After leaving St. Maxime, I found myself back on the Atlantic Coast. As a life-long East Coast gal, I was unable to wrap my head around the fact that the Atlantic was now on the West Coast. Why is the sun setting on the Atlantic? It was weird.
For about 2.5 weeks, I stayed in Fouras, France, a little town situated in the Charente Estuary famous for it’s nutrient-rich mud and seafood. When I first arrived in Fouras, I didn’t think much of it. It was, like I said, a small town. That was before I looked outside my bedroom window and saw the towering fortress that is Fort Vauban overlooking the beach. The area around Fouras is filled with old forts because they were the first defense against the British who sailed down the Charente Estuary, which led to Rochefort, a major navy base and arsenal. With that being said, I was very excited to be there!
Within the next few days, I had done quite a bit of exploring and fell in love with Fouras. The small town way of life coupled with the rich history and culture made it hard to leave at the end of my trip. If you ever find yourself on the Western coast of France, here is a list of things you can do when traveling to this beautiful town:
- Fort Vauban/ Regional Museum of Fouras
Right on the Grand Plage, the first thing you will notice is Fort Vauban. Probably the most well-preserved fort in the area, it now hosts the Regional Museum of Fouras.
When you first walk across the draw-bridge, you will find the main keep/ museum to your left and some gift shops straight ahead. The different shops sell art from local artisans, postcards and mugs targeted at tourists, and gems. The gem store is filled with mystical materials like giant geodes, crystal displays, and small sculptures made from jade or polished stone. Off to the side of the gem store is a jewelry store with every kind of jewel you can think of: emeralds, sapphires, amber, rubies, etc. It’s fun to spend a couple minutes there, even if you don’t buy anything!
The fort is free to enter, but you must pay to visit the museum. From the bottom floor, you are taken through the history of Fouras. Your travel through time concludes in the present day when you reach the very top of the keep. On the roof, you’ll get the best view of the area, from La Fumée to the Plage Sud.
- Spend a day at the beach
Fouras’ main beaches are la Grand Plage, la Plage Sud, and la Plage Nord (literally, the big beach, the south beach, and the north beach). The Grand Plage is (obviously) the biggest and most popular beach. The Plage Nord is big for sailing and fishing, while the Plage Sud is a quieter version of the Grand Plage.
The tides on the beaches are very drastic; bigger than any tide I’ve ever seen on the Eastern US Coast! While the tide is out, however, what is left is mud. The mud is, apparently, very good for the skin, and is often used or replicated in high-end spas. On the beach, you’ll see people walking through the mud, lathering it on their entire bodies, and come out looking like a monster you’d see on Scooby-Doo. They, then, lie on the beach and wait for the mud to dry before using the showers (provided on the beach) to wash off the mud revealing their new, beautified skin. I didn’t try this mud bath because unfortunately, the showers weren’t working, but that didn’t stop some people from a free spa day!
If you have children, there is a beach club that is held on the beach every day except Sundays. They have trampolines, swings, a swimming pool (yea, a swimming pool on the beach!), and scheduled activities for different age groups. Just follow the Mickey Mouse flags and you’ll find the camp counselors/ supervisors. They will sign you in and your child can play from just about all day!
- Take a long walk to Fort Enet
Starting from the Grand Plage, it takes about 30 minutes to walk to la pointe de la Fumée, which seats Fort Enet, a fort built by Napoleon 1 to aid in the defense of Rochefort. On the way, you will see the Casino, some charming beach homes, la plage nord, and the oyster/mussel farms.
The only way to reach Fort Enet is when tide is at its lowest. Even then, you can’t go in because it’s considered private property. Unless you happen to be in Fouras the one day they offer a tour of the interior, you’re out of luck. I was able to walk around the fort and get a great view of Fort Boyard, so it’s not all bad if you can’t get in! The tidal pools were interesting to look at too. Lots of crabs and snails, mostly!
- Sample Fouras’ famous mussels and oysters
If Fouras is good at one thing, it’s their seafood. If you visited Fort Enet, you would have seen the giant oyster and mussel beds along La Fumée. The nutrient-rich water as well as the warm currents make for great conditions for growing seafood! Fun fact: a majority of the mussels and oysters eatten in France originated in Fouras! One dish you must to try is moules-frites (mussels and fries). The mussels are cooked in a creamy, wine sauce and served in a bucket with crispy fries. It’s delicious! I haven’t tried the oysters (I don’t eat oysters… too slimy), but I have it on good authority that they are just as delicious as the mussels.
- Visit the town market area
The life of Fouras lies in the main market road, Rue de la Halle. In the big building labeled Marché, there is a produce market that is open every morning from 8-12:30pm that sells fruits, vegetables, meat, and ready-made meals.
Next door is a huge seafood market with all the seafood you could ever want: fish, different kinds of shrimp, octopus, mollusks, and even shark! This, too, is only open in the mornings.
The shops along Rue de la Halle are quaint, meaning they just carry the essentials. There is a pharmacy and grocery store for toiletries, food, and medicine, a bookstore and beach store for entertainment, then there is a butcher, several bakeries, spice shops, cafés, and cheese shops. You know, the essentials.
For the kids, there are several carousels –manège in French– they can enjoy. Two are very old carousels from the early 1900s, but the modern carousel nearest the St. Gaudens Church is the crowd favorite. As the ride is going, the carousel operator dangles and swings a Mickey Mouse stuffed animal over the heads of the kids, and whoever catches Mickey gets a ticket for a free ride!
- Saturday night market
Every Saturday, Fouras comes alive with people as stalls and food stands are set up starting from St. Gaudens Church, and continues along the boardwalk. There are stalls for jewelry, clothes, personalized mugs, electronics, art, and food vendors. It can get crowded, however, so keep your purses closed and wallets hidden! Pickpockets can happen here too.
- Attend a mass at St. Gaudens Church
In my opinion, the best way to see a church is to see it for the purpose it was used for. I understood absolutely NONE of the mass, but I followed what everyone else was doing and it all worked out. Honestly, there were some times during the mass when no one knew what to do. Some stood, some sat, it was awkward. Not Catholic? Don’t worry! You can take a seat and just observe. If you’d like to join in communion, just cross your arms over your chest and the priest will offer you a blessing. Whatever you do, don’t take the cracker! It’s not as tasty as you think, no matter where you are in the world…
- Sail over to one of the islands off the coast of Fouras
I didn’t do this myself (ran out of time), but there are ferries that can take you to the neighboring islands like Île d’Aix, Île d’Oléron, and Île Madame. There is also a famous fort called Fort Boyard that you can sail around. Fort Boyard is the setting of a popular TV game show in France called Fort Boyard (original…). Unfortunately, tours don’t stop inside the fort because it is a popular filming location. In my opinion, it’s not really worth it. You can see the fort really nicely from behind Fort Enet, so it’s not necessary to spend money just to sail around it.
Tips for traveling in Fouras
- Unfortunately, not many people in Fouras speak English. Just as long as you smile and greet them politely, you shouldn’t have any problems. When ordering, the best advice is to just show your waiter what you want, whether it’s in a glass case or on the menu.
- When shopping at the market or grocery store, bring your own shopping bag. In the market, they don’t provide bags for you; in the grocery store, you have to pay extra for one of their plastic bags. I always traveled with a backpack so I wouldn’t run into the problem of forgetting to bring a bag.
- If you plan to walk all the way out to Fort Enet, wear sturdy rain boots or waterproof boots. The ground is uneven and slippery (wet rock and algae can do that) so be careful and wear appropriate shoes.
- Like I’ve mentioned before, the tide in Fouras can be shaky. Before walking to Fort Enet, make sure to consult a tidal chart to see 1) if the tide is out enough to explore Fort Enet and 2) the tide won’t be coming in for a couple of hours! The last thing you want is to be stuck at sea until the next tide. Best tip: if you don’t see anyone around the fort or if a lot of people are walking back to land, get out!
Still not convinced that Fouras is a must-see destination in France? Well, here are some extra pictures I took during my exploration, including some Bastille Day celebrations!
Until my next journey,