When a Vauban fort on a Breton island is rented via AirBnB
The Petit Bé fort opposite Saint-Malo, 22 August
Stone by stone, recovered on the Côte d’Emeraude and
transported on its motorboat, Alain-Etienne Marcel restores for
more than 15 years the Fort of Petit Be in front of Saint-Malo.
To finance his vast project, the young pensioner leases this
military fortress of the seventeenth century via AirBnB.
“I prefer to tell you that it is not Versailles here!”,
Launches the master of places to his hosts of the day.
It is true that this fort, designed by the architect Vauban
at the request of Louis XIV, was erected for the defense of the
prosperous corsair city of the English and Dutch assaults.
At 700 meters from the walls of Saint-Malo, “Le Petit Bé
could accommodate a garrison of 160 men, it was armed with 19
guns and two mortars”, details its 72-year-old Breton owner to
the group of 20 people from Belgium, England and Canada.
Alain-Etienne Marcel in front of the Petit Bé fort
opposite Saint-Malo, 22 August 2017
The former judicial officer is fond of history and
“especially of the Vauban buildings”. He contributed for 23
years to the restoration of the Fort National, another work of
the French engineer, in Saint-Malo and ensured the visits
during his “leisure”. “With this experience, the mayor told
me,” I’m ready to give you the Petit Bé if you do the same
thing, “he says.
An emphyteutic lease of forty years was passed between the
corsair city and Mr. Marcel in January 2000 to ensure the
restoration of the fort, classified Historic Monument in 1921,
but abandoned for nearly a century.
With his band of friends, the Breton embarks on this titanic
yard. “Everything was abandoned, it was necessary to go up to
the surface of the water stone by stone”, that is 173 blocks
transported on his small motor boat. “We must not count the
hours, otherwise we go mad,” assures the master of the place
who retired at 70 years.
Visit of Petit Bé from the sea, Saint-Malo 22 August
Having no longer the same income, Alain Etienne-Marcel then
decides to offer his property on Airbnb. A reservation for one
night amounts to 600 euros, that one comes in couple and to
more than 15 people, which then amounts to 40 euros per head,
explains the elegant Breton, scarf around the coup.
At this price, the tenants benefit from a building on three
levels. Upstairs, the beds of soldiers’ camps reconstituted
identically, including a bed “inclined because at this time,
the horizontal position is considered that of the dead,” says
– Summary conditions –
Le Petit Be, perched on a rock, lives to the rhythm of the
tides and the weather. Access is by boat or on foot. The
opening time can vary between 30 minutes and four hours, ten
days a month.
On the ground floor, the kitchen is simply “a fireplace”. In
front of the house, 800 m2 of grass where it is possible to
The conditions are summary as “when the city of Saint-Malo
was a prey to the maritime wars”. The owner refused to make it
a luxury building but provides “on demand” crushed ice, cheese
and good local wine “.
Alain-Etienne Marcel organizes a guided tour to
tourists who came to the fort via AirBnB
“It’s crazy to be able to sleep in a place that has been
more than 300 years old where soldiers have slept, defended the
city,” enthuses Sophie Beaugeard, a 43-year-old Canadian.
For the most modest scholarships, the fort remains open to
the public during the day, for six euros. Alain made the visits
in addition to sanding, planing or sweeping of the six chimneys
– “Climbing a cannon” –
Timothy, 8, “loved the stories of battles against the
English and climbing on the guns”.
The guarantor of places left the keys of his fort to the
tenants of one evening. “Within eight years”, Alain-Etienne
Marcel hopes to complete the restoration of Petit Bé and
transmit it to his two daughters “in order to perpetuate the
memory of this military heritage”.