Le Blayais, rich with natural and cultural heritage, is a wine growing region (Côtes de Blaye) to the north of the Gironde River, bordered by the Charente-Maritime, the Libournais region, and the right bank of the Gironde Estuary. There are endless vines, small valleys where beautiful castles have been built or Bourgeais dressed stone houses, the distinctive blond colour of their façade contrasts with the green of the countryside and the vines.
On the estuary border, on the Route de la Corniche, subterranean galleries have been transformed into cave dwellings. During some periods of the year, guided tours are organised. The Blayais villages feature small Roman Churches, which are real architectural treasures. You can discover them by walking on the many hiking paths.
Blaye's citadel and the fortifications of Vauban, typical of western military architecture and listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site since 2008, attract many visitors.
The access is free, as is the car park at the bottom of the fortifications. It is pleasant to wander in the narrow streets, stopping in the small shops, or in the green areas that the children enjoy particularly.
Some signposts relate its history. In order to defend Bordeaux and the Kingdom of France from the English threat Vauban built in 1685, under the order of King Louis XIV, a citadel surrounding the city. For a long time it was a military building, today it is a major tourist site in Aquitaine. This monument of about 30 hectares that can be accessed by the Royal Gate or the Dauphine Gate has many features: the towers of the former castle of the Rudel family dating from the 12th century, the Eguillette Tower, the Place d’Armes. The gun-powder factory and the Minimes Convent –beautifully restored – welcomes temporary exhibitions.
Its underground passages leading to the port can also be visited, like the Museum of History and Archeology (admission fee). The citadel was part of Fort Pâté and Fort Médoc, located in front of Blaye, of the « Bolt of the Estuary», this defensive triptych is unique in France. In July and August, catch a little tourist train at the bottom of the citadel, for a guided tour of Blayais, its vineyard and its estuary, the longest in Europe, with at 70 kilometres, evoking the days of the gabarres (traditional boats) loaded of wood, stones or wine. The citadel can be discovered by horse carriage, while the Marquis de Vauban Castle offers tours of its estate and wine tasting.
Other emblematic features of the city, the Saint-Romain basilica, today in ruins. The Necropolis of the Merovingian Kings of Aquitaine, which include the most famous, Roland, Seigneur of Blaye and nephew of Charlemagne, who was attacked by a group of Vascons robbers while he was crossing the march of Roncevaux in the Pyrénées.
From Blaye, there are river cruises along the estuary, from island to island (Read the section on the Médoc). In the commune of Braud and Saint-Louis, on the estuary’s edge, houses the Blayais nuclear power plant
In the south of Blaye, Plassac has kept the vestiges of Gallo-Roman villas, evidence of the human presence here since the 1st century. Its small harbour is full of charm. Also to be discovered in Saint-Geniès de Blaye, a sea water channel near the small Port de Bernu, the “carrelets” –typical fishermen wooden houses on stilts – and the wild landscapes of the estuary.
An exceptional flora and fauna can be found in the marshlands of Blayais.
East of Blaye, on the commune of Berson, a stone monument marks the site of the Cau Battle where members of the resistance killed 42 German soldiers in August 1944. The village houses the Maison Forte de Reisset (fortified Manor House) built during the 13th century as well as mills and fountains to be discovered on the hiking paths.
To get to Bourg-de-Gironde, you can take the Route de la Corniche, along the Gironde estuary on about ten kilometres. In the limestone cliffs, cave dwellings can be seen. Bourg-de-Gironde, which contrary to its name, is located on the Dordogne River, is a small quiet village, with its little port on the estuary’s edge, a beautiful covered wash house dating from the 19th century, and its upper town leading to the ruins of the citadel castle where you can find the Hippomobile Museum. From its promontory, there is a view on the village, the estuary and the bec d’Ambès.
In the surroundings of Bourg-de-Gironde, the Pair-Non-Pair cave is decorated with bisons, mammoths and ibexes paintings, dating from 30,000 years ago. In Lansac, the Moulin du Grand Puy was entirely refurbished by a volunteer work camp, the mill is celebrated every year in mid-June.
Situated on the Dordogne River, Saint-André De Cubzac has a marina called the Port de Plagne.
The man with the red hat, Commandant Jacques-Yves Cousteau (French naval officer, explorer, conservationist, filmmaker, innovator, scientist, photographer, author and researcher who studied the sea and all forms of life in water) was born and buried here.
A lovely Roman Church which was built by the Benedictine of Sauve Majeur Abbey during the 12th century. The Coteau de Montalon, at 73 metres, is the highest point of the Haute-Gironde and the remaining few mills are the legacy of the miller past.
At the bottom of the Mill of Montalon, a stone monument marks the 45th north latitude, a distance which is equivalent between the North Pole and the Equator. The commune houses the beautiful neo-classic Bouilh Castle, designed by the architect of the Grand Théâtre in Bordeaux, adapted from the former 16th century castle.
In the surroundings, in Cubzac-les-ponts, we can admire a road bridge which was built by Eiffel and rebuilt faithfully by his grand son after the bridge was destroyed by the Germans during World War Two.