Step ashore on the peaceful Île-d’Aix and you’ll find it hard to imagine that the island hasn’t always been so peaceful.
The strategic position of the Ile d'Aix attracted attention of France’s greatest military engineer Vauban, who planned the village in 1669. Napoléon Bonaparte visited in 1808 and ordered the construction of an indestructible fortress, the star-shaped Fort Liédot, built between 1810 and 1834. Take a guided tour and you’ll learn about the fort’s role in coastal defences, and see poignant inscriptions made by Russian soldiers imprisoned here during the Crimean War.
On the south of the island you’ll find the imposing house (now a museum) where the Emperor spent his final days on French soil before going into exile. The Musée Napoléon (Rue Napoléon, tel 05 46 84 66 40) preserves his room just as he left it, giving food for thought when you gaze from the nearby sandy beaches to the offshore wonder that is Fort Boyard, begun under Napoleon in 1804, completed over 50 years later in 1859 (under Napoléon III) and now world-famous as a TV show location. You can’t visit, but passenger boat services to Île d’Aix often make a point of circling the fort en-route - if the idea appeals, check this when you book.
Despite being just two km long, Aix still packs in rocky coastline, sandy beaches and forests of pine and evergreen oak. There are many coves and the best known beach is Grande Plage, on the western side. Kids can hunt for shellfish at Plage aux Coquillages, while wind-surfers favour Plage de l’Espérance. No cars are allowed, but it’s easy to explore it all on foot or by locally hired bikes, and you can get there via passenger boats from Fouras or Port des Barques.
6 Rue Gourgaud
+33 (0)5 46 83 01 82 www.holidays-fortboyard.co.uk