The landscapes of this part of the Charente-Maritime are hugely varied and a haven for migrating birds. Historically, a strategic position on the Atlantic coast gave Rochefort and the nearby islands an important defensive role, as you’ll see in the layout of towns and villages and a series of forts.
Chosen in the 17th century by order of Louis XIV as the site of the France’s most important maritime arsenal and dockyards (not least to protect the vulnerable coast from attack by the English), Rochefort was conceived with military precision and an eye to innovation. For example, its broad, elegant boulevards were constructed on an octagonal plan, allowing sea breezes to cleanse the city of airborne pollution from the dockyard activities. Much of the town’s original layout and grand architecture remain, along with sweeping views, making it a fascinating place to explore.
The Frigate Hermione and La Corderie Royale
The remarkable Royal Ropeworks, built in 1666, and long enough to accommodate lengths of rope needed to rig tall ships, now host maritime-themed exhibitions, displays of rope-making skills, a bookshop and restaurant. In the nearby dockyard a dedicated team is replicating Hermione, the frigate which sailed to America in 1780 to help fight in the American War of Independence.
Le Pont Transbordeur
France’s very last transporter bridge is in fine working order, just downstream from Rochefort. Ride across the Charente while stepping back in time on this amazing engineering marvel.
Poised on la pointe de la Fumée, a slender peninsula on the northern shore of the Charente estuary, not far from Rochefort, Fouras has been a fortified stronghold for close to 1000 years, in a determined effort to resist Barbarian, Norman, Dutch and English sea-borne invaders, not to mention the occasional pirates. The town and its peninsula are still dominated by fortifications, the most impressive being Fort Vauban, whose monolithic 15th century donjon was used during the Siege of La Rochelle in 1627/8 and subsequently updated by the sophisticated network of outer defences we see today, designed by two of France’s greatest military engineers – the Marquis de Vauban and François Ferry. It later served as a semaphore station and now houses a museum of local history.
Just beyond the tip of the peninsula is the Fort d’Enet, built out on the rocks between 1810 and 1812, by order of Napoléon. It’s accessible only at low tide, via a 1.8km causeway but worth a visit to soak up the atmosphere of the remarkable site.
During the 1880s the fortunes of the fortified fishing village were transformed by early tourism as Fouras became a seaside resort, thanks to its mild, sunny climate, sandy beaches and tracts of evergreen oak forest. Soon villas appeared and even a casino, and Fouras-les-Bains continues to charm summer visitors.
Ave Sadi Carnot & Porte de l’Arsenal
+33 (0)5 46 99 08 60
Avenue du Bois Vert
05 46 84 60 69 www.rochefort-ocean.com
+33 (0)5 46 82 07 07 www.hermione.com
Centre International de la Mer
+33 (0)5 46 87 01 90 www.corderie-royale.com
Maison du Transbordeur
+33 (0)5 46 83 30 86 www.pont-transbordeur.fr