Another from our top four in September

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Nov 8th, 2018, 06:15 AM
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Another from our top four in September



At long last, Guedelon

Guedelon had been on our radar for years, but when I showed my husband kerouac’s trip report of his recent visit, we decided that this trip we’d finally go there. It turned out to be one of the most fascinating places we’ve visited in France.

I will say up front that kerouac’s report on Anyport in a storm is much more thorough (and thoughtful) and gives a better idea of the whole site.

For 20 years they’ve been building a chateau-fort in the Yonne department, based on plans from the 13th century by King Philippe Auguste. The original planners chose a site where they could find the materials needed to build the castle (wood, stone, clay). They are sticking to 13th century techniques and methods and even dress, except for hardhats and steel-toed boots where needed.

Everybody refers to Guedelon as “remote.” That depends where you start from. I think people mean “Why would you go to this area where there’s nothing else of interest?” It turned out to be an area of interesting villages that we’d never heard of. In hindsight I don’t consider it remote. We drove 4 or 5 hours to get to the Yonne, but we enjoyed it and found the area quiet and fairly scenic.

When we arrived early one September morning the parking lot was already pretty full, but my husband used his new superpower to find a space in the shade. We paid our 14 euro each and went in.
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Nov 8th, 2018, 12:57 PM
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oh, what a nice idea. isn't this everything that Fodors is about?

In numerous visits to France, I've never been to the Yonne, so I'm very keen to learn more.

Bring it on!
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Nov 8th, 2018, 01:15 PM
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As soon as you walk through the gates you’re right in the thick of things. The castle is right in front of you and the quarry is just off to the left. Three or four quarrymen were trying to split a rock the size of a VW bug when we arrived. When we left 5 ½ hours later they were still working on the same split.

Two guys in parallel squirrel cages were trudging at a steady pace to lift heavy rocks up to the height where the wall was being built. The wall was swarming with masons, none of them too busy. I think there’s a lot of hurry up and wait for them. My husband noticed that the squirrel cages could lift a load straight up, but there was no way to move the arm itself sideways to get the load to the other side of the wall. To move sideways, they had to move the whole thing.
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Nov 8th, 2018, 01:18 PM
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The squirrel cages at rest

We watched a sturdy horse drawing a cart laden with more stone.

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Nov 8th, 2018, 01:30 PM
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We walked through the finished parts of the castle. Some of the rooms had graceful decorations painted on the walls with natural dyes. The kitchen was small and located at one end of the castle, maybe for safety.

The castle itself was in an open area but all the workshops were in the woods. Over in the carpenters’ shed the guys were busy. We saw mortar makers. Their job is more important than I had realized. There were one or two blacksmiths at work in their shed. The ropemaker and his good-natured assistant provided a touch of comedy. We admired some flamboyant chickens. A very flabby pig was the only one on duty that day but it was sleeping off lunch. There were sheep and geese as well. We saw, I think, just one small garden.

One guy was doing an impressive job of debarking and squaring up a section of a tree trunk.

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Nov 8th, 2018, 01:35 PM
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The restroom (dry toilet) had a sign which I translated as “Recruitment of our future archers starts here. Aim carefully!”

I was surprised at the range of colors in the pigment workshed. They can get 12 different colors from the soil and rocks on site.




There were no public tours in English that day, but we occasionally eavesdropped on French tours and on a special bus tour of English people who’d arranged their own guide. Visitors can talk to any of the workers on site since communicating to the public is an important part of their job.

The miller on duty told us the stream had been so low they hadn’t been able to run the mill this year. I asked how the overall work is organized. She told us that an annual goal is set for each specialty, but how each area achieves their goal is up to that team.

Besides kerouac’s report, there’s also a BBC series about Guedelon called Secrets of the castle. It’s part of a larger series where several specialists immerse themselves in a historic locale and try to live in a specific time period. Very interesting!

Two things that I don’t think kerouac mentioned. The carpenter talking to a group of school kids told them that in spite of a common belief that chestnut was used for beams and structural timber, actually only oak had the strength required.

And a man telling a group of adults about the defense of the castle insisted that the back of the castle was impregnable--it was planned with a wide open defensible space between forest and castle where attackers would be vulnerable, a strong exterior door, tricky inner doors, and places where defenders could hide and then attack an intruder from behind. In the end he said the best way for a stranger to take over the castle was to ask for the hand of the owner’s daughter!
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Nov 8th, 2018, 01:56 PM
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Annhig, thanks for your comment. Our third favorite (my next thread) is also in the Yonne. We were in and out of the Nievre and Loiret also. We saw the canal bridge at Briare. We passed through little Saint Amand en Puisaye, a village with a few potters and a pottery museum. We stayed in Donzy and while I wouldn't recommend a detour to see the town, it had some very charming parts. We spent an hour in Saint Fargeau, which I had heard was beautiful--that's overselling it, so I was more disappointed than if it hadn't come highly recommended.

I'm probably being unfair in not including in the top four a museum my husband loved (and I didn't go into), the Musee de la Machine Agricole et de la Ruralite. He came out of there raving about the farm machinery he saw. Amazing harvesters! Ancient tractors that still work! We aren't even farmers. When people asked what we'd seen and my husband mentioned this museum, every French guy was immediately interested, and none of the women were. My theory is that every man with a lawnmower considers it agricultural machinery.
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Nov 8th, 2018, 11:28 PM
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We enjoyed our stay in the Yonne. When people talk about Burgundy they think Dijon , Beaune , may be Vezelay and wine. But there is a whole lot more to it than just those things. Lots of interesting villages and lovely country. We are finishing up in the Maconnais region this week - flying home on Saturday - and it is just beautiful with the autumn colours . We have loved just driving around admiring the scenery and the pretty small villages.
We did not get to Guedelon, but maybe one day. I am enjoying your report and photos. You talk very eloquently about what you discover.
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Nov 9th, 2018, 04:25 AM
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Rhon, if you're going home Saturday, can we expect your trip report on Sunday? That's how much I'm looking forward to reading it! I know that you two make the most out of each area you visit. Your trips always inspire me, and I make notes just in case. After all your trips, do you have a favorite area you've visited?
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Nov 9th, 2018, 07:35 AM
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I'm glad that I was finally successful in encouraging someone to see Guédelon.
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Nov 9th, 2018, 08:37 AM
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It may be a couple of weeks, maybe even the new year with three lots of grandchildren in different states to visit and my very elderly mother. So still not finished travelling . We are starting to settle on some real favourites and I can see some future trips just sitting in a few places and doing not much except enjoy.
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Nov 9th, 2018, 02:47 PM
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What a fascinating idea! I am wondering how this project is funded. Thanks for the report.
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Nov 10th, 2018, 06:15 PM
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Nikki, by now the site is pretty much self-supporting thanks to over 300,000 visitors a year.

The day we were there the parking lot was so full I'm pretty sure it at least paid for a week's wages for the staff.
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Nov 10th, 2018, 10:14 PM
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You might find the official website of interest: https://www.guedelon.fr/en/
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