What to do in Fouras, France

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.

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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!

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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.

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Fort Vauban from La grand plage

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.

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La 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!

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Fort Enet

  • 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!

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  • 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 ChurchIMG_6800

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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,

Carol B

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A Day in St. Maxime/ St. Tropez

Recently, I had the pleasure of traveling to St. Maxime and St. Tropez along the French Riviera, a.k.a. la Côte d’Azur. I’ve never been to the French Riviera, so this was quite a learning experience for me! I expected beautiful beaches, warm weather, and a laid back atmosphere, and that’s exactly what I got.

I flew into Nice Airport in the afternoon and drove along the A8 to St. Maxime, where I was staying for six days. The home I was staying in was at the top of a hill overlooking the Mediterranean. From my bedroom window, I could see St. Tropez on the other side of the Gulf of St. Tropez, as well as the city of St. Maxime below. The weather was dry, warm, and breezy, which makes for great weather to sit outside and read a good book. It was everything I could have asked for and more; perfection.

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During my visit, I decided to do a bit of exploring around St. Maxime. I went into the old town center (the oldest part of St. Maxime) around 11am and found an outdoor market full of produce, spices, cheeses, meats and so much more!

From there, I walked toward the old church, passing shops and cafés along the way. The St. Maxime church is a small, stone church honoring the namesake of the town. In one of the alcoves, there stands a display of St. Maxime herself adorned with a crown of jewels, and a large painting depicting her turning away the riches of her royal family to live a life of poverty. There is a beautiful stained glass over the main alter which tells the same story. At noon, you will hear the church bells play a melody for a minute or so. Don’t worry if you aren’t at the church when it happens. You’ll hear it no matter where you are in St. Maxime.

The next day was spent in St. Tropez. In the morning, I took a taxi boat (Les Bateaux Verts) from St. Maxime to the crowded docks of St. Tropez. Most of the day was spent walking around and window shopping. I didn’t have much of a plan for the day except to explore. All the shops and restaurants are ULTRA expensive and the weather was REALLY hot, so I didn’t spend much time in St. Tropez. I did get some great photos though!

St. Maxime is more family friendly compared to the high-end, pricey St. Tropez. Both are wonderful in their own way, but I’d recommend staying in St. Maxime and taking Les Bateaux Verts to St. Tropez for some day trips. A 13,50€ ticket gets you to and from St. Tropez, and you can leave anytime (a boat leaves every 20 minutes). St. Tropez is very expensive (you’ll figure this out quickly when you see the Dior, Oscar de la Renta, and Gucci store fronts), so plan accordingly. Maybe set a budget so you aren’t tempted to spend 900€ on a purse.

It’s hard to plan a day in either town because there isn’t much to do unless you own a boat or like going to the beach for an entire day. You will quickly realize when you arrive that you are meant to relax and just enjoy being in the moment. If you are an adventurer like me, I’d recommend starting your day at the outdoor markets (they close around noon for lunchtime), then get lost in the many back roads and alleys of St. Maxime and St. Tropez. The city is very safe (just be cautious of pickpockets), so you don’t have to worry about meeting a Wayne family type of end in a back alley.

My Tips for Visiting St. Maxime/ St. Tropez

  • Don’t speak French? Don’t worry! Just about everyone I talked to in town spoke English. I would start conversations in French, but when I started looking confused, they switched to English. If you are uncomfortable speaking French with them, just ask if they can speak English. Worst case scenario, you mime your way through a conversation.
  • The air in St. Tropez is dry and can get very hot during mid-afternoon (at least in the summer months). Make sure to drink plenty of water and bring a bottle of water with you everywhere (a giant 1.5 liter bottle of water cost about 0,75€. Just bring a backpack or a large bag so you can carry it around with you while you explore). It might also be wise to plan some indoor activities or pool/beach time during the hottest part of the day.
  • I’m told there is great nightlife like clubs and bars in St. Tropez, but I haven’t experienced it for myself. If you’re into that, enjoy!
  • If you’re looking to meet some new people, go to the closest café! Especially in the morning, many people will be drinking their morning coffee at the zinc bar. If you want to sit down at a table in a café you have to pay extra (you are basically renting the table). Instead, people drink at the zinc bar for free. It’s like any other bar you’d find in your local pub, but there are no chairs to sit on.
  • TRY THE TARTE TROPÉZIENNE! They are a local specialty and worth every carb and calorie. Sweet brioche buns filled with pastry cream and topped with crushed sugar. It’s as good as it sounds.
  • St. Tropez can get expensive. If you aren’t looking to spend 30€+ per person for one meal, go to the local supermarket. Ready-to-eat sandwiches, snacks, drinks, and dessert could cost you 10€ per person, or less! Then you can sit along the docks, at the park, or on the water and eat while you take in the views.

Some extra photos:

Until my next adventure,

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Carol B

June Bucket List

Hello. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Carol. For those who do, I went Surfin’ Safari.

It’s summer in Florida. When you think of Florida summer, you instantly think of crowded theme parks, 100% humidity, intense rainstorms, and hurricanes. Oh! and the beach… of course. I like going to the beach, but I’m the kind of person who doesn’t go in the water. I like being on shore, reading a book, soaking up the sun, and relaxing. In Florida, there are things in the water that can kill you. Last year, there was a flesh-eating bacteria. More recently, there have been sharks spotted of the coast of my regular beach. Gators aren’t beach-dwellers, but they also live in the water and are a very real threat. Understandably, I don’t go in the water much. This time, I decided to change that.

I’ve never gone surfing before. It always looked cool and exciting, but also REALLY difficult. How do surfers stay on their board? How do they stay balanced and not fall off? What happens if a giant wave comes crashing down on me? What about sharks? These are very real questions I had about surfing, but not anymore!

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I did some research into surfing schools in Florida and found one called EZride Surf School. They are a Florida company that travels to just about anywhere down the Southeastern coast of Florida, between Miami Beach and Cocoa Beach. They have summer surf camps, private lessons, professional coaching, and group lessons. I gave them a call and scheduled a 2-hour lesson for Molly and me in early June.

When the day came, we got ourselves ready, drove down to the beach, and met our instructor, Marcello. Marcello is originally from Brazil and was once a professional surfer. After a couple years with the pros, he decided to retire from professional surfing and began teaching. He’s incredibly nice and easy to talk to. Unfortunately, the Florida weather was not going to be kind to us. It began storming and thundering not long after we arrived. Marcello said it would be great surfing weather if there was no lightning, but we didn’t want to take any chances. Plus, it was Molly’s and my first time surfing. If those waves were any taller than 3 feet, we would not have been comfortable. We decided to reschedule for another day when the weather was better. I had a whole month to plan this lesson, so there was plenty of time to spare. Marcello was very understanding, and we were able to find another date in the last week of June that would work for all of us.

The day came and the weather was perfect. It was sunny, warm, and just a couple of clouds. Yet again, Molly and I assembled our beach gear, applied quite a bit of sunscreen, prepared our lunches, and set out toward the beach. We met Marcello at the beach around 10:30. He provided the surfboards (9 ft soft surfboards, if anyone cares to know. They are best for the beginners, so I’m told) and swim shirts/ rash guards. We just brought ourselves, water bottles, towels, and anything else we needed for a beach trip. Molly and I were planning to stay on the beach after the lesson was over and veg out, so we brought beach chairs and an umbrella.

The first 30 minutes of the lesson was mostly safety and a science lesson on weather and oceanic physics. It was really technical, but interesting all the same. For example:

  • Winter is the best time of year to surf, even though I think of surfing as a summertime sport.
  • The sweet spot in the water where waves just begin to form is called a line-up. That’s where surfers wait for their waves.
  • Waves are formed when energy from the wind propels the water toward shore. When that water hits a sand bar, the energy is deflected up and forms a wave.
  • A surfboard is only stable and balanced when in motion. Don’t try to stand on it in still water. (I tried. It doesn’t work.)
  • The way you stand on the board is very important to balance. You have to bend your knees to keep your center of gravity low, and keep your arms down! Stiff arms might help to keep balance on land, but in the water, it moves your center of gravity up, which affects your balance.

The key to surfing is to relax and be confident in what you are doing. The easy part is learning to stand on a board. The rest comes with time and experience. Now on to the wipe outs.

Molly, Marcello, and I got onto the beach, put our boards down, and practiced standing up on the board before going out. We practiced this once, then Marcello said, “Looks good. Let’s go!” Well alright, eager beaver. This is my first time doing this. Could we practice a little bit more? But I didn’t argue. I just went along with it. That might have been a mistake.

We paddled to the line-up point, sat on our boards, and looked toward the beach. It was very crowded. It’s what you’d expect from summers in Florida. There was nowhere to hide from the sunbathing audience. I accepted quickly that they didn’t matter. I was a beginner, after all! Who cares if they saw me fall off my board a couple times? (At the start, I was very confident that I wouldn’t fall too much. Boy, was I wrong…)

Then the moment of truth came. Marcello found my first wave. I got into position and was instructed to paddle. I started paddling toward shore with all the strength I had. As I felt the wave come up from underneath me, I heard “STAND UP!” coming from behind me. Oh crap, here I go. I pushed myself up, found my footing, stood up for a couple seconds, then fell over into the ocean. OMG I DID IT! I SURFED! What an amazing feeling! I just glided over the water like a freakin’ GODDESS! I found the surface, and instantly went back to try it again.

The next couple waves I began to overthink everything. My mental checklist was getting longer and longer with each wave. 1. Push up 2. Jump toward the center of the board 3. Feet point toward the side 4. Stand up THEN release hands 5. Relax. I had issues with not jumping far enough, not going quick enough, moving my hands to early and losing my balance, etc. With every pointer from Marcello, I was relaxing less and less, but I was still having fun! It was my first time surfing, after all, and I was doing this for fun. I’m not planning on going pro anytime soon. I managed to ride a wave once, maybe twice. Molly, on the other hand, did really well! She was determined to stand up on the board and she did. She rode her way to shore a couple of times! As I saw Molly improve more and more, I was getting a little frustrated with myself. The next one is going to be the one!

I was kidding about that. THIS one is going to be the one!

Maybe this one?

Ok, new goal: don’t swallow too much sea water!

Aced it.

I didn’t get the perfect wave, but that just means there is room for improvement! Now that I have an understanding of the basics and what I need to work on, I can practice whenever I want. Again, I’m not looking to become the next big surfer; it’s just fun to do. With that being said, I would DEFINITELY go surfing again. I’ll also mention that I did NOT die from a rogue shark or disgruntled jellyfish. That’s a victory.

If you are ever in South Florida and want to learn how to surf, go to the EZride Surf School website or call 954.803.7988 and schedule a lesson. If you can, ask for Marcello Loureiro. He was a great teacher, incredibly supportive, and he really knows what’s up. Happy Surfing!

Aloha,

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Carol B