I know that I’ve said a million times how much I love the Middle Ages, but a lesser known fact about me is that I also love Merlin on BBC (I love Arthurian Legend and anything surrounding King Arthur.) It’s cheesy, it’s nerdy, I love it. It was while watching some behind the scenes videos on YouTube about the show that I found out it was actually filmed in a castle in France. I didn’t think about it much until I was researching castles that I wanted to visit and I read the page on the castle in Pierrefonds, Picardie. The images of the castle looked very familiar but I couldn’t place where I had seen it before. Suddenly it clicked.
“Oh my god, this is Camelot!” I said to myself as I decided on the spot that I was going to visit Pierrefonds.
Well, things weren’t quite going to be that easy (are they ever?) While I was researching how to get to Pierrefonds, I realized that it was way too far from the trains for me to get to without spending a ton of money on a car. I was incredibly disappointed, though I moved on because I realized there were tons of other castles with of major importance that I could still visit and too many other things I could see to be disappointed to miss one castle.
For the history lovers, here is a brief background. The castle was built by the Duc d’Orleans in the 14th century and razed in the 17th. It was in a complete state of ruin when Napoleon III hired Viollet-le-Duc to rebuild it. Unlike other castles being rebuilt in France, the Château de Pierrefonds was not rebuilt in contemporary style. Viollet-le-Duc used the knowledge he had of the military architecture of the Middle Ages to rebuild the château as he thought it should have been, maintaining the architectural style of the 14th century. Anyone who knows me knows this castle was a must-see for me.
During my trip, I had the chance to stay with a friend of mine and her family who happened to live a short distance outside of Paris. While making plans, I didn’t have any idea where exactly they lived in relation to the city. I met up with my friend outside the Gare de Lyon and we wandered around Paris for a few hours. It was such an awesome experience getting to finally meet up with a friend in their home country! We ended up meeting up with her mother (who worked in the city as well) and taking the train back home together. Her family made dinner and we all sat around the table chatting about what I had seen and where I was going next. Her dad started offering advice on local things to see. Not being one to pass on locals advice on things to see, I was excited to explore what he had suggested. And then he mentioned a local castle. Pierrefonds. I almost jumped up from the table I was so excited.
“I know that castle! They filmed one of my favorite tv shows there!” I said over-excitedly.
It turns out they lived about 20 minutes from the castle I was dying to see and I had just not paid enough attention to realize it. And they had a car.
So the next morning my friend Marine and I hopped in her car to go through the list of things her father suggested. We drove through the countryside in Picardie blasting Lady Gaga and Dua Lipa. I could barely contain myself as the castle came into view. It’s not hard to find seeing as the castle is huge and imposing (as castles were meant to be) and can be seen from quite a distance also due to the fact that the stone is very white and surrounded by the dark trees of Picardie. To get to the castle you have to park at the bottom of the hill and wind your way up through the small town of Pierrefonds and around the side of the hill to the top. Little shops and vendors line the narrow street until about halfway up the hill when the path winds among trees.
The Château de Pierrefonds is a lot more compact than most of the castles I saw in France. Rather than the buildings being separated but all located inside the bailey or courtyard, all of the buildings are connected by galleries forming one imposing structure, which makes for very easy tours! I was so awestruck! We took our time wandering the halls and taking in the spots where not only important historical happenings took place, but also where the actors stood filming some of the most pivotal scenes in Merlin. (The coolest one is the stained glass windows in the chapel where Morgana and Morgause meet up.) I felt like I was part of the story!! The funny thing is, no one around me so much as mentioned the show and neither did any of the signs and pamphlets. None of that mattered though, I knew.
(A few spots where filming took place)
The interior is also a museum housing different pieces of historic architecture from around the country which was also cool to see! Towards the end of the visit, there is a staircase leading below ground to the caves where there is a display of dozens of casts of funeral effigies or “gisants” of people of note from all over and throughout the history of France. (I included a video displaying these gisants at the bottom of the post and in the gallery)
It’s safe to say I geeked out the entire time. I think this whole morning was one of my favorite parts of the entire trip. Driving through the French countryside blasting some of my favorite music with a great friend, seeing one of my favorite castles and geeking out about the show filmed there, and immediately afterward, crepes in view of the castle. The morning could not have been more perfect!