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Les Andelys

Modern town meets ancient redoubt

The landscape of the Seine valley is dotted with chateaux, both large and small, both unremarkable and breathtaking. But perhaps few have a more distinguished pedigree than Chateau Gaillard. The ancient stronghold was built in 1197 and completed in 1198 by none other than Richard the Lion-hearted, King of England and Duke of Normandy, after his return from the Third Crusade. His intention was to secure access routes to the important regional center of Rouen, 40 km to the north, from the ambitions of the French monarch Philip Auguste.

From its perch on a cliff high above a curve in the Seine river, the castle commanded a strategic advantage over any enemy travelling by ships. Its 3 enclosing walls and numerous towers (inspired by Richard’s experience with Saracen fortifications in the Holy Land) ensured that it would be a formidable stronghold. However, there are certain weaknesses, such as the fact that a even higher cliff dominated over the castle grounds.

Chateau Gaillard survived Richard’s death. But his successor failed to hold it against Philip Auguste, who conquered the castle in 1204 and effectively took over the rest of Normandy from the English.

The castle played a role in the tumultous Anglo-French history. It was even occupied for a while by a follower of Joan of Arc. Eventually the castle fell into disuse and was ordered dismantled, its huge blocks of stones used for renovating churches and monasteries. Nowadays the skeletal walls and half-demolished keep still hold vigilance over the countryside below, now transformed into a bustling town. The somber yet still majestic ruins serve as a poignant reminder of a time long gone.

We stayed in a small town not far from Les Andelys, so we saved it until the day we had to return to Paris. To us it seemed like the middle of nowhere, but the town is actually of a pretty good size for the region.

Les Andelys is actually composed of 2 parts, big and little Andely. Imposing chalk cliffs, which are in fact fairly common in the region, tower high above the town. The road to the ruins leads through a dense stretch of forest with picnic tables which offer a great spot for lunch. There are hiking trails throughout which may offer even better views of the valley below.

This well would have provided water to the inhabitants of the castle, and perhaps even Richard the Lion-hearted, so long ago.

Chateau Gaillard

Last visit: 2004 Pros: Majestic views, inspiring relic of history In a nutshell: You will be impressed