Ramparts of the castle of Fougères
©Ramparts of the castle, Fougères|Clara Ferrand Wild road & Vanessa Martin Cashpistache
ExperienceA weekend out of the ordinary in Fougères

A weekend out of the ordinary in Fougères

A rather surprising title as you may not think of Fougères as an exotic destination! Upper Brittany was a transit zone for a long time and has kept many foreign influences. Welcome to Fougères, an area with many attractive features.

Castle of Fougères
©Castle of Fougères|Y. Gautier

SATURDAY

9.00: A gentle start to the day

The day is just beginning and your aim is to switch off and unwind, so no need to rush. Take your time and breathe deeply ! Let’s begin at the Jardins de la Ballue, recognised as one of the finest gardens in France and Europe. Lose yourself in its maze of beautiful flower beds and living sculptures. A wonderful timeless experience orchestrated by the art of topiary… Just a moment, isn’t that the White Rabbit with his pocket watch over there? He must be hurrying to the Musée de l’Horlogerie (Clock Museum) in Fougères to discover lots of little secrets about clock-making.

And if you have time, head for the Roches du Saut-Roland, a nature conservation area, great for a walk, where you may catch a glimpse of some rare species of wildlife including wavy hair grass, the lesser horseshoe bat, whiskered bat and Daubenton’s bat).

Legend has it that Roland, Prefect of the Brittany Marches and Charlemagne’s nephew, was on his way home after fighting against the Saracens and rode through this area in three leaps. He dedicated his first two jumps to God and the Virgin Mary and negotiated them without a hitch. However, the third jump, dedicated to his wife, proved fatal and Roland fell to the bottom of the ravine. Maybe he should have taken a little more time!

12.00: Recharge your batteries in the shadow of the ramparts

The area has an excellent choice of good restaurants, starting with Haute Sève, in Fougères, which offers menus of local fish and meat. The latest Larcher establishment, La Maison du Sarrasin, has a creperie and a fine food shop under the same roof. It has a simple, straightforward menu based on local mainly organic produce and a superb view. Finally, if you are near Maen Roch, make sure you stop off at Le Surcouf restaurant which backs onto the Hôtel Le Lion d’Or, a historic coaching inn classed as one of the oldest inns in France.

Make a lunchtime booking

14.00: 24 different gardens

The Parc Botanique de Haute Bretagne is a wonderfully romantic place for a stroll. Situated north-west of Fougères, it is a living patchwork of twenty different gardens ranging from the land of A Thousand and One Nights to the City of Cnossos and Poets’ Valley. An enchanting sensory experience.

Children can run through the mazes in search of the Minotaur and avoid being eaten by a carnivorous plant in the prehistoric garden!

Don’t forget to visit the Renaissance-style Château du Rocher Portail at Maen-Roch which is now open to the public. Take the opportunity to discover one of the largest and most majestic châteaux in western France and the history of its owner, Gilles Ruellan, grand financier and close friend of Henri IV, Marie de Medici and Richelieu. Everything inside is authentic : the cellars, attics, servants’ quarters, etc. A genuine journey back in time.

If you have some time to spare, see if you can spot the trompe l’oeil-style walls in Fougères. If I remember rightly, there are 4…or is it 5 ? Have fun !

22.00: Two nights, two different settings

Option number one: a night on the ramparts. Le Mercier de Montigny (B&B) is a mansion dating from 1790 where time has stood still. What’s more, it overlooks the medieval castle, the Lower Town and the valley so it has uninterrupted views of the castle, market place and belfry. Option number two : Ecolodges at the Domaine du Bois-Guy which have Scandinavian-style luxury bedrooms at the heart of the estate grounds.

Book your accommodation

SUNDAY: THE CASTLE!

If you have never seen Fougères castle, then you haven’t lived! It is unthinkable to go to Fougères without visiting what is without doubt the largest medieval fortress in Europe still standing and the best-preserved in the country! However, its position did not augur well for such longevity with Normandy, which belonged to the Kings of England, to the north, and Anjou and Maine under the control of the Kings of France to the east…, Fougères castle was at the centre of all the rivalries and power struggles of the Middle Ages. In 1532, the marriage between Claude de Bretagne, daughter of the Duke of Brittany, and François 1er King of France, put an end to the situation as the Brittany Marches was no longer a strategic issue. In turn the castle served as a residence, a prison, a museum and even a shoe factory.

As well as visiting the castle itself there are different activities to discover its history, local stories and the legend of Mélusine. There is even a tower (built by the Lusignans) named after her!

JULIETTE DROUET, « WIDOW » OF A GREAT 19th CENTURY FIGURE

A native of Fougères, the actress Juliette Drouet was the love of Victor Hugo’s life and even his soul mate ! She was the only woman to obtain a promise to be faithful from the great man. Juliette followed him everywhere, even into exile in Jersey, then Guernsey, writing out his manuscripts and pardoning his misdemeanours.

Their passion is depicted in 20,000 letters and a declaration of undying love : « She saved my life in December 1851. She went into exile for me. Her soul never left mine. Those who have loved me should love her. Those who have loved me should respect her. She is my widow. »

A ROSE TO REPRESENT THE DÉPARTEMENT

A little riddle to solve… what is apricot pink in colour, sweet-scented with shiny bright green leaves? The « Eclat de Haute-Bretagne » rose.

Created in 2005 by Liffré nurseryman Michel Adam at the request of the Département of Ille-et-Vilaine, Eclat de Haute-Bretagne quickly became one of its emblems. It has won several awards and can also boast that its patron is the actress Elsa Zylberstein.

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