Driving along the road on our way to visit the typically Breton town of Saint-Malo, we spotted the hilltop island Fort du Guesclin rising up from the crashing waves. Perched atop a rugged rocky outcrop of an island some distance away from the shore, we had soon stopped for a closer inspection.
Fort du Guesclin is a tidal island, meaning that when the tide is low and the sea is out, the island is approachable on foot (normally, this translates to a small sandy causeway leading to the island). When the tide is in and the sea is high, the land mass truly becomes an island, often only approachable by boat or air.
Before visiting Fort du Guesclin, I’d only ever been to two tidal islands in my life (Bigbury-on-Sea and St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, UK). Due to ever changing weather conditions and the nature of the Northern French coastline, tidal islands are surprisingly common in the area. The most famous one nearby to Guesclin is Mont Saint Michel.
History of Fort du Guesclin
During my research into Fort du Guesclin, I stumbled across the above postcard. The striking fortifications have endured a long, bloody and violent history… And if you don’t read French, then here’s a loose translation of the postcard- handily, this also doubles as a brief summary of the history of island:
“300 meters away from the beautiful bank of Guesclin lies a fortress by the same name. It was built in 1026 by an ancestor of Connetable on a rock that rises up from amongst the waves.
Accessible by foot at low and mid tide, you’ll find a magnificent view. In 1207, the fortress was occupied by Jean sans Terre (John Lackland in English, Johan Sanz Terre in Breton), King of England, and was the site of bloody battles, during which Juhel de Mayenne drove away the English.
Bought in 1500 by Guillaume de Chateaubriand, it was then sold in 1589 to the Rieux family, before being demolished by the Catholic League (more info on the League can be found here) and reconstructed in 1758.
It’s still possible to see the base of six or seven turrets and a well thirty metres deep and three metres wide. The buildings have now been transformed into a holiday home.
The surrounding area is full of fish.“- er, weird way to end a postcard?
More recent history of the Fort du Guesclin
So what happened after the reconstruction of the fort? Well, as the postcard says, the fortress is now a holiday home. Having been bought, in the 18th century by ordinary citizens, it was transformed into a holiday home. During WWII, the island was briefly occupied and utilised as a German military base.
After the war, the fort was sold to the popular poet and composer Léo Ferré- the site itself was where he composed many of his songs. Ferré lived on the site until 1968 before it was abandoned. Purchased in 1996 by the Porcher family, the fort has once again been restored and is used as a holiday home.
Visit Fort du Guesclin
Unfortunately, the island itself is now privately owned and so usually you can only really see the Fort du Guesclin from afar. I use the term ‘usually’ because an annual festival is held on the island each August where Fort du Guesclin is open to members of the public for a few days. More information on this can be found here.
Asides from this, the beach is beautiful golden sand and makes the perfect spot to go swimming or enjoy a typically French picnic. The best time of the year to visit Brittany is in the late spring/ summer/ early autumn when the weather is at its best and the days are at their longest. A visit to the beach at Guesclin can easily be combined with a trip to the nearby walled city of Saint-Malo.