Brouage – Seaport Citadel Stranded Inland

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Tootlafrance has a look at one of France’s most unique and fascinating hidden gems – Brouage

If you find yourself holidaying in France in the south-west as many Irish people do, then the town of Brouage is well worth a diversion.

It’s a case of perhaps getting from the beach and to a town that was once on the coast. This remarkable citadel town was built by France’s most famous builder of citadels – Sébastien Le Prestre, Marquis de Vauban: aka simply “Vauban”.

Arriving there via quiet country roads on a flat and eerily quiet landscape, the initial signs are of decay: crumbling fortifications with all manner of growth sprouting from them put you in mind of King Louis’s temple in the cartoon version of The Jungle Book.

It was a very different and real King Louis (King Louis XIV, the “Sun King”) that planned to put his main ship-building port here, but it was decided that it was too close to the sea (and therefore too vulnerable to attack) so the brand new city of Rochefort was built up the road instead specifically for that purpose.

Brouage was contsructed originally back in the 16th century. It was a major salt trading port, which took on great military significance during the Religious Wars. The tide has filled in over the years, however. This was a common occurrence for salt ports of the south-west as ships coming in for salt would unload their ballast before taking on their cargo, assisting greatly in the natural process of silting up.

The amazing ramparts go all the way around the village for some 2 kilometres. Inside, it’s a grid pattern of military precision.

L'église Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul: Built in 1608, its simple interior features a ceiling in the form of an upturned boat. The monument to Samuel de Champlain is on the right

L’église Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul: Built in 1608, its simple interior features a ceiling in the form of an upturned boat. The monument to Samuel de Champlain is on the right

Walking around Brouage today feels a bit like an alternate universe. The low white limestone houses are not entirely unique in this part of France but the arrangement of them coupled with the strangely contented village atmosphere make for a most unusual overall ambiance. It’s a neat place with plenty of very nice shops selling clothing, as well as local arts and crafts and some pleasant cafes. Hollyhocks are everywhere, lending tall splashes of colour to the white walls.

You’ll see plenty of references to Quebec around about the place and it won’t take you long to learn that the founder of New France (latterly known as the Canadian province of Quebec) was born here – Samuel de Champlain.

Otherwise, you can delve into the town’s fascinating history a bit more with a visit to the local tourist office, where you will get an impression of what the town was like during its heyday when ships came from Northern Europe to get provisions of salt – the oil of the Middle Ages.

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