A medieval stronghold on a rocky promontory, Fougères is protected by a magnificent feudal castle whose towers and walls are amongst the largest in Europe.
The castle was originally begun in the 12th century and acquired military importance throughout the Middle Ages. One of its Barons, Raoul II, refused to submit to Henry II Plantagenet King of England and Duke of Normandy, who swiftly besieged and demolished it. Undeterred, Raoul rebuilt it and his work still stands.
Over the centuries the castle was embellished and fortified with additional walls and towers, of differing styles and sizes.
Named for Barons, governors and fairies – Gobelin, Mélusine, Surienne, Guibé and Raoul – number among the thirteen in total.
We walked beneath them in the impressive and steep-sided moat, then climbed up to the town’s immaculately tended public gardens for a view from above. It was mesmerising in the misty drizzle.
Bizarrely, the seemingly impregnable castle was sacked and taken many times. We wondered if its defenders became too complacent. Amongst those who fought their way into it was a Saint, Louis Du Guesclin, a Spaniard in the pay of the English, Surienne, and the anti-revolutionary men of the Vendée.
A little further south we visited Brittany’s best preserved mediaeval town, Vitré. Its fortified castle, walled ramparts and winding streets are as they were 500 years ago.
Colourful and characterful half-timbered houses tumble onto and into each other, originally built by merchants made wealthy by trading with the English, Germans, Spanish in hemp, woollen cloth and cotton stockings.
The prettiest corner is at the bottom of Rue de la Braudrairie, named for its original leather craftsmen, below the 13th century castle. The proud Breton flag flew alongside the French and European Union ones. It caused a rueful smile.
Outside the castle’s drawbridge a late afternoon lesson was being noisily conducted as the Ecole Maternelle and a group of teenage boys played impromptu five-a-side football. What an exceptional place to grow up in!
We had seen two medieval castles in their original surroundings in two different towns in the same day. Neither of them are heavily promoted or widely known, but both were an absolute delight to spend time exploring… even in the drizzle!