A few miles across the Aude River from Carcassonne is the Domaine d’Auriac – a majestic, historic property where time stands still and the hostess receives her guests like family, with warmth and kindness.
The Domaine d’Auriac exudes a fragrance, one more potent than the perfumes of the Mediterranean plants flourishing across these three-hundred-year-old grounds. It is the scent of history. History with a capital H, the history that shapes lands and civilizations. First, the hotel is built on the Neolithic site of Carsac, the origin of the city of Carcassonne and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This former oppidum later became an abbey, but vanished during the French Revolution, leaving vestiges behind across the grounds, including a number of statuettes. After serving as a key production site for pastel (the indelible blue dye made from woad) under Napoléon, Auriac took an industrial turn that long left its mark: “I remember, when I was a little girl, seeing the big settling tanks where cocagne was processed centuries earlier,” recalls Marie-Hélène Rigaudis-Calvet.
A clientele spanning generations
The Maîtresse de Maison is heiress to another history, as well: that of a family: Her grandparents bought the site in the 1970s before her father, Bernard, took over the property, ultimately passing it down to Marie-Hélène. This more personal legacy can also be instantly sensed when you pass through the gates, as those family ties are likely responsible for the warm, welcoming ambiance at the Domaine d’Auriac. An atmosphere that can be challenging to create across 124 acres that are home to an 18-hole golf course, an incredible pool, and so many buildings that they nearly form a burg of their own, all just a few miles from the hubbub of Carcassonne, yet sheltered from the frenzy. But indeed, each room, each suite, feels as though it has been readied for loved ones, arranged to ensure everyone is pampered, each in his or her own cocoon. “It gives me tremendous pleasure to have such a loyal, long-standing clientele spanning multiple generations,” Marie-Hélène says with feeling. “When I was little, I used to play with the children whose parents came to the restaurant or the hotel. And these children, now adults, have since returned, sometimes holding their weddings, birthdays, or anniversary parties here. For two decades, we even had a customer who made the round trip from Japan each year to celebrate New Year’s here,” she adds, smiling. Fidelity that is the reward for her stalwart respect for the property’s cardinal values: “sharing, giving time, welcoming the time given – it’s a human experience that gives [me] the strength to do this job.”
A Michelin star
Her know-how came from a father who left this earth too soon, but who still had enough time to convey the estate’s raison d’être and DNA. These are expressed, in part, by cuisine that takes the simple flavors of the Mediterranean and the region’s traditional dishes and renders them unforgettable. Philippe Deschamps, proud possessor of a Michelin star, says he serves “locavore, organic, ingredient-focused classics crafted with products from thirty producers in a 30-mile radius.” Some of the dishes from this culinary master – loyal to Auriac for 30 years and true to the teachings of Bernard Rigaudis – include seasonally prepared Collioure anchovy, boneless pig’s foot reconstituted with truffle, and the region’s signature dish, cassoulet. Recipes that manage to be both exceptional and simple, in much the same way that the estate has, over the years, managed to combine majesty and warmth.