Fougères is situated in a green and lush corner of Brittany, very near the borders of Normandy and Pays de la Loire. The word Fougères means ferns, but in this case, it is a town of about 20,000 people and is most noted for its magnificent castle.
The lower town of Fougères
The town is divided into two parts – the lower and upper towns. Wandering the streets of the medieval lower town makes you feel as if you’d stepped back in time. Don’t miss the beautiful Place du Marchix with its half-timbered houses and lanes filled with delightful cottages. Charm is around every corner. The lower town is also home to Eglise Saint Sulpice which sits just opposite the chateau walls and its natural moat, the River Nancon. Look for the goats that graze on the steep slope of land between the castle walls and the moat, just as they probably did hundreds of years ago. They are earning their keep by cropping the grass.
The upper town of Fougères
The upper town, which burned down in the 18th century and was rebuilt in granite, has a slightly more modern feel but is still full of French character. Its Rue Nationale is the main shopping street and is filled with boutiques, cafes, crêperies and the oldest belfry in Brittany. Eglise Saint Leonard, which was begun in the 15th century, features prominently in the upper town. It houses beautiful stained glass, considered to be the oldest in Brittany. Fougères is notable for being associated with Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand, a writer, politician and diplomat who is considered to be the founder of Romanticism in French literature. Two of his sisters lived in Fougères, and their houses can be seen at 3 rue Leseur and 18 rue Chateaubriand.
The Chateau of Fougères
But the biggest feather in Fougères’ cap is its fairy tale chateau. The Chateau de Fougères was built on a high rock above the River Nancon in the 11th century. In this strategic location, it was used to defend the surrounding lands. Once constructed of wood, the garrison was destroyed in 1166, and rebuilt in stone. Over the centuries, the chateau saw many battles, and was fortified many times over. The town of Fougères grew up around the chateau and became home to cloth makers, dyers and tanners, who made use of the waters of the nearby river. It remains a brilliant and wonderfully preserved example of a medieval military fortress.
Today the chateau sprawls over several acres and has ramparts connecting 13 towers, the most notable being the Mélusine Tower, named for a mythical fairy. As you stroll along the ramparts, let your mind roam over 1000 years of history. The chateau has stood strong throughout. It’s considered to be one of the most magnificent medieval castles in all of Europe, and it doesn’t disappoint. You will come away with some beautiful photos!
With its relative proximity to Rennes, Mont Saint-Michel and other interesting spots, consider adding Fougères to your itinerary if you are in this Northwest corner of France.
Annie Caldwell is a writer who lives in Normandy.