Some people visit Disney parks to be immersed in another world. Others go to Las Vegas to do it. Still others go on cruises. I’ve done each of these, several times. But none of those trips could have prepared me for the incredible experience of visiting The Duchy of Bicolline (La Duche de Bicolline). Duchy, of course, meaning the territory owned by a duke or duchess.
Most people just call it “Bicolline” for short. This medieval role-playing land is the closest experience you will ever get to living in the middle ages. Bonus: It’s only two hours from Montreal, in Saint-Mathieu-du-Parc (near Shawinigan).
What is Bicolline?
There are so many levels to this mystical place that it’s almost difficult to describe. Trying to wrap my head around everything I experienced during my visit, this is how I can best explain it:
On the surface, you can think of it as a role-playing fantasy vacation destination where each year, around 3,000 people come to camp or live in rustic wood cabins for a week. I’d also call it a week-long medieval festival summer attraction. There are also a handful of pub nights, a masquerade ball and other events that take place throughout the year.
The setting itself is a massive expanse of land with two towns, a battlefield, and a river running through it all. The towns are complete with living areas, stores, bars, and restaurants.
There is no electricity and electronic devices are forbidden. That means no iPhones, flashlights, heating, air conditioning, fridges, ovens, nor any other modern day creature comforts. You will be completely immersed in the medieval lifestyle from the minute you step through the gate.
Many family and friends use their summer vacation to spend it in this idyllic place. It’s just so impressive, it would be difficult for an adventurous family not to attend!
Role Playing and Staying in Character
Decorum is a big deal in Bicolline. In other words, everything you wear must look medieval (within reason). Staying in character really helps with the overall experience. The more you immerse yourself into the Bicolline world, the more you’ll enjoy yourself.
Some people take months to years crafting a full history of their character. This comes in handy when you’re sitting around a campfire and you want to share stories of old!
Housing & Neighbourhoods
If you want to live in Bicollline, you’ll typically join a guild. Each guild has its own set of world views and objectives based on political, military, religious, commercial or other belief systems. To that end, the guild gets a piece of land at Bicolline and either makes a campground out of it or builds a shelter for members to stay in during the festival.
There are around 200 dwellings to live in. They are built by volunteers who have their meticulous plans reviewed months before the summer festival. Once approved, a guild may build their lodging during the spring and summer. Rent is free on a 49-year lease but the guild must pay for the construction of the building and continually maintain it. Since Bicolline has been growing each year since it began a couple of decades ago, new housing is approved annually to meet ever-increasing demand.
Neighbourhoods in and around the two villages are dedicated to differing lifestyles. For example, elves live in a magical forest where the plants glow at night.
There is some running water but not in the cabins. People bathe in a dedicated shower house or take a dip in the river.
If you don’t want to stay in character the entire time, there is actually a part of the forest away from the towns where you can set up camp in a non-medieval tent village (i.e., regular campsite). When you want to go into town or join a battle, you dress the part but then can dress down when not in play.
Food & Drinking
Experienced Bicolline enthusiasts know to bring a week’s worth of food and pack it as best they can. Since there are so many firepits all around the territory, it’s easy to cook anything that requires heat. There are also restaurants that are set up almost like a medieval market or food court. I found the prices to be reasonable and the meals were quite good.
So, to answer the very common question of “what do people eat?,” the answer is whatever they bring or buy food at the restaurants.
There are drinking establishments where people can buy alcohol. There is also nightly entertainment near the taverns which keep people in a festive mood.
The Kindness of People
This is where Bicolline really shines. Everywhere we went, people smiled and greeted us with a friendly “hello.” This was exemplified when we met an elf while poking our heads into an elven forest. We had no idea where we were. We just knew that we were walking down an interesting path. The elf appeared and offered to be our guide through the forest and the surrounding area.
What do you do there?
At any given time, there are events and activities happening all over. One of the main activities is the geopolitical game where people get involved at various levels of politics, religion and so on. This is where the “traditional LARP” comes in because it involves many battles throughout the week. It culminates in one giant LARP battle with around 2,000 warriors on the second to last day of the weeklong affair. Of course, LARPing is all about live action roleplayers meaning that their weapons are typically made of foam and other softer materials. Don’t expect actual dangerous weapons in these battles.
Bicolline has its own card game. Many people go around meeting other players and going on “missions” to earn the trust and respect of members of other guilds. To that end, they can get rewarded with special cards that can help them gain leverage on a larger scale. By trying to complete these missions, you simultaneously get to explore the vast land, meet other participants and learn about other interesting cultures.
There is also a financial system in place to the extent that Bicolline has its own form of coins that can be used as currency. This in-game money is called “solar” coins.
Some people prefer to spend their time closer to their lodging. Taking care of little children, preparing food, visiting the various shops and artisans, and taking it all in. But for those who enjoy wandering, you never know where you’re going to end up as you explore the land. If you find yourself in a part where the orcs live, for example, you better watch out!
The “Great Battle” (Grand Bataille)
One of the unifying features of Bicolline is that the geopolitical gaming aspect brings everyone together. This culminates in the annual “Great Battle.” We observed the battlefield from nearby watch towers and it really was a sight to behold.
The level of detail of the battle armour, the organization of the different guilds, the timing, the weapons used, and the surrounding atmosphere is arguably among the most unique role-playing battles in the world.
Where do people come from?
Attendees come from all over the world to live in this medieval land for the week. Aside from Quebec, we met people from Ontario, western Canada, the United States, and Europe.
There are around 150 volunteers who help run this immersive event. These are dedicated individuals who get to experience medieval life by helping out. They arrive a week before the main festival.
Bicolline staff stays at the Inn which is not far from the main entrance.
How long can you stay?
For the full experience, most people stay Sunday to Sunday. Packages are available from Tuesday to Sunday and Friday to Sunday. The big battle is on Saturday. You can also come daily.
Are there English-speaking people at Bicolline?
I am willing to bet that a lot of people want to know the answer to that question! Yes!
While it is set in Quebec and many of the guilds have members who only speak French, many speak English or are bilingual (French and English). In fact, the single largest guild is the English-speaking group that comes with a tour group called The Voyage North. They organize group trips from the United States to Bicolline.
If you don’t speak French, Bicolline can initially be intimidating. For many non-French speakers, the website alone could convince you that there are no English speakers there. But, I assure you that there are English speakers who come to enjoy the activities, just like everyone else.
How I Ended Up There
Until the Lord of the Rings movies, I was never really into medieval anything. Space and sci-fi were my jam. Game of Thrones really pushed my interest over the top and I started to create a LARP character. But that didn’t get too far.
My continuing interest brought me to the Montreal Medieval Fair a couple of times, which I loved. But it was only when my friend Christie, a vampire LARP authority who lives in California, told me that there’s “this place near Montreal where people LARP for days,” that I became aware of Bicolline. I thought to myself “How did I not know about this?!”
A short time later, a visit to Shawicon changed the game for me. I met some of the Bicolline organizers who were excited to tell me about the place and insisted that I come visit.
In August 2017, I finally went with fellow Citynet Magazine contributor CC Chung, and spent a day as a medieval lurker. Discovering that it’s a simple drive up the highway to Bicolline was a bonus! I would absolutely return to spend a week there. No hesitation.
Should you go?
Yes! If you’re into anything related to medieval life, LARPing, the outdoors, and unique experiences, this is one fantastical experience in a real-world setting that you won’t soon forget.