Getting to Guédelon isn’t exactly easy. First, I take a two-hour train ride from a small suburban rail station in Paris that leads me through the quiet French countryside to a tiny Burgundy town. From there, it’s a 40-minute car ride through thick, green woods before I finally reach this remote destination. Still, it’s worth it.
That’s because Guédelon is a glorious 13th-century castle — but it’s not just any 13th-century castle.
For more information about Guédelon:
D955 89520 Treigny
03 86 45 66 66www.guedelon.fr
France is littered with the remains of its history. All over the country, chateaus built in centuries past still operate as family homes or are turned into charming bed-and-breakfasts. But those structures were built hundreds of years ago. Guédelon, on the other hand, is currently being constructed; it is, quite literally, history in the making.
The project started when two neighbors, Michel Guyot and Maryline Martin, were sharing a bottle of wine one evening in the mid-1990s. While restoring his 15th-century home, Guyot had uncovered the remains of a medieval fortress and wondered what it would be like to build such a thing himself. Guyot’s idea was to build a castle using the same tools, power and engineering skills that existed in the Middle Ages; it would be a kind of living archaeological experiment.
Most people dismissed the idea as folly, but Martin saw an opportunity to bring some measure of prosperity back to the region, which had long been dogged by unemployment. Martin, who had worked in social services, wanted to use the castle as a way to create long-term jobs and training for local residents in craftsmen trades.
It took two years of planning and fundraising — augmented by a grant from the French government — to find and purchase the site, the sandstone quarry and the surrounding woods from which Guédelon is now slowly emerging.
“In light of French bureaucracy, that’s amazing,” attests Sarah Preston, who is Guédelon’s administrative jack-of-all-trades and whose husband is involved in the construction.