This small port sits on the Gironde estuary just north of where the Dordogne and Garonne rivers converge. It's known primarily for one thing — a UNESCO-protected late 17th-century fortress, designed by one of the era’s best known French military architects. In addition to its renowned small city within a city, Blaye is also home to a fantastic local daily market positioned along the curved perimeter of its main street.
What We Love
The Market: Tented stalls hawking local seafood and produce, clothing and accessories line the street adjacent to the riverfront. Pick up a carton of fresh fraises (strawberries) and ogle oversize white asparagus — a springtime regional specialty (which hopefully your ship's chef will purchase and prepare). You can also buy a colorful woven sun hat if you forgot yours at home.
Best Known For
La Citadelle de Blaye: This 100-acre fortress overlooks the river and was deemed strategic to protecting the neighboring city of Bordeaux. Construction started in 1685 and took just four years to complete. Its builder was Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, who during 50 years of service as a military engineer to King Louis XIV, was charged with building more than 100 fortifications throughout France. Today, 12 of them are now UNESCO-designated. Here, the citadel also houses the ruins of the 12th-century Rudel Castle, a monastery, and army barracks. There are signs along the paths for a self-guided tour or you can book a guided walk that also visits underground passageways. There are a few shops and restaurants inside as well.
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Who It's Best For
Ancient Military Fans: Anyone fascinated by royal military history during the Sun King’s reign will revel in a Citadelle tour; most people will also enjoy a fortress visit for the fantastic river views.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
It’s a One-Note Port: The fortress and adjacent market are pretty much it. If you really want to stretch your legs, borrow one of your ship’s bikes and pedal the scenic eight-mile trail from Blaye to Etauliers.
Donna Heiderstadt is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Coastal Living and Islands.