Chateau Gaillard & the Beauty of Independence
Monday, October 16, 2017
When you take a river cruise, there are guided excursions offered every day. On some days, you can do up to three guided tours. Most people take advantage of these, for the simple reason that they’re there, they’re included, and they’ll show you something that you’ve probably never seen before.
There is another option open to you, however, and that is the choice to do whatever you please. That was the choice I made today in Les Andelys, France, as my river cruise aboard Tauck’s ms Sapphire enters the second-last day of our Rendezvous on the Seine river cruise.
I’ve always wanted to see the ruined medieval fortress of Chateau Gaillard, which sits perched high above Les Andelys. Tauck’s included tour for today – which featured a walking tour of Les Petit Andelys and a visit to a local cider farm – only stopped for a brief photo outside of the castle. That just wasn’t going to work for me.
Seeing that the Castle was an easy 15-minute walk from our picturesque docking location in Les Andelys, I stayed behind while the rest of the guests aboard the ms Sapphire departed for their morning adventure and had another cappuccino and browsed through Tauck’s Exotics brochure. It gave me all sorts of exotic ideas. Some day, I’m going to have to branch out into land trips.
Coffee finished, I grabbed a bottle of water (complimentary, of course) and my camera and set out into the unseasonable morning warmth (17°C at 10:00am) to explore Chateau Gaillard.
I learned about Chateau Gaillard when I was 13 years old. Ironically enough, it was from a 1995 computer game called The Journeyman Project 2: Buried in Time that I came to know about this National Historic Site of France. The time-travel epic, which also recreated Da Vinci’s studio in Italy and Chichen Itza in Mexico, set one of its narratives in a faithfully-recreated Chateau Gaillard at the time of Richard the Lionheart. It’s long been out-of-print, but you can still download it on Mac and PC at Good Old Games for a very modest $6.99 US. I’ve wanted to see the castle ever since.
Chateau Gaillard was built between 1196 and 1198 at the behest of Richard the Lionheart. Constructed in an almost-unheard of two years, the castle consisted of a keep, private residences, several cellars, and numerous towers clustered around advanced fortifications, an outer courtyard, and an inner courtyard. It also had latrines built into its walls that would send waste cascading down a chute near the wall, and fireplaces in the residences – the outlines of which are still visible to this day.
One year after the construction of Chateau Gaillard, Richard the Lionheard died. Things went well after that until 1203, when the French besieged the Castle. After five months, Philip Augustus decided he’d had enough. He launched a full-on assault of the castle in March of 1204, seizing it by sending soldiers in through the castle’s windows in a Monty Python-esque bit of planning.
Damaged heavily in the 1400’s during the Hundred Years War, the castle was ransacked for construction materials in the 1600’s by the monks of Les Andelys. It wasn’t until 1862 that Chateau Gaillard was declared a Historical Monument and protected from further destruction.
While there’s not much there today, it is a fascinating place to walk around. Admission to the inner keep can be obtained by paying the very small fee of €3.20 per person (free for children under seven) and a guided tour is just €4.50. The castle’s outer ramparts and walls (including the super-deep dry moat, which you can walk through) are accessible free-of-charge.
After a brief walk through the pretty (but sleepy – don’t expect to find much open) town of Les Andelys, I reboarded the ms Sapphire and we set sail for Vernon, France.
The weather was abnormally nice out, with sunny skies and temperatures that pushed 25°C as the afternoon went on. It couldn’t have been nicer. Tauck Director Alex – who functions as a sort of Cruise Director onboard the Sapphire – came around to the upper deck to tell guests that it wasn’t necessary to attend the scheduled Disembarkation Talk at 2:30pm. A letter would be provided to guests outlining their flights and disembarkation times for Wednesday in Paris, and let them know to see him if they should have any questions.