little recorders with us that played recorded information in English, so we just entered the number that we saw posted in the room and then the device would play information about that room. I wish I could remember all that was said about the castle itself. The history was amazing and as Europe evolved, the royalty was so mixed between empires that this castle was tied to several other countries as well. The battlements were enormous and housed old guns at least 8 feet long. The tour took us outside on top of the high battlements and then up even higher on top of one of the castle walls. It was there that we saw men preparing to scale the wall. They were testing a route for a tourist group that was coming in. They climbed one wall, then repelled off another.
I think we spent at least two hours walking all around the castle following the green arrows… inside the battlements, up and down narrow stairways inside the castle itself, through a museum-like hallway filled with old artifacts and examples of how they lived, up to the top of a castle turret with the thick beams where one wall hadn’t been painted over and old sketches remained on the wall. Every turn was interesting and every view beautiful.
Out on top of one of the battlements, a beautiful herb garden was kept. The names of the herbs were handwritten on pieces of shale. Herbs labeled this way were also growing out of cracks in the old walls.
Leaving an enormous footprint, the Chateau Fort is almost entirely in tact except for the old governor’s portion which was rather humorously blown up when the army was testing explosives right next to it leaving just a nice green hill leading up to the rest of the castle where a nice old fortress once stood. So, I guess that batch was a good one. Wonder how the governor took it. The first photo below shows the now empty field. We’d stood on the turret above it which is a lot higher than it looks. The next photo is of the large courtyard inside from that same area by the turret. You can see the hotel portion of the castle and my mini-van, just a tiny grey speck, to the left of the little door.
The tour ends in a little gift shop and cafe – a good place to rest up before continuing your travels.
Basically, the short time we were in France, everyone was friendly. There was not a bit of the stereotypical French attitude from anyone. From the castle to the cafe, to the shops, and the fellow tourists, everyone was very kind and welcoming. There is so much of Europe to see that I don’t know if I’ll end up back at Chateau Fort, but I wouldn’t turn down the opportunity if I could go again. The castle itself is amazing, the people very warm and wonderful, and the area fabulous.
The town – Sedan, France: In a region full of history and beautiful places to see, the chateau here is worth stopping at, but although there are some beautiful buildings in Sedan, it is not a destination city and certainly not one that needs to take up your time. The shops are few and most businesses – even restaurants – close for the mid-day break making it challenging for tourists. If I were to spend time in this area again, I’d definitely return to the hotel/castle. It is amazing/beautiful and the restaurant is phenomenal. This would be an easy stop on the way to another Champagne city or to Luxembourg just an hour away.
Part of my day in town:
I arrived in Sedan hungry and thought that a cute little French cafe would be an easy find, but after walking all around the dirty main streets for over an hour, we finally found just one little cafe that was open.
It could have been anywhere in the states. It had big glass windows with advertising painted all over them, old diner style tables and chairs in mint green with silver metal. The place was full of locals, mostly older people sitting with their coffee, beer, and wine smoking. We sat under the tv with the lottery numbers running. A large man with an uncanny resemblance to Drew Carey, sat squinting with his mouth gaping a bit, quickly writing down the lottery numbers from the screen. Later an older woman sat down with her daughter. The woman writing down numbers and the daughter doing scratch tickets. We asked if we could eat and the nice man listed the available menu for that hour – croque monsieur, another croque, or quiche lorraine. I ordered quiche and a cappuccino. Mom ordered white wine and we knew it was coming when we heard the cork pop. Getting my cappuccino was one of those “Ahhhh” moments when life is just good. I’d been so hungry that staring at that beautiful whipped cream topped coffee was just about perfect. It was much more impressive before this photo was taken, but I couldn’t resist sipping on it a bit first.
The quiche was good too and gave us time to sit, relax, and take in the atmosphere. A young man sat near us in jeans, tennis shoes, a sweatshirt, and a stocking cap. He had his ipod on and looked like he should be in New York or any American university district. An old man wearing flannel sat by the mirror on the wall sipping a coffee. There was a Hagen Daz ice cream sign mounted just under the large screen television on our left that had sports on. We stuck out like sore thumbs, I’m sure, but the people were very friendly. We knew “merci,” but had forgotten how to say please, so we asked and the man told us “si vous plait.” There was not even a hint of the haughtiness that the French are known for among some.
After lunch was discovered the little square and shopping area on the way back to the castle. It was not a large area, but there was a little Disney character carousel in the center, several chocolate shops, a few nice clothing stores, and a costume jewelry shop. We stopped at a little bakery on the corner to get a treat just for fun. I got a sucre torte just to try because I’d seen them in other bakeries. It was just a dough with thick hardened sugar baked on top – not inedible, but nothing stupendous. The meringues were big like baseballs and all the pastries looked perfect. The little dog in the photo was in a yarn shop. He was very friendly and didn’t seem to care that I didn’t speak French just so long that I give him some attention. His owner was very friendly and spoke to me quite a bit though I didn’t understand a word of it.