France with kids: Guedelon – France’s best kept secret
“Can you hear the noise?” Hein asked Maya. Maya strained her ears and all she could hear was the soft clip clop of horses’ hooves and hammers being used across various parts of the castle. “This is unlike any construction site you will have ever seen, no drilling, no machinery and its so quiet you can hear the birds in the trees. ” This is the magic of Guedelon, the only castle in construction anywhere in the world today and more amazingly being put together using only medieval castle building techniques. We left Guedelon totally wowed by the castle, in awe of the painstaking effort and skills involved, the passion of those behind the project and totally inspired to share this amazing experience with everyone.
Guedelon – France’s best kept secret
We were in the deepest back-roads of Burgundy in a once unused quarry, where this project is taking place. The Guedelon castle project has already been running for 18 years and with a 25 building plan, its surprising (and shocking) just how few people have heard of it here in the UK. The castle was showcased on BBC2 but still remains one of France’s best kept secret. The location just under 2 hours from Paris means it can be added as day trip from Paris but to really enjoy Guedelon and the amazing area around Pays de Guedelon, we recommend a few days in the area. Guedelon is one of the most unique and immersive history and travel experiences you can provide your children and there is also so much for adults to enjoy too (Doc was totally in his element!). So here’s what we thought.
What is Guédelon?
Guedelon is the most unique castle you will visit, it is a working museum and the only one which allows visitors to be living history. It is a medieval castle still in construction, but is construed as if the castle had been built-in the 13th Century instead of the 21st. It is breathtaking when you realise that every single stone, tower, paint (yes they make real medieval paint), and metal finishing is made on the actual Guedelon site. We walked in the quarry where every single stone used in the build is mined, saw the stonemason shaping each and every stone for its particular purpose. We watched as the horse moved materials around the site and watched with glee the human crane. I was totally blown away by the imagination and creativity that was employed to do jobs which modern technology has made so easy for us.
We were greeted by Hein our tour guide who would showcase all the sights and sounds that Guedelon had to offer. Guided tours of the castle are available (for a surprisingly low fee of 3 euros per adult / children over 8 years old) and I would wholeheartedly recommend these to visitors. The staff on site have a genuine passion for the project and the insights and information that they can offer visitors is unparalleled. Without a guide you can still enjoy the castle but you will lack the knowledge and understand the lengths that are being taken to ensure the authenticity in making it a true medieval castle. As Hein showed us all the various aspects of the castle, he spent time making sure he pointed out all the things that the children would have loved, from the thin holes which was big enough for an arrow to pass from the archers protecting the back entrance, showing all the loos (and where all the waste would have ended up – much to the delight of the little adventurers) to asking lots of questions to keep the children interested. For Doc, it was ideal to have a guide as he always has hundreds of questions about everything so it perfect to have someone to answer them all. It really shows just how much there is for everyone to gain from a visit, as the castle was a real learning experience for Doc too.
The site is open to visitors to explore, you can walk around the inside of the actual castle, see all the rooms, spend time looking at the detail from the perfect stone windows, to the intricate iron decorated doors. I loved that the castle really aims to show what life would have been like for example the kitchen, on certain days they have a baker who uses the flour made on site to bake bread in fires in the castle. It is this attention to detail and effort that totally left me in awe. The site has added a water-mill but given the biblical scale rains which preceded our visit we couldn’t see it in operation. However, we were shown how the flour would have been made, and the little adventurers loved learning about the process. As you walk around the site you will meet all the different “vocations” who would have been involved in the construction of a castle. From the blacksmith to the stonemasons, the builders to the wood turner, each vocation is showcasing the work which they would have done and the techniques, tools which they had available to ensure that these jobs were done with accuracy and amazing detail.
Our little adventurers were even able to get hands on, with Maya being able to make a real tile to be used in the actual construction. As a parent it was great to see Maya trying something like this and watching her doing all the process and see how proud she was that something she created would actually be used as a real tile in the castle! Visitors are able to have a try at the beginners stone cutting class which is available for 6 euros. You are provided with the tools, and a stone each to carve. This led to a slight competition with our biggest child (Doc) spending lots of time creating the perfectly carved stone. I was really impressed with Maya and Raihan with the level of attention and effort they put into their stones.
Educational value / Meaningful travel
- My little adventurers are learning about castles at school but you can never really appreciate the detail, the nooks and all the little extras unless you are there and shown their purpose. We lived in Warwick for a year and Warwick Castle was our favourite place. However, Guedelon is in a completely different league, it is not just somewhere to walk around but it shows you a way of life and is truly like stepping into a history book and experiencing first hand what building a castle is like.
- We are trying to make our travel meaningful this year and even Doc returned from Guedelon with so much new information and knowledge that it was a delight for me to see.
- I am also a Scout leader and always look back on activities focusing on their educational benefits and Guedelon offers so many which cannot be found anywhere else.
- The castle is always changing so if you visited next year there would be additional towers, completed rooms, new vocations, it’s a project which is forever changing and offers children so much insight that it should be something enjoyed again.
Tips and things to be aware of
- Remember you are at a real construction site, as you explore the castle ensure the safety of your children at all times. This is medieval times 🙂
- Wear sensible shoes, we visited after the area had seen some of the worst rains for 100 years so we had our wellies but I recommend good boats, with good grip
- Zayn was a little irritable in the morning and as our sling was completely soaked in Disney we needed to bring our pushchair. There is lots of steps so a small pushchair was fine.
- There is several food options and you are free to bring a picnic. Like the rest of Guedelon, we found the pricing to be reasonable.
- There is toilets on site but I recommend you take the children before you head off to the castle saving you having to return a little while into the experience.
We had a fabulous time at Guedelon and the site and castle far exceeded what I had expected to gain from the visit. The little adventurers have returned to school and shared their experience with their classes and the teachers were really impressed with how interactive the experience was for them. I could talk about our visit all day but Guedelon is best experienced first hand and I wholeheartedly recommend it! So if you are in France with kids, I would add this to the list of things to do!