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Travel Treasures departments
Mar/Apr 2011 Issue

Medieval castle is rising above the countryside in northwest Arkansas

With each clang of the blacksmith’s hammer, each snort of horses hauling heavily laden carts and each clink of the mason’s chisel on stone, the Middle Ages are coming to life in northwest Arkansas where a medieval castle is rising from the landscape.

A team of architectural experts, historians and dedicated artisans is raising a genuine, full-sized castle as part of a living history experience that will take 20 years, the time required to build a castle during the Middle Ages. In its second year of construction, the Ozark Medieval Fortress will one day feature 45-foot high towers, a drawbridge and 6-foot-wide stone walls surrounding an expansive inner courtyard.

Until the castle is complete, however, the site has been described as an “outdoor laboratory” and a “living history book” where craftsmen are using the materials, techniques and rules of the 13th century. To date, the foundations for much of the castle have been laid, and part of the walls and towers have been erected. Visitors can tour the site and interact with the workers to ask questions about their tasks.

The creation is the brainchild of Michel Guyot who launched a similar and successful project in Burgundy, France, 10 years ago. The castle is rising in forestland provided by Solange and Jean-Marc Mirat, a French couple who emigrated to the United States 20 years ago, and the craftsmen are using the wood, stone, water and soil located at the site for their building materials.

The hammers fell silent this winter, but work will resume once again on March 29. The site is open Tuesday through Saturday. Tickets are $18 for adults, $9 for children 6–16 and free for children 5 and under. Guided tours are an additional $2 per person.

For hours or more information, call (870) 436-7625 or visit online at Ozark Medieval Fortress is located at 1671 Highway 14 West in Lead Hill, which is about 20 miles northeast of Harrison not far from the Missouri border.


A team of craftsmen is building the castle authentically using materials and techniques of the 13th century. Ozark Medieval Fortress photos



Mississippi Children’s Museum makes education exciting

The new Mississippi Children’s Museum in Jackson may look like it’s all kids’ play, but there’s much more to it than meets the eye.

Located at LeFleur’s Bluff State Park, the Mississippi Children’s Museum offers interactive exhibits teaching children ages 12 and under about literacy, cultural arts, science, technology, health, nutrition, and the state’s rich heritage. And it’s all done while keeping it fun. Its founders began with an idea 10 years ago to create a place for children “to discover and explore, to play and learn, to imagine and to be full of wonder,” and the project finally came to fruition in late 2010.

Visitors can test their spelling with the world’s largest Scrabble board; explore their musical or artistic interests through the music and art studios; or they can sharpen their vocabulary or literary knowledge on author Eudora Welty’s porch.

The centerpiece is a climbing map of Mississippi that will familiarize visitors with the state’s wonderfully diverse geography, natural science, culture, history and its work and leisure life. Visitors can go below to see the striations in the earth, where they can see old relics buried, or climb to the top to see the different trees that grow across the state. They can even climb aboard a shrimp boat.

The museum is open 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday (with a noon opening time on Wednesday), and 1–5 p.m. on Sunday. General admission is $8; children 12 months and under are admitted for free. The museum is located at 2145 Highland Drive. For more information, call (601) 981-5469 or (877) 793-KIDS (5437), or visit online at


The museum offers hands-on experiences that teach children about science, art, literacy and more in a fun way. Mississippi Children’s Museum photo


Hop on down to Toad Suck Daze fest

There’s a lot of jumping going on in Conway, Ark., during the Toad Suck Daze festival, despite the fact that it’s a three-day celebration of laid-back relaxation.

In its 30th year, the festival will feature food, family and fun from April 29–May 1 in downtown Conway. The laid-back weekend has an unhurried atmosphere, but there are plenty of activities to keep every member of the family busy.

There will be local and national entertainment, nearly 200 arts and crafts vendors, a parade, concessions and more. For youngsters, the “Toadal Kids Zone” will feature a carnival and special entertainment.

Yet, the highlight is the World Championship Toad Races. Competitors in several age categories will enter the “Toad Dome” to yell, clap and make lots of noise to coax their toads down the track. General races are held on Friday and Saturday, and the championships take place on Sunday afternoon.

Proceeds from the festival have generated more than $1 million in scholarships for area students since 1983.

The festival’s name dates to the era when steamboats plied the Arkansas River. When the water was too shallow, they tied up near the Toad Suck Lock and Dam. The crews would pass the time at a local tavern, which irritated area folks who said: “They suck on the bottle ’til they swell up like toads.”

The tavern is gone, but the legend lives on at Toad Suck Daze. Conway is about 30 miles north of Little Rock. For details, call (501) 327-7788 or click on

frog race

Children competing in one of the many toad races during the festival. Conway Area Chamber of Commerce photo


Garden Party will celebrate spring at Shadows Plantation

The Shadows-on-the-Teche plantation in New Iberia, La., is marking its 50th anniversary as a National Trust Historic Site with its first Shadows Garden Party.

Blooming pink azaleas and bright spring green foliage will provide the background for a beautiful evening party on March 16. The 1950s-themed party will feature live music and a variety of popular foods and drinks from that decade. Come dressed in your finest ’50s-inspired clothing. The party is included with the purchase of a Friends of the Shadows membership, which is $35 for one or $60 for a family.

Coinciding with the Garden Party is the popular semi-annual Shadows-on-the-Teche Arts and Crafts Festival on Saturday, March 19, from 9 a.m.–4 p.m. More than 80 vendors will sell original works, and there will be food vendors, as well. The admission is $3 per person.

Dating to 1831, the Shadows is located at 317 E. Main St. in New Iberia. Tours of the plantation home will be given during the festival for an additional cost. For more details, call (337) 369-6446, or click on


Azaleas dress up the plantation during spring. Shadows-on-the-Teche photo


Tennessee Williams festival marks memorable milestones

The Tennessee Williams/ New Orleans Literary Festival is celebrating two significant milestones March 23–27: the festival’s 25th anniversary and the playwright’s 100th birthday on March 26.

The five-day fête honors the legendary playwright, his works and his literary life in New Orleans, the adopted city he called his “spiritual home.” Taking place mostly in the French Quarter, there will be two days of programs, theatre, dining and music to celebrate the famed author of such plays as “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Among the scholarly events will be master classes, panelist discussions, a breakfast book club, celebrity interviews, a book fair and a conference. The list of participants includes Academy Award nominees, a Pulitzer Prize winner, Louisiana’s Poet Laureate and a number of well-respected writers, actors and scholars.

Performances during the festival will include comedy improv, a poetry slam and a celebration of George Gershwin classics, as well as competitions for short fiction, poetry and one-act plays. There will be French Quarter walking tours, special evening events and parties, and the ever-popular “Stella!” shouting contest.

A Festival Panel Pass is $75; a one-day pass is $30; theater and special events range from $5–$100; master classes are $25; the Scholars Conference is $20; and walking tours are $25. For a schedule of events, visit or call (504) 581-1144.

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