If you head to Treigny, in northern Burgundy, you’ll find a magical location filled with the wonders of history. Such is the captivating pull of Guédelon Castle.
This modest half built 13th century pile sat amongst a construction site, pulls in more that 300,000 visitors per year. In fact, it’s one of France’s most popular attractions. On paper it doesn’t sound all that interesting – an old disused quarry, and a pile of stone being used to construct a castle that doesn’t look at all grand. But I can assure you Guédelon has to be seen to be believed.
You are literally stepping back in time…
The brainchild of local castle owner Michel Guyot and Maryline Martin, who wanted to bring work to the local area, they now have a 70-strong team and hundreds of volunteers – some who return time and time again.
Staff are in full 13th-century costumes. Practically everything here is made on site, from the ropes and tools to roof tiles and paint. Meanwhile, you watch in awe as horse and cart are used to transport the stone to the stone masons. You can hear the constant clanging of iron on stone from every vantage point around the site.
This is the reason why Guédelon is so incredible, and why, even in the pouring rain all day we were reluctant to leave – so thirsty to drink in more information, and hear more tales from our wonderful guide Hein.
His passion for the project knows no bounds. From the minute he met us until the very end of the day his enthusiasm was infectious. He explained every detail, his stories were fascinating. Such as how when they first starting building the walls, a leading historian came along and told them they had got it wrong… the stonework was far too neat, and not in keeping with the era. So it was back to the drawing board – and if you look closely as the bottom, you’ll see the difference.
But that’s the why this working project is so astounding. The team are determined to keep the integrity of the build as true to history as possible and is a work in progress. Each job from the masons, to the iron mongers to the carpenters and blacksmiths have been on a steep learning curve as the project progresses. And it’s wonderful that each worker is so dedicated to the cause.
We were also astounded by the stamina of Monkey. Squelching in the mud all day and listening to historical facts may not have been his idea of fun, but not only was he slightly in awe of Hein, determined to keep up with his long strides throughout the day he also had pals – thanks to Sarah and her lovely family from Extraordinary Chaos. We also spent some time at a stone carving workshop. Even though Monkey was a little to young to understand the intricate details of what was required – he really enjoyed taking part. It was the men, however, who took the activity very seriously – keen to impress Hein with their handiwork!
Guédelon has been featured on a BBC documentary series such is the interest behind this extraordinary experiment. Due to finish in 2022, even Maryline has admitted that even when the end is in sight, there will always be something to that needs doing, more methods to be discovered – could this be the never-ending project?
As a family, we felt so honoured to be able to experience Guédelon in its raw state, because we got to see first hand the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into constructing this truly amazing building. It also means once we return again, we’ll be able to see the immense progress they’ve made.
Things to Know
• Tickets can be purchased on site. Adults cost €12; Kids (5-17) €10; Family Tickets €39
• If you are able to, I would highly recommend a guided tour. Guédelon is fascinating to wander around, but the history really comes alive when you learn the details behind the project
• The Stone Carving Workshop is suitable for children 6+, and costs €6 per person
• Don’t be put off by the French signs and lack of English speaking staff – seek out Hein or Sarah Preston, who will be happy to show you around
• There are several eateries on site which serve up main meals such as baked chicken and sausages (it was delicious) at The Tavern to light lunches at reasonable prices. You can also bring your own food and eat at the picnic areas.
• Guédelon is open come rain or shine. So make you take comfortable shoes and waterproof gear – just in case…