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Cities in the southwest France: history, tourist sites, activities.

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Eight suggestions for touring the southwest of France.

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Traditional dish recipes from southwest part of France.

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"Vauban - The Sun's Architect" Suggested Travel Itinerary

1
Aix Island
The little island of Aix -129 hectares - is interesting not only because of its Vauban fortification but also because it is the island where the time stopped at 5:49 am, May 5 1821.
It is the moment when in the far away Saint Helena island in the Atlantic the former Emperor Napoleon I dies and all the clocks of his last residence on the French soil are stopped.
Indeed after the battle of Waterloo the victorious English decide to exile Napoleon in a distant place for the fear of his coming back.
He arrives on the Island of Aix in July 1815 and after spending 4 nights in the house of the governor, a house that is now...

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2
Bayonne Fortifications - Grand Bayonne
Bayonne is a fairly large city, a "sous-prefecture" of the department of Pyrenees Atlantiques.
It was already a fortified city during the roman occupation of the Aquitaine.
During the reign of Francois I the city’s fortifications were overhauled (between 1520 and 1528) according to the new principles of the artillery of the time.
Begining from 1680 Vauban starts the reorganization of the defense system of the Spanish border and modernizes the Bayonne fortress and builds on the right bank of the river Adour a citadel called Chateau Neuf (it can be visited only on special occasions like the National Day of the Patrimony on the third weekend of September).
Nowadays the interior of the fortification walls on the left side of the...

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3

Blaye Citadel

UNESCO Heritage List
Blaye Citadel
The Blaye citadel is one of the fortifications that together with Fort Medoc and Fort Paté formed a defense system built on the Gironde estuary for the protection of Bordeaux.
Built on the Roman military fortification that during the Middle Ages became a medieval fortress the 34ha citadel is the work of the engineering genius Vauban and represented at its time, at the end of the 17th century, an example of state-of-the-art military architecture.
As a part of the so called "Vauban network" of forts spread all over France the Blaye citadel is listed since 2008 in the UNESCO's World Heritage.
The citadel of nowadays is a fortified village with homes, stores and restaurants. From its side overlooking the estuary one can admire the...

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4

Collioure Castle And Village

UNESCO Heritage List
Collioure Castle And Village
The Royal Fort of Collioure was built initially by the earls of Roussillon starting in the 11th century.
Between 1276 and 1344 the castle was the residence of the Kings of Majorca. During this period the castle is extended and enhanced. In 1345 the castle is taken by the king of Aragon Pedro IV starting at that moment until 1642 when the Spanish occupation ends is little by little changed from a royal residence into a fortress. In 1642 the Collioure fortress along with Salses and Perpignan are surrendered to the French armies (their surrender makes way to the signing in 1659 of the Treaty of Pyrenees that ends the Franco-Spanish wars and when the Roussillon province becomes a...

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5

Fort Bellegarde

UNESCO Heritage List
Fort Bellegarde
Bellegarde Fortress was built by Vauban starting in 1668. It sits on top of a hill overlooking the pass of Pertus an ancient communication route between France and Spain.
The strategic location was used since 1285 when the King of Majorca built of fortified tower to protect himself from his powerful neighbor the King of Aragon, who manages however to conquer the region in the 14th century.
Like the rest of the Roussillon the area becomes French at the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659 and its strategic importance increases so much that in 1668 Vauban decides to built a stronghold in the place of the old tower.
The building process lasted 3 decades. To build it Vauban lowered the hill the sort...

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6

Fort Lagarde

UNESCO Heritage List
Fort Lagarde
After the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659 Louis XIV decides to reinforce his kingdom new border with the Spain.
In this context in 1674 Louis XIV decides to build in Prats-de-Mollo, a little border village on the left bank of the river Tech, a new fortress.
The construction work is undertaken by Vauban who builds Fort Lagarde (or Fort De La Garde) between 1677 and 1682 - on the place of the watch tower of the old medieval castle.
It is typical example of a bastioned fortification, adapted to the relief with terraced layers of fire walls. It has on the southern side, two successive lines of defense in front of a dungeon. The northern and eastern fronts are bordered by...

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7

Fort Liberia

UNESCO Heritage List
Fort Liberia
Fort Libéria was built between 1681 and 1683 for the protection of Villefranche-de-Conflent, town that the fort overlooks from a steep hill. It was a part of the plan of King Louis XIV to reinforce his border with Spain after the Treaty of the Pyrenees.
The little fort was meant to accommodate up to 100 soldiers and artillery of 10 cannons.
Being on a steep hill the fort takes advantage of the relief and is built on 3 levels separated by thick wall, that were meant to provide a tight compartmentalization in case of enemy occupying on of the levels.
The first level contains the remains of the old officers’ barrack and a watchtower.
The second level accessible via two portals from the...

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8

Fort Louvois

UNESCO Heritage List
Fort Louvois
Situated now at the foot of the bridge that links Oleron Island with the continent Fort Louvois is the last fort built during the reign of King Louis XIV.
This horse shoe shaped fort is an island accessible by a free shuttle boat during the high tide and by foot during low tide - a 400m paved pathway links it to the continent. The summit of the tower offers an incredible panorama of the bay of Marennes.
The construction of the fort was ordered in 1690 for the protection from the South side of the arsenal of Rochefort. The name Louvois comes from the name of Marquis of Louvois the war minister of the King Sun, and who contracted...

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9
Fort Lupin
Fort Lupin is a small defensive structure whose construction - between 1683 and 1686 - was led by Vauban.
It was built on the south bank of the estuary of the Charente to protect access to the arsenal of Rochefort. The fort consists of a semi-circular battery for use against ships, a central tower and a front including a water trench to protect the landward side.
It is located near the little town of Saint-Nazaire-sur-Charente. It is a private property and can be visited inside only during « Les journees du patrimoine » a cultural event that takes place each year on the third weekend of September. However it can be visited from outside the walls following the path along the...

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10

Fort Medoc

UNESCO Heritage List
Fort Medoc
Fort Medoc, Fort Pate and Citadel de Blaye were the three Vauban fortifications designed to protect the Gironde Estuary and Bordeaux from attacks from the water. Fort Medoc is the second in size after Citadel de Blaye. It consists of four bastions connected by walls, two turned to the river (bastions of the Dolphin and Sea) and two on the Médoc (bastions of the King and France). It is surrounded by ditches that are connected to Gironde via a system of locks that allow the water to be maintained regardless of the tide. The fort was built starting from 1690 and its completion took 32 years even though the army took possession of it in 1691 while many of its features were...

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11
Fort Socoa
Fort Socoa is a small fort overlooking the Saint Jean de Luz bay.
The fort was initially built during the reign of Louis XIII in 1627. In 1686 Vauban visits the Basque Country and the Socoa stronghold and decides to reinforce it. The work on the Socoa fort starts shortly and will last until 1698. Vauban builds inside a barrack and a chapel.
Unfortunatelly the fort cannot be visited at the interior. It is currently in the process of changing the owner to the city of Ciboure....

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12

Fort Vauban Fouras

UNESCO Heritage List
Fort Vauban Fouras
The fort is located on the site of a former roman stronghold.
Throughout the centuries it knew many changes - the tower was rebuilt between 1480 and 1490 by Jehan de Brosse, chambellan to king Charles VII of France - but the establishment of the arsenal of Rochefort in 1666 makes it a centerpiece of the defense system of the Charente estuary.
From 1689 to 1693, Francis Ferry, engineer of King Louis XIV, works under the leadership of Vauban - then General Commissar of Fortifications - to adapt the medieval ramparts to the new needs and military techniques and by increasing the thickness of the interior walls he creates at 36 m above the sea, a platform...

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13
Fortified City of Saint Martin de Re
Surrounded by Vauban fortifications and thus recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site St. Martin de Re is one of the most beautiful towns on the Atlantic coast of France and the biggest town in the Island of Re.
It is a fortified town surrounded by more then 14 km of ramparts. The star shaped fortification was built in 1681 - in only 40 days- on the ruins of an old fort built during the reign of Lois XIII.
The purpose of the structure was the protection of the military port of Rochefort, of the commercial port of La Rochelle and the salt trade of the island of Re. The fortification is a beautiful example of Vauban's work...

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14
Hondarribia
Hondarribia is not on the French territory but in the border Spanish town of Irun.
It was not built or reinforced by Vauban but he new about its existence when he was trying to reinforce the French southern Atlantic coast.
Hondarribia is a beautiful, wonderfully preserved or restored, large citadel.
Its name means in Basque language 'sand crossing'.
Its first document attestation dates from 1180 during the reign of King Sancho VI of Navarre. The town was reinforced by the Castilian Kings.
The shape the citadel is in now was given to in the second part of the 16th century.
Given its border position the town withstood many attacks from the French armies. The most devastating was in 1638 during the 'Thirty Years War'...

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15

Mont-Louis

Unesco World Heritage
Mont-Louis
If Vauban rebuilt more then 160 strongholds throughout his long career as the King's Louis XIV military engineer, Mont-Louis is one of the only 9 fortified places-towns that he himself founded on previously clear area.
It is Vauban who suggested to Louis XIV, after the treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659 that established the border between France and Spain at it's nowadays location, the reinforcement of the kingdom's newly acquired territories by means of reinforcement of the already existent forts of Colliure, Bellgarde, Prats-de-Mollo, Villefranche-de-Conflent and the building of a brand new fort.
The new fortress location was chosen by Vauban when he visited the region in March 1679. It was to be at 1600 meters altitude the highest elevation...

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16

Oleron Citadel

UNESCO Heritage List
Oleron Citadel
The building of the citadel started in 1630 during the reign of King Louis XIII. Later during Louis XIV in 1666 when the decision was made to build the biggest ship yard of the kingdom in Rochefort the need came to reinforce its protection and therefore the need to reinforce the citadel. This task was handed first to Louis Nicolas de Clerville - a famous fortification engineer of the time mostly known under the name of Chevalier de Clerville. When in 1677 Clerville died the project was taken over by Vauban. Vauban had different ideas from Clerville and his project of reinforcement of the citadel included some distruction of the work - the second enceinte of the citadel - of...

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17
Perpignan Citadel
Perpignan citadel is one of the largest surviving citadels in France. It contains in one of its "demi-lunes" built by Vauban the Palace of the Kings of Majorca who were the first to build a stronghold on this site.
The palace - a gothic style structure - was built in the last part of the 13th century by the king Jacques II of Majorca.
In 1349 the kingdom of Majorca becomes a part of the kingdom of Aragon under King Pedro IV of Aragon.
Between 1538 and 1587 Emperor Charles V and his son Philippe II surrounded Perpignan by strong red bricks walls.
After the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659 Vauban fortifies further the place by adding 6 "demi- lunes" (from which only...

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18
Phares des Baleines (Lighthouse of the Whales)
The lighthouses located next to each other are situated on the most western point of the island of Re (Ile de Re).
The old Lighthouse of the Whales - a 30 meters high structure- was built by Vauban in 1682 and was in service until 1854 when the new lighthouse was built. It is the second oldest lighthouse of France after the one of Cordouan in the Gironde estuary.
The new lighthouse has 57meters in height.
The top can be reached after a 257 steps ascent but the effort is worthwhile since the panorama - the island and the ocean - that opens in front of your eyes is an exceptional one.
For information about all the lighthouses that can...

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19

Royal Citadel of Brouage

UNESCO Heritage List
Royal Citadel of Brouage
The first name of the citadel was "Jacopolis" after the name of its founder Jacques de Pons, Earl of Hiers, who built it in 1555. At the time of its birth the citadel was an ocean port, in one of the most beautiful harbours of France.
A rich and prosperous port, with more then 4000 inhabitants (as opposed to 150 today!), the town was attached to the Crown by King Henri III under the new name of Brouage. During the reign of King Louis XIII, Cardinal Richelieu became the governor of the place and used it as a Catholic base to keep under control the mainly Huguenot region. Later under King Louis XIV the town is transformed into a military...

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20

Saint Jean Pied de Port

UNESCO Heritage List
Saint Jean Pied de Port
Saint Jean Pied de Port citadel is a part of the network of forts built or rebuilt by Vauban. It sits on top of a hill overlooking Saint Jean Pied de Port town. The name is deceiving for a town close to the mountains and more then 50 km away from Atlantic Ocean. The word Port means in fact "Pass" in the local language and it meant the Pyrenean Mountains pass for the pilgrims on the route to Santiago de Compostela .
The town - former capital of the Basse-Navarre - has two parts the high fortified older part and the lower town.
It was initially built in the 12th century and fortified in the beginning of the 13th century by Sanche...

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21

Villefranche-de-Conflent

UNESCO Heritage List
Villefranche-de-Conflent
Villefranche-de-Conflent town is a member of the « Les Plus Beaux Villages de France » organization.
The place was inhabited since prehistoric times as attested by the drawings found in the nearby caves of En Gorner, des Canalettes and Cova Bastera - which Vauban transforms into a casemate.
The town, fortified, was founded in 1095 by Guillaume-Raymond earl of Cerdagne as a barrier against the moors invasions. It is also the time when Saint Jacques chruch is built.
During the next 6 centuries Villefranche-de-Conflent belongs successively to the earls of Barcellone, kings of Aragon and finally to the kings of Spain being all along more fortified.
In 1654 the town surrenders to the French armies and after the Treaty of the Pyrenees...

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