It may be ‘Petit Bretagne’, the little brother to the ‘Grande’ version across the water, but the reality is that Brittany couldn’t be more French.
The region is, after all, the home of the crêpe complète, Breton cider, and with almost a third of the country’s coastline it is France’s seaside superstar par excellence, all historic ports, dramatic clifftop vistas and stunning beaches. Here are three light-touch ways to explore its abundant wonders.
The Breton coastline has the greatest concentration of historic lighthouses anywhere in the world, the finest of them clustered in the Finistère department in the region’s far west. A monumental legacy of Brittany’s rich maritime heritage, these wonderfully atmospheric structures make for a brilliant route for anyone keen to explore the stunning coastline at the ‘end of the earth’, (or at least the most westerly point in France).
Highlights include the Île Vierge lighthouse in Plouguerneau with its 365 steps and astonishing panoramic views, and the lighthouse on Île Wrac’h where the adjoining lighthouse keeper’s house has been turned into a museum. Best of all, though, is the Stiff Lighthouse on the Isle of Ushant, which was designed by France’s legendary military engineer, Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban in the 17th century.
The oldest lighthouse in Brittany still in operation, its handsome double tower is reason enough to visit France’s most westerly isle (but if you do need further incentive, it’s also a bird watcher’s paradise). A boat trip around Molène, an island off the west coast of Brittany, allows you to see over a hundred tiny islands, the famous Pointe Saint-Mathieu headland, and even some bottlenose dolphins in the water.
You'll also spot the striking red and white 'Phare des Pierres noires', otherwise known as 'Lighthouse of the Black Stones', standing in splendid isolation in the Iroise sea. 28 metres high, in winter storms it has to withstand waves more than 23 metres high, which is a testament to the bravery of the lighthouse keepers who once stayed there.
A vast network of roomy tow paths, repurposed railway lines and extremely quiet roads make Brittany one of the world’s great places to explore on two wheels.
For seasoned cyclists there are nine brilliant coast-to-coast routes that criss-cross the region, taking in its greatest hits. Try the famous Nantes to Roscoff route that follows the picturesque Nantes-Brest canal, or hug the north coast from Roscoff, stopping off at upmarket Dinard on the way to Mont St-Michel, just over the border in Normandy.
Brilliantly, all these long-distance routes are supported by a special classification of ‘bike-friendly’ hotels, all them extra-accommodating to the saddle-weary.
For something a little gentler, there are plenty of regions – like gorgeous Gacilly, a verdant inland commune with a vibrant arts scene and famous photography festival – that can be easily explored at your own pace, over a few days.
There's barely a more celebrated hiking path in all of France than the famous GR®34, the old customs officers’ path, which the officials once patrolled in their war against the smugglers who used Brittany’s many inlets and coves to land their contraband.
You can follow it – if you’ve got plenty of puff – for more than 1,100 miles from Mont Saint-Michel almost to the mouth of the Loire and be guaranteed stunning sunsets against the Côte de Granit Rose (Pink Granite Coast) and some of France’s best beaches on the Côte d'Émeraude (Emerald Coast) around Saint-Malo.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are plenty of brilliant one-day hikes – don’t miss the stunning 14km tour of the wild ridges of Armorique Natural Park. And plenty of fantastic weekend-long treks like a 40km walk round Lake Guerlédan through the gorgeous Quénécan Forest.
Vive la France!
Western France makes the perfect autumn break. The scenery is particularly beautiful, the weather still warm, and the harvest – from land and sea – out of this world.
Brittany Ferries sails directly to western France from Portsmouth, Poole or Plymouth, making Brittany, Normandy and Atlantic Loire Valley easily accessible and giving travellers the freedom to hop in their own car and explore the gastronomic and cultural treasures of this stunning region of France.
To find out more, visit uk.france.fr