FRANCE

Chateaux de Pierrefonds



When we saw the TV show Merlin for the first time, we were amazed by the castle where they filmed the show.  At first glimpse, it looked very familiar.  We got married in a castle in our birth town Bojnice which looked just like this one.  Only after a closer look did we realise that it is indeed a different castle.  Immediately, we wanted to know more about it and find out where it is.  We expected to see the castle of Camelot somewhere in England, but after some brief research, we discovered that it lies about 70km north of Paris.  We were flying to Paris this summer, so we scheduled a visit into our already packed itinerary.

Dating back to 1393, it was built by Charles V’s son.  As a fortified residence, it was designed to keep an eye on the trade between their rivals, the Flanders and Burgundy.  In 1616, it was completely dismantled and became only a ruin.  Napoleon 1st discovered this forgotten ruin in 1810.  In the 19th century, his nephew Napoleon III completely restored Pierrefonds and turned it into an occasional residence, and then eventually a museum.
 

Today, visitors flock here to see the residence of Camelot from the BBC TV show Merlin, which has its final season being filmed as of September 2012.  As we visited this place at the beginning of August, we were not lucky enough to see any actors but asked locals if they had seen any during the filming of previous seasons.  They said that Prince Arthur, Morgana, Merlin and other characters from the show are regular customers at the little village’s Pattiserie and Boulangerie.  Many of the interior and exterior scenes are filmed here.  You can discover the knight’s training grounds, the tournament grounds, as well as the main courtyard, the entrance to the dungeons and the crypt and Uther’s chambers.  Nonetheless, we couldn’t find the dragon.  At the main entrance to the castle, there are props from the filming, although the houses you see on TV are actually only facades with no interiors.

Pierrefonds is open from 9.30 am till 6pm May to September and from 10am till 1pm with a reopening time of 2pm till 5.30pm from September to April.  The entry fee is only 6.50EUR per person but it is free to anyone between 18 and 25!  Pierrefonds is a charming village on the edge of the Compiegne forest.  It is still relatively unpopulated by tourists, which makes the visit that much more appealing.  When we got to the castle in the morning, we were the only visitors for about two hours.  Imagine having the whole castle only to yourself.  We asked where the people are, but we were told that it was cloudy and they will turn up later.  After wondering around the whole castle, taking lots of pictures, we approached one of the lovely ladies working there.  And because we were the only visitors at the time, she showed us rooms that are normally closed to public.



As soon as you enter the courtyard, you picture the scenes from the show.  You can see the large staircase with the statue of the knight on the horse at the bottom of the stairs and can picture Arthur on his horse.  The attention to detail is amazing.  There are hundreds of gargoyles around the castle and the drain spouts caught our attention immediately.  There are large dragons on the walls with their heads facing the ground and mouth open for draining the rain water.

Only certain parts of the castle are open to the public.  The majority of rooms are empty; however this is a plus as it allows your imagination to go wild.  The reception room on the first floor is sumptuously decorated.  There are wooden sculptures on the ceiling inspired by the plant kingdom that are almost 50 years ahead of the art noveau (inspired by nature) style.  You can also see the emperor’s dressing room and bedchamber.   Furthermore you will find a renaissance-style double spiral staircase like in Chambord.  It has two stairways which never meet.

The castle also houses a permanent exhibition of the famous architect Viollet-le-Duc who recreated the castle which is on the ground floor as well as the art of Monduit.

A trip to the crypt is a must see part of any visit, with effigies amazingly lit and an audio feature (in French).  But the eeriness and spectacular lighting definitely makes up for that.  As soon as you enter the crypt, you can see a bizarre collection of gravestones and tombs like you’ve never seen before.  There are hundreds of tombs of famous emperors, dutches and countesses dating back to the 12th century.  The statues look more like they should be in a museum and not part of the tomb.  They are intricately carved with lots of master crafted details.  The statues are very cleverly lit which sends shivers down your spine.  Listening to the whispers from the audio only emphasises this feeling.  Again, it was only two of us down there so that experience was incredible and will definitely stay in my mind for many years to come.

Back out in the fresh air, we wandered down to the village and had a beautiful lunch in one of the few restaurants there.  There are only couple of small hotels in Pierrefonds.  They both face the lily-strewn lake where you can have a nice picnic after your tour of the castle.  Our room in the hotel faced the castle, so it was amazing to wake up in the morning, look outside and see it only couple of hundred meters from our window.
 

Locals are very pleasant and polite, wishing you bon-appetite when eating your lunch by the lake or say bon jour to almost everyone.  It is probably because this place doesn’t see as many tourists as other chateauxs in France.  You should definitely discover it before everyone else does.

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