Every year around mid September France holds its annual Journées du Patrimoine; a weekend of open doors at historical buildings, monuments, parks and places of cultural interest. Places that aren’t usually open to the public are visitable and places that normally are often have extended hours, free entry or some other extra. This year I decided to visit the Fort Carré in Antibes. It’s somewhere that everyone in the area knows; it looks magnificent when viewed across the harbour, but I’d never come across anyone who’d actually been there. A quick flick through the reviews on TripAdvisor didn’t overly impress, with most people saying it was OK but nothing more. It’s open all year round and is very reasonably priced but the impetus of a free visit as part of the Journées du Patrimoine convinced me to see for myself if it really was as boring as the reviewers said.
Fort Carré, which means square fort, is actually star-shaped, something that isn’t obvious from a distance. It is set on the headland that divides the St Roch inlet (Antibes harbour) from the sweeping Baie des Anges. It was built under the orders of Henri II in the mid 16th century, to defend France from the County of Nice, then part of the Duchy of Savoy, not France.
A century later the prolific military architect Vauban redeveloped it and furthered strengthened the town of Antibes. Located where it is, it has panoramic views over the Mediterranean, the southern Alps and what is today Nice, Monaco and Italy. Unfortunately I visited on a hazy overcast day but I know the view well and know that on a clear day you really can see as far as Italy.
In 1860 Nice became part of France rendering obsolete the need to have defences between the two and by the end of the 19th century the fort was declassified as a military base.
Throughout the 20th century it was mainly used as a sports college, where soldiers used its walls to learn to climb and abseil, though it also served as a holding place for foreigners during the occupation in the Second World War.
Between 1979 and 1985 the fort was slowly renovated by volunteers, largely adolescents during their school holidays, and it finally opened to the public as a Historic Monument in 1998.
So, that’s its history in a nutshell, but is it interesting to visit? The fort nowadays is pretty much empty. The barracks and canteen were closed for the open day as the crowds were too big. We only got to walk around the walls and inner courtyard which were attractive and unusual owing to the star shape but lacking in the “wow” factor; there’s absolutely no adornment, no cannons or other military paraphernalia.
There are two fun facts about the fort which trivia fans might enjoy: during the French Revolution Napoleon Bonaparte was imprisoned here for a few days, and it was used as the setting for the villain’s fortress in the James Bond film “Never say Never Again”.
But for me the best thing about it was the views. Peeping through windows framing the blue sea, over the towns of Villeneuve-Loubet and Cagnes sur Mer across to the mountains, also a hazy blue, made the visit worthwhile. Looking the other way over the harbour you can marvel at the enormity of the superyachts on “billionaires quay” and fully appreciate the size of Europe’s biggest yachting marina.
The fort is surrounded by 4 hectares of garrigue – Mediterranean scrubland – which is attractive to stroll through and the pathway up to the main entrance is flanked by impressive prickly pear bushes.
As a cultural place to visit, there are certainly more satisfying places in the area and I don’t think it would be worth going out of your way for this. But if you have an interest in military history or want to get a different perspective on the harbour, or just want to spend an hour or so away from the crowds of old town Antibes, then I’d say that the regular entrance fee of 3€ is worth it.
For information on opening hours check here (many websites have incomplete or confusing hours but the fort is basically open all year except obvious public holidays like Christmas, though it is worth noting that it’s closed in bad weather as so much of the visit is on the ramparts exposed to the elements, with low walls, it’s not considered safe.) There is free parking just opposite and it’s also an easy walk from the train station.
Do you like visiting fortresses like this? Does the heritage open day happen where you are? Do tell.
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Great pictures Phoebe! Looks worth visiting just for the views. We have an open house day in London every year when many houses, churches and buildings open their doors to the public. Thanks for linking to #citytripping
The views look fantastic – it’s almost as if you have to consider it as an impressive viewpoint with some history thrown in, rather than somewhere to visit in its own right. And always worth investigating – I do sometimes take TripAdvisor with a pinch of salt… How incredible that you can see to Italy on a clear day. Beautiful photos despite the haze. Thanks for linking up with #citytripping
What a cool opportunity to see the fort from the inside. We visited Antibes on a day trip during our trip to Nice Carnival in February but only saw the fort across the harbor. Antibes is definitely worth a stop though even if you can only view the fort from afar. #citytripping
Seems like the ideal place to retire in the future… 🙂
Thanks, it is! 🙂
Oh thank you!
Great pics. This looks like a gorgeous spot.
Your photos are stunning, really makes me want to pack a bag and runaway to visit
Yes Vauban was a mighty man indeed and left some amazing architecture for us to enjoy 300 years later. He really got around all over France too. Come and visit one day Corinne!
the boats are amazing, so many and soooo big!
Great, glad I inspired you Clare!
The views really are lovely, especially on a clearer day than when I went.
Those boats Michele are some of the world’s biggest super yachts that are hard to distinguish from small cruise liners. They are so big that they don’t fit in the regular port, hence “Billlionaire’s quay”!
That’s great Kriss!
That sounds perfect Catherine!
It’s great discovering something local you didn’t know about, especially derelict. I bet it was interesting.
The walls in this fort are quite low so I guess thery’re just over cautious and don’t want to take any risks. I’ve certainly been in many more dangerous places!
Jackie you’ll just have to come back again and for longer! Does the travel bug ever leave?
Thanks for stopping by Dick, you should visit the Côte d’Azur, it’s fab!
I love Vauban’s stuff…all forts are cool, but his are the best! I would definitely go there! Love the pics.
What a wonderful idea! I love going to places like these xx
That looks a spectacular place to visit. My husband would love all the boats!
Not somewhere I’ve been before but the pics are so stunning they are almost inviting me to go
Wow these pictures and the views are amazing! x
Loving the pictures just amazing.
We love forts and this one is a beauty even if it’s now empty. Even better that it’s free as a preview. Those views are stunning and I especially like the ones framing the ocean and harbor.
Free days seem to be a good time to visit something that you’re not sure will be a winner. The views indeed look beautiful. Actually, I think I’d be tempted to tour something that isn’t usually open to the public. I am curious whether the large boats in the 2nd to last photo are huge yachts or small cruise boats. Penang, Malaysia had a fort which never impressed me much. The walls could not have been more than 15 feet high, and I always claimed you could scale them by standing on someone’s shoulders.
When we’re next in this part of France, the fort would actually be an ideal place for us to visit as a family as my husband loves visiting military sites (and explaining all about them to the kids) while I would love the views.
Next time I’m down your way I will certainly visit the fort, a gentle walk with lovely views and away from the crowds building up an appetite for a delicious lunch in Antibes. Thank you for sharing this
I missed Les Journées du Patrimoine this year but last year I discovered an derelict abbey in the next village that I never knew was there! Your fort is much bigger than my abbey though!
Interesting that the fort is not open in bad weather. We visited a fort in Quebec City in bad weather and the guide was like “It’s going to be cold, wet and windy do you really want to do this tour”. Yes we did, but lots of other people backed out half way through. I don’t think it was actually dangerous though. Love the two walls that meet in an elongated point – and the boats.
We’ve done the south of France a couple of times – but each have been appetizer sized helpings that only want us to explore further and for longer. Loved the photos in this post and of course you got that travel bug in me activated again. . .sigh!
I haven’t been to this part of the country, but September is definitely a great time to tour France.