Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Guédelon, Medieval Castle Under Construction

Pages From Jan's Travel Journal: Sunday, May 22, 2016

I was awakened during the night by the sounds of a thunderstorm. Those never last long in the Loire Valley, and it soon eased to a gentle rain. By morning, the rain had ended and the sky was overcast. The four of us enjoyed coffee, fresh orange juice, and a variety of pastries before packing for an overnight jaunt to Briare.

Religieuse, or nun. A delightful pastry.
Mathieu brought the car up just as the drizzle resumed. We drove along the Loire toward Gien, enjoying the views of the river through rain-splashed windows. It was time for lunch when we reached Gien. We chose La Bella Vita again, as Craig had never eaten there and the rest of us knew how tasty their food was. We splashed through puddles and entered the cozy restaurant, where we were seated in a plush booth next to two women who had a 15-month-old boy with them. The little fellow took quite a shine to both Mathieu and Craig. He even shared his tiny toy motorcycle with them. He kept calling Craig "uncle", which we all thought was simply adorable.

We enjoyed our leisurely lunch, with Darcy and I sharing a pizza called "la fermiere", which translates to "the farmer". It was a delicious combination of potatoes, chicken, onions, and cheese on a light, crisp crust that had been slathered with cream. Craig chose the pizza tartiflette, which was the one I had devoured on a previous visit. Mathieu was very happy with his salmon salad, though he did have room for some of our pizza. 

The rest of our drive didn't take long. We continued through some lovely countryside until we reached the site of Guédelon, medieval castle under construction. I had been longing to visit for quite some time, and even though a light rain was falling, we all looked forward to the living history before us. We purchased rain ponchos in the gift shop and set out to explore the building site. Though the rain never let up, we doggedly sloshed through puddles and mud that was sometimes yellow, sometimes orange, sometimes rust. However, even a dreary, soggy day could not deter us from marveling at the castle construction.

Entering the construction site of  Guedelon Castle.

It's possible to tour most of the rooms inside.
Guédelon is being constructed using the methods and tools of the medieval age. A force of talented artisans work with replicas of age-old tools to quarry, cut, and dress the stone used to build the castle. Workers in medieval costume perform tasks of pottery making, rope braiding, planing lumber, mixing paint, and a multitude of other jobs that are essential to the building of a castle.

A worker making tools for dressing stone.
A very hardworking horse carted loads of freshly quarried stone. There were men and women working in the tower, using a pulley system to take tools and supplies up and down. A human-powered wheel was used to raise and lower platforms and heavier items. In spite of the rain, the construction site was a hive of activity!

The horse delivers a cart-load of stone.

Ongoing construction at Guedelon Castle.

All of this lumber was planed by hand. 

A lovely scene at Guedelon Castle in France.
We toured as much of the interior of the castle as was permitted. It was a marvel! Some rooms had lovely painted details of flowers and scrolls. The chapel was beautiful, with accents of carved stone. We saw how the heavy wooden doors were constructed and locked against intruders. There was so much to see!

The paints were made on site.

Window seats for reading or reflection.

This is how to bolt a medieval door!

Lovely stonework in the chapel at Guedelon.
Following pathways through the forest, we discovered displays and other interesting aspects of the ongoing work. There were huts in which colorful rocks were crushed to a fine powder for use as paint. We saw a woman dyeing wool in a huge vat over a smoldering fire. We watched a potter using a wheel to create beautiful bowls, pots, and jars. The wheel was powered by a long pole that he inserted into a notch, pushing the wheel as if stirring a huge pot, until it spun at an amazing speed. It was over a minute before the wheel needed another push. We all enjoyed our visit tremendously and are interested in returning to see how far the building has progressed. 

The hut where fabric is woven and dyed.

Colorful hanks of yarn are hung to dry.

This is where paints and dyes are made from plants and stones.

A talented potter at Guedelon.

Every thickness of rope and twine
 are made at the building site.

A lovely view of the castle from the forest.
At 5:00, we ended our tour and drove the short distance to a wonderful B & B that Darcy had found. It was an absolutely charming stone house situated right on the canal, above one of the locks. I wish the weather had been nice enough to permit us to walk along the canal or sit on the beautiful terrace overlooking the river. As it was, I kept jumping up to peek out the window, hoping to see a boat or barge going through the lock. 

A view of the lock in front of the B & B near Briare.
Our connecting rooms were a delight! The decor was tastefully done and the entire place was scrupulously clean. The old beams and sloping walls created a welcoming ambiance. The bathrooms were large and as clean as the rest of the place. And of course, the views out the windows were lovely.

The cozy sleeping area at our gite in Briare, France.

The kettle and packets of coffee
 and tea were a nice surprise. 

The other bedroom at the gite.

Another view at the B & B in Briare, France.
After a short rest, we drove to the town of Briare, just five minutes away. We would have walked, had the weather been more cooperative. Being Sunday, not all of the restaurants were open, but we found a bistro on the waterfront where we had our evening meal. Aside from Mathieu, we all chose the plat du jour, which was a turkey cutlet in a mushroom cream sauce, with buttered pasta on the side. In France, when you see a menu offering "poultry" as a selection, you can be fairly certain that you are being offered turkey. For dessert, I chose a crepe made with peaches, toasted almonds, and Grand Marnier. Yum! Or as the French would say "miam!" Darcy had a very colorful crepe made with swirls of chocolate and mint liqueur and topped with mint ice cream. Mathieu ordered a chocolate and banana crepe, while Craig chose a sundae of pears and chocolate. 

A colorful crepe for dessert.
Before driving back to the B & B, we walked along the Pont du Canal. The canal bridge is a fascinating feat of engineering, built in the 1800's by Gustave Eiffel. We walked the length of the bridge and back again, becoming chilled in the damp breeze. We were glad to return to the cozy gite along the canal and settle in for the night. A rousing game of "Pass the Pigs" was a fun way to end the day. 

Darcy walks along the Pont du Canal.

Craig, Mathieu, and Darcy on the canal bridge.

Travel Tip: Pack some lightweight galoshes!


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