Everywhere we go in France we find ourselves thinking – gosh this is lovely – should we have based ourselves here for the longer part of our stay? Each region unfolds some new and unexpected loveliness and so it was with Burgundy.
We passed through pretty if a little more rustic villages, and rolling fields of sunflowers, corn, and golden wheat scattered with wild poppies.
We’d booked a gîte (apartment) through AirBnB and thank heavens for the SatNav or we would never have found this tiny hamlet, 15 minutes’ drive from the nearest boulangerie.
Fear not friends, we coped, admirably. After the closeness of campground living, our little gîte in the middle of nowhere turned out to be perfect. A full size kitchen, a constant cool breeze, space to breathe and some 80s DVDs with English audio tracks for a much needed family movie night (ET).
That’s the thing about travelling en famille. While we parents enjoy a go-go-go pace, daring not to waste a minute if there is something new to explore, we know we have to pace ourselves more with kids. Sometimes that means being so close to a major historical site, and deciding not to visit, or to do the ‘speed date’ version, in favour of more time chilling out at the apartment.
How many photos of sunflowers are too many exactly? I thought so…
After a stunning morning walk while the church bells tolled…
We visited the Chateau de Guédelon where a team of castle enthusiasts are building a medieval castle complex. They’re having to reverse engineer and work from old records and drawings, to figure out how to build vaulted ceilings, castle walls and other complex structures, using ancient materials and methods.
And they’re not just constructing the building the old way, they’re fashioning all the building materials too. The site was chosen deep in the Guédelon forest, because it contains everything they need. Stone for the castle walls. Clay to make roof tiles, fired in an earthen oven. Wood, water, even ochre and other minerals for the pigments required to dye the fabrics they wear and paint murals and friezes on the walls.
Construction began in 1995 and has spawned a whole industry and revival of ancient crafts, like stone masons, wood carvers, rope weavers, tile makers and weavers. Volunteers dedicate days to work alongside the employed artisans and learn these ancient crafts, grinding pigments, digging up clay, stoking the fire to fire the tiles, or giving demonstrations in bread making or stone masonry. All the goods are transported around the site with a horse and cart too.
It’s hard physical labour and truly inspiring to see people giving up their time to be part of such an ambitious project. They’ve been building for 24 years already… as for how much longer, who can say?
We all really loved Guédelon, and the volunteers were happy to share their knowledge of the project. A few weeks on, Guedélon ranks among one of the children’s favourite sites we have visited in France. Interestingly like Puy du Fou, this is unique site is missing from our guidebook – I’m starting to wonder about the Lonely Planet, which almost seems to favour fancy restaurants over hostel recommendations and savvy travel tricks. Perhaps its demographic has altered as the budget-travellers of the 80s and 90s become the affluent middle-aged?
Our final day was Bastille Day… but what to do when it conflicts with the Cricket World Cup final between NZ and the UK?
The boys donned their Black Caps garb and we set off to the wee town of Chamency, where there was a water jousting festival. Participants stand on the back of little barges and try to knock each other off with jousting poles. Good family village fun.
Then it was back to the gîte for some backyard overs while we listened to the cricket… and the children learned some ahem, choice new phrases courtesy of the Alternative Cricket Commentary.
Listening to sport by radio has challenges all of its own especially when British friends – who were two minutes ahead of the play – were texting madly. Needless to say it was an incredible game with plenty of confusion at our end, including a moment when we prematurely ran around celebrating thinking we had just won, followed by devastation at the final result, but even the boys managed to quickly reset to appreciate what a phenomenal game of cricket had just been played.
As soon as the winner was called, we jumped in the car for the Diner de Fête Nationale in the nearby village of Saint Père. We were 40 mins late but in perfect time for the long table dinner, where we enjoyed rockmelon with shaved ham, côte de boeuf (filet of beef) with potato salad, and tarte aux pommes with a slice of camembert – amazing fare for a community dinner. There was drumming, dancing and fireworks under the stars… then home to bed.
We also managed a spot of delicious wine tasting in a cave in Vézelay and a brief wander around this historic pilgrim site. We didn’t get to tick all our Burgundy boxes but we were very happy with what we did achieve, and having time to chill in our quiet and private backyard was rather lovely and essential too.