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.

IMG_6919.jpg

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!

IMG_6751.jpg

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.

IMG_6732

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.

IMG_6728

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!

IMG_6877

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!

IMG_6734.jpg

  • 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

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.

IMG_6613

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,

IMG_6654

Carol B