The Lou Messugo Blog - life in the south of France from a British/Australian TCK's perspective, bringing you French culture, travel on the Côte d'Azur and beyond, expat issues and a little bit of je ne sais quoi all mixed up with a hefty dose of photography.

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20 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in France to visit

Posted by on in Other

Exploring UNESCO World Heritage Sites has become something of a trend in our family over the past few years.  It’s something I’ve always done, albeit sometimes without realising, particularly when much younger, but now it’s something we actively seek out when travelling.  These sites have undergone a rigorous application process to gain their prestigious UNESCO World Heritage status and we want to see why.  Sites can be natural or manmade but not all are beautiful for the premise of the listing is that the place must be of special cultural or physical significance.  This means there are industrial sites, as well as sublimely beautiful natural sites and of course gorgeous buildings/monuments, and there are a huge amount of them: 1052 at time of writing, spread across 165 countries.

UNESCO World Heritage sites France

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Exploring the walls and beaches of St Malo

Posted by on in European Travel

During the recent school spring holidays we spent a week based in Rennes, in Brittany, exploring parts of northern and western France that we as a family didn’t know.  We visited places that had long been on the “desperately want to see” list (I don’t do “bucket lists”) including weird and wonderful Nantes, iconic UNESCO World Heritage site Mont St Michel and the magnificent walled town of St Malo.

St Malo ramparts and beach Brittany France

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Visiting Fort Carré, Antibes

Posted by on in Provence-Côte d'Azur

Every year around mid September France holds its annual Journées du Patrimoine; a weekend of open doors at historical buildings, monuments, parks and places of cultural interest. Places that aren't usually open to the public are visitable and places that normally are often have extended hours, free entry or some other extra. This year I decided to visit the Fort Carré in Antibes. It's somewhere that everyone in the area knows; it looks magnificent when viewed across the harbour, but I'd never come across anyone who'd actually been there. A quick flick through the reviews on TripAdvisor didn't overly impress, with most people saying it was OK but nothing more. It's open all year round and is very reasonably priced but the impetus of a free visit as part of the Journées du Patrimoine convinced me to see for myself if it really was as boring as the reviewers said.

      Fort Carré Antibes port

      Fort Carré Port Vauban Antibes

Fort Carré, which means square fort, is actually star-shaped, something that isn't obvious from a distance. It is set on the headland that divides the St Roch inlet (Antibes harbour) from the sweeping Baie des Anges. It was built under the orders of Henri II in the mid 16th century, to defend France from the County of Nice, then part of the Duchy of Savoy, not France. A century later the prolific military architect Vauban redeveloped it and furthered strengthened the town of Antibes. Located where it is, it has panoramic views over the Mediterranean, the southern Alps and what is today Nice, Monaco and Italy. Unfortunately I visited on a hazy overcast day but I know the view well and know that on a clear day you really can see as far as Italy.

      Fort Carré Antibes 01

In 1860 Nice became part of France rendering obsolete the need to have defences between the two and by the end of the 19th century the fort was declassified as a military base. Throughout the 20th century it was mainly used as a sports college, where soldiers used its walls to learn to climb and abseil, though it also served as a holding place for foreigners during the occupation in the Second World War. Between 1979 and 1985 the fort was slowly renovated by volunteers, largely adolescents during their school holidays, and it finally opened to the public as a Historic Monument in 1998.

      Antibes Fort Carré

                  Fort Carré Antibes 02

      Fort Carré Antibes 04

So, that's its history in a nutshell, but is it interesting to visit? The fort nowadays is pretty much empty. The barracks and cantine were closed for the open day as the crowds were too big. We only got to walk around the walls and inner courtyard which were attractive and unusual owing to the star shape but lacking in the "wow" factor; there's absolutely no adornement, no cannons or other military paraphenalia. There are two fun facts about the fort which trivia fans might enjoy: during the French Revolution Napoleon Bonaparte was imprisoned here for a few days, and it was used as the setting for the villain's fortress in the James Bond film "Never say Never Again".  But for me the best thing about it was the views. Peeping through windows framing the blue sea, over the towns of Villeneuve-Loubet and Cagnes sur Mer across to the mountains, also a hazy blue, made the visit worthwhile. Looking the other way over the harbour you can marvel at the enormity of the super yachts on "billionaires quay" and fully appreciate the size of Europe's biggest yachting marina.

      fort carée 06

      Fort Carré Antibes 05

      Fort Carré Antibes 06

      Fort Carré Antibes 07

The fort is surrounded by 4 hectares of garrigue - Mediterranean scrubland - which is attractive to stroll through and the pathway up to the main entrance is flanked by impressive prickly pear bushes. As a cultural place to visit, there are certainly more satisfying places in the area and I don't think it would be worth going out of your way for this. But if you have an interest in military history or want to get a different perspective on the harbour, or just want to spend an hour or so away from the crowds of old town Antibes, then I'd say that the regular entrance fee of 3€ is worth it.  For information on opening hours check here (many websites have incomplete or confusing hours but the fort is basically open all year except obvious public holidays like Christmas, though it is worth noting that it's closed in bad weather as so much of the visit is on the ramparts exposed to the elements, with low walls, it's not considered safe.) There is free parking just opposite and it's also an easy walk from the train station.

      fort carée entrance

      fort carré antibes 08

      Fort Carré Antibes 03

      Port Vauban Antibes seen from Fort Carré

Do you like visiting fortresses like this?  Does the heritage open day happen where you are?  Do tell.


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Fort Carré in Port Vauban Antibes Côte dAzur France

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Today I'm going to take you on a  DRIVE / DAYTRIP from Lou Messugo.  This one is a stunner taking you through wild gorges and into the mountains.  There's plenty to see so leave early!

... take the A8 motorway direction Nice until exit 52 (St Isidore) then follow the Var river along the D6202 (direction Plan du Var, Villars s/Var, Puget-Theniers).

1st stop ENTREVAUX a beautiful medieval fortified town, built by the prolific military architect Vauban, perched on the rocks looking over the Var river. (About 1.25 hours)


6 km after Entrevaux turn right onto the D902 (direction Valberg) which takes you through the GORGES DE DALIUS. These red cliffs are nicknamed the Colorado of the south of France, for good reason. It's possible to bungee jump in summer.

gorges daluis

Gorges de Daluis

Just before the smalll town of Guillaumes turn right onto the D28 to VALBERG, a small ski resort, with a summer luge & plenty of walking trails in the non-snowy months. (About 2 hours)

7 km after Valberg turn right (continuing on D28) into the GORGES DU CIANS.  Look out for where you can park and walk along the old road on the left.

At the end of the gorge turn left onto the D6202 and return along the river Var. (About 2.5 hours)

The timings don't include stops.  The whole drive is about 200 kms and takes 3.5 hours without stops.

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