Saturday, October 23, 2010

Medieval Castles & Luxury Hotels in Burgundy

I thought I had seen it all when – on my last day in the Champagne region --  we visited talking robots and a Champagne Bar in the trees, but there was something even more unusual to see and it is called Guedelon.

Burgundy is filled with castles, but none like Guedelon.  The weather continued to be cold and there seemed to be a bit of rain following us.   This mud-producing climate wasn’t exactly what you wanted when you were visiting a construction site and that’s exactly what Guedelon was, only this site was missing your usual tractors, electrical equipment and safety nets.  This was a construction site for a castle, more specifically, a castle built in the 13th century.

The Guedelon project began in 1995 when Michel Guyot, who already owned a castle in Yonn, had the idea to build this one in Treigny the same way the Medieval workers did it.  He banished anything that wasn’t used in the 13th century and spent two years gathering the support and permits from France.  He even received some funding from other European countries. 

The actual construction began in 1997 and the castle expected to finish in 2025.  It has become a popular attraction for school groups who spend the day and learn all the details that went into building a castle hundreds of years ago, from creating tiles (which they let our group do) to making nails.

Guedelon Castle is a fascinating site.  One of the requirements of the workers is that they must participate in more than the building, they are to be teachers of the project.  According to our guide, Sarah, everyone going through Guedelon (there were 300,000 visitors in 2009) may ask questions of the workers in an attempt to improve the interaction and knowledge.  Many are fluent in more than just French, which is good since they receive visitors from throughout Europe and the United States.

While at Guedelon, we had a typical Medieval lunch of a stew made of chicken, ham, sausage and vegetables before hitting the road for the quaint village of Vezelay.  Unfortunately, the rain would follow us through the streets of the town and the Basilica, a UNESCO place.  I warmed up a bit with a cup of coffee inside the rather elegant Hotel Poste et Lion d'Or before Veronique from Burgundy Tourism escorted me back to the group and off to Joigny.

I have to admit, I was ready for five-star luxury and La Cote Saint Jacques in Joigny was just the ticket.  Don’t get me wrong, we have stayed in nothing but beautiful places through Champagne-Ardenne and Burgundy, but my trip called for nine hotels in nine nights and I was dreaming about an elevator and a bellman.  I got that and more at La Cote Saint Jacques, where I couldn’t decide if the word incredible was more suiting to the view outside my room (above) or the 10-course meal at the three Michelin Star Jean Michel Lorain Restaurant. 

The food at Jean Michel Lorain included my first experience with White Truffles – which I hope won’t be my last – and two pieces of chocolate heaven (right).  I even got a little sleep in preparation for our final day in France, which included staying at another luxury hotel, eating at another three Michelin Star restaurant, and drinking lots more burgundy wine.

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