Is I sat in the car waiting our departure for the return journey home, I had time to reflect on an amazing road trip in France. The famed saying of Ibn Battuta rang truer than ever: “Travelling – it leaves you speechless and then turns you into a storyteller.” We are a family who travels across the world with our children, trying our best to make the world a classroom for them. In the backroads of Burgundy, not only did I fall in love with the cobbled streets and beautiful buildings, but the experiences we were able to enjoy led me to realise how travel can enrich our children’s lives.
In May 2016, we decided to have an adventure thatother Muslim families would most likely overlook.Leaving Lancashire, UK, we embarked on a road trip which saw us exploring the deepest parts of Burgundy, taking roads almost alwaysoverlooked by tourists. We visited the area
of Pays de Geudelon for a 5-day trip, staying in gorgeous accommodation, making friends, interacting with locals and bringing the magic of travel into our children’s lives by havingincredible experiences.
The first stop on our trip was Guedelon Castle. In a once unused quarry, one of the most unique and awe inspiring construction projects we’ve witnessed is taking place. Guedelon is the only castlecurrently under construction in the world, and, even more uniquely, isbeing built using only medieval techniques. This means everything beingused to build the castle is sourced and used as it would have been in the 13th Century. For instance, each and every stone is painstakingly cut byhand and manually transported around the castle grounds. The Guedelon Castle project has been running for 18 years and is one ofthe most immersive historical travel experiences you can provide your children.
I can still recall our tour guide, Hein’s, comment at the start of our guided tour: “This is unlike any construction site you will have ever seen; no drilling, no machinery and it’s so quiet youcan hear the birds in the trees.” The staff onsite have a genuine passion for the project and the insights and information that they can offer visitors is unparalleled. I wholeheartedly recommend the guided tour (at €3 each with children under 8 free, it’sfantastic value for money). As Hein showed us the numerous aspects of the castle, he spent time making sure he pointed out all the things that the children would have loved, from the thin holes which were just big enough for arrows to pass through, to pointing out all the toilets (and where all the waste would have ended up!), all while asking lots of questionsto keep the children interested. I love that the castle really aims to show what life would havebeen like, and it is this attention to detail andeffort that left me in complete awe. The castlehad a whole range of “vocations” present, from blacksmiths to stonemasons, builders to carpenters, each showcasing the work which they would have done with the techniques and tools they only had available in mediaeval times.
The magic of Guedelon is much more than just what you can see, and had experiences where our little adventurers were able to gethands on. My 7-year-old daughter was able tomake a real tile which will be used in one of the rooms, leaving her mark forever on a part of history. As a parent, it is great to see your child following through the whole process and seeing how proud they are that something they create would actually be used in a castle!
Visitors are also able to try their hand at the beginners’ stone cuttingclass for €6. You are provided with the tools and a stone each tocarve. After watching the stonemasonsworking on the site, it is sometimes assumed that the work they are undertaking may not be challenging. However, by giving our children this experience,they were able to fullyunderstand how difficult the task of stonecarving really is and this type of hands-on learning will stay with them forever.
Behind Guedelon Castle, the second activity which won our hearts was the day we spent in the Centre of Regional Contemporary Art at the Castle of Tremblay in Fontenoy. Arriving at the attraction is somewhat underwhelming, but as they say: never judge a book by its cover. There them by taking time to explain the meaning behind the drawings, sculptures and letting the children have a touch and feel. However, the highlight for us all was our own private art lesson. As parents, we often fail to enjoy the small things in life, but experiences like the art class really illustrate the joy of family travel. Forget shop bought paints; in our art class we were given the chance to mix our own paints using the powdered clay and stones which were sourced from the Guedelon Castle quarry. The artist was fabulous with the children and walked us through each stage of making the paints, as well this particular type of art style. As a mother, nothing warms my heart then seeing my children interacting and trying new experiences with enthusiasm and a desire to give everything their best effort.
Our art class lasted 2 hours and throughoutthe whole session, the room was filled withlaughter, lots of excited voices and at times pin drop silence when the children (and their dad) tried their best to make the most fantastic pieces of art.
Part of any travel plans with children in tow is finding the right accommodation.Nevertheless, there is reluctance within the Muslim community to venture out and try things which are a little quirky but which add so much to the travel experience. Our trip to France showcased some more unusualaccommodation options for families. Our firststop was a farm house in La Montagne aux Alouettes. We had the loveliest host in the owner Valarie who stayed onsite, but we still had our own dedicated part of the house. Our children still talk about Valarie (almost
a year after our visit) and meeting and interacting with locals is an experience money cannot buy.
We ate our breakfast and evening meals with Valarie and it was insightful to learn about French life and for her to learn about us, our lives and faith. As we had the luxury of having our car with us, we decided to split our time in the area and spent the last few nights at a fabulous treehouse in the Family Ecolodge. The treehouse was amazing, especially as sleeping in a treehouse has been on my bucket list forever.
The children loved the experience of sleeping in a tree house, waking up to gorgeous Frenchfields and pottering around on ahouse held up by nothing but trees. The highlight for us all was having our meals left in a basket on the hanger at the bottom of our steps. The owners were aware of our dietary requirements and provided meals in accordance, so we had local French homemade dishes every night on our French adventure.
PRACTICALITIES OF A ROAD TRIP
Before having children, we had taken a 3-week road trip across New Zealand and every day felt like a new adventure as there were endless opportunities to explore and discover. For many, a road trip will not be high on the list for a family-friendly holiday but in some ways it cannot be beaten. Having the luxury of your own transport means that you have lots of more choice; you are able to set your own pace of travel and take as many or few stops as you like. On the road, you will be surprisedhow many hidden gems you will discover purely by chance, which is why I love road trips. The journey in a road trip is as much part of the adventure as the destination.
Travelling overseas may seem daunting but it honestly shouldn’t be. If you are taking yourown car from home, check the finer details ofyour insurance, take out overseas breakdown cover and ensure you have all the equipment you are legally required to carry in your car for the destinations you are visiting. If hiringa car overseas, always check the small print of your agreement with the hire company focusing on mileage, any limitations and I always recommend taking out an insurance waiver.
Family travel is so much more than staying in all-inclusive resorts. There is a whole world out there to explore and, as we discovered in the pouring rain of France, the magic of travel can be found in the unlikeliest of places and often these experience are the ones which will make you smile in years to come.