3 Fortified Medieval French Cities that will Fascinate You


3 Fortified Medieval French Cities that will Fascinate You

Fortified Medieval French cities bring out my inner child. Whether it is climbing a tower or a wall, nothing compares to surveying a town or village from that height.

Wandering along a city wall/rampart in the evening, while everyone else heads home or to a local café means I’m left to my imagination, to wonderful views of the town and invariably, to wonderful sunsets.

Every time I visit a new fortified town, I fall in love and think “this one is my favorite”. However, as I stand back and consider these three, they each rank #1 with me for different reasons.


Boulogne-sur-Mer, or Boulogne for short, was an experience like none other. I traveled solo in late March and enjoyed wonderfully sunny days to explore on foot. For the most part, I wandered the streets alone within the walls only occasionally passing a local inhabitant as late March is definitely not tourist season here.

Entre les murs, within the walls, this fortified medieval French city is relatively flat. This part of Boulogne is referred to as haute ville with good reason! As the town is perched on the edge of the coast, there are definitely hills to navigate as you wander outside the walls and down toward the beach.

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Porte des Dunes

Arrival day found me up on the wonderful 13th century ramparts. The views made it easy to see why it has been a strategic point during times of war. Boulogne’s port served Roman Emporer Claudius (43 A.D.) as well as Napoleon (1803) as they assembled their armies to  invade Britain. (maritimeheritage.org) Then, in World War I, it was one of three strategic ports behind the lines as well as serving as a hospital city with at least 10 hospitals. (boulanaisautop.com) Finally, Germany occupied the port early during World War II. What a varied life this port city has led!

In addition, Boulogne is France’s premier fishing port. As a result, the restaurants feature some amazing seafood dishes! In addition, the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea and the Pasteur Institute makes its home in Boulogne. The World Port Source website goes into detail about the history of the port.

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Walking at the base of Château de Boulogne

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Boulogne really stole my heart. From the parks and Château to the majestic cathedral and its polychrome crypt, I could’ve been content to stay within the walls for my whole visit.

But outside the walls, there are museums and the seafront to explore as well. Don’t forget about the open air market and the wonderful shopping streets found between the walled city and the sea front.

I plan to return to Boulogne to spend time in some of my favorite restaurants enjoying the delicious seafood, enjoying a bit of time being a flâneur (wanderer) and dipping my feet in the sea when the weather is warmer than it was in March!


If you plan to visit more than just one of these three of these walled cities, then head to Saint-Malo next via Mont Saint-Michel. Renting a car will make a much quicker journey than the train which goes via Paris for a 7 hour journey.



Lots of choices for restaurants

Within the walls of Saint-Malo, I find to be a different experience from Boulogne. To begin with, it is much larger. That means there are more restaurants, bakeries, patisseries and shops to enjoy.

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Another thing that makes St-Malo so very different from Boulogne is that you can exit the wall and immediately find yourself on the beach. We did this every evening and it was wonderful to walk along the water’s edge as the tide came in.

According to archdaily.com , a platform for architects: “After the fall of the Roman Empire, a new settlement that would eventually become the walled town of modern-day St Malo was created by monks fleeing the British Isles.” Their page has some fascinating historical info about Saint-Malo.



I love Guérande and its nearby salt marshes. The walls here are just over 1300 meters long (0.8 miles) and you can walk about 1/3 of them. We chose instead to walk completely around the walled town at the base of the walls, following the moat part of the way.

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Guérande City Gate


Guérande is small, like Boulogne, and is bounded on one side by the salt marshes not a beach. Don’t miss touring these!


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Guérande Salt Marshes


Spend time wandering the narrow pedestrian only streets, enjoying historic architecture, ancient mills, megalithic monuments, and fortified manor houses.

Fortified Medieval French Cities I Want to Visit

We had reservations within the walls of Carcassonne for April 2020. However, COVID-19 abruptly ended that plan. As soon as we can travel again, Carcassonne is at the top of our list. It is listed as an UNESCO world heritage site but it is its historic connections with the Cathars that has long fascinated me.

Also on our list for the next trip is Vannes, located in Brittany on the Gulf of Morbihan. With 272 historic monuments within its walls, I look forward to lots of new discoveries!

I can’t wait til we can explore more fortified medieval French cities!



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