Fougères in Brittany is a charming town that is home to the Château de Fougères, the largest medieval fortress in Europe.
The history of Fougères is very much based around its château, around which the town sprang up in the Early Middle Ages. Originally a wooden fortress, the castle was rebuilt in stone after it was destroyed by Henry II of England in 1166 and it is the perfect example of a traditional medieval stronghold. Built on a rocky islet that is sheltered by hills, surrounded by marshes, and on a bend of the river Nançon, the castle made use of its great defensive position. The 4 towers provide great views and today contain a circuit that takes you back to experience the great historical events of the medieval period including the storming of Fougères; the legend of the fairy, Melusine, whom the château's most impressive tower is named after; and the Battle of Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier. The lower town has a wonderful medieval district, especially around the Place de Marchix where you can find several medieval half-timber houses. With many cattle in the surrounding area, tanners, cloth makers and dyers worked their trade in Fougères leading into the shoe industry that made the town's fortune in the Industrial era.
Fougères' other main monument is its belfry, which is the oldest in Brittany. Built in 1397, it stands just off the Rue Nationale, the main street in the upper town with the 12th century church of St Leonard's at the end of the street whose 19th century neo-Gothic facade was inspired by the Saint Chapelle in Paris. There are also the pretty churches of Saint Sulpice and Bonabray, and a former Urbanist convent in the town. A wander through the charming streets will take you to the wonderful triomphe l'oeil wall paintings on Rue de Prés and Rue de Verdun. The old shoe factory of Morel and Gate also features some unusual street art with its buildings decorated with Italian Oderico mosaics. The home of Chateaubriand's sisters, Fougères was a favourite place of this famous writer, and of Victor Hugo in later years too.
Get some fresh air in the beautiful 1500 hectares of the Forest of Fougères. Great for hiking, mountain biking and horse riding, the forest has some magical ancient history at the Cordon of the Druids, a row of 50 quartz menhirs stretching for 300m. Several dolmens can also be found, the tombs of ancient dead kings, and the Celliers de Landean, a 12th century underground room supported by 11 arches that is said to have once had a staircase leading up to the castle. If you are interested in birdwatching, the quarry of Roucher Coupe is a beautiful spot to walk up the hill, enjoying the turquiose blue of the lake and a great platform from where you can view the castle and town. In the town itself you will also get a great view from the pretty Jardin Public or visit the Val Nançon garden with its contemporary metal and glass sculpture, L'oievre a la vie, the work of life, by Louis Marie Cattal. Covering what was once allotment gardens, it is designed to symbolise the peace and understanding between cultures.
A lively Saturday market, several bakeries and many charming unique shops make for a traditional shopping experience in Fougères. Don't miss out trying some real Breton crêpes and galettes, savoury pancakes usually made with buckwheat and Far Breton, a flan style cake, similar to clafoutis, often with prunes or raisins. Wash down your meal with some local Breton beer or cider and enjoy an apéritif of chouchon, a type of mead.