Monday 14 October 2019

7 unmissable places you have to visit in Brittany

Photo credit: Donatienne Guillaudeau
Photo credit: Donatienne Guillaudeau

Rachael Taylor Fawsitt

Fancy making the summer last all the way into Autumn? Well then pack up the car, grab your sunglasses and get ready for everything Brittany has to offer.

Located in the northwest of France, and only a short overnight ferry from Ireland, the region offers its visitors everything from sandy beaches to secluded coves. Explore quaint towns and villages that have stood beautifully still in time or venture out to some of the most magnificent natural bays you will ever see.

Beautiful all year round, Brittany is especially appealing in the Autumn as it still offers a sunny climate, without all the crowds. It is the ideal place for those looking to enjoy some peace and quiet after a busy summer.

Here are some of the places you simply must visit during your travels.

Roscoff

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Image credit: Emmanuel Berthier

When travelling by Ferry to Brittany, your first stop will be to the picturesque village of Roscoff. Bursting with charm and character, it is the perfect place to start your time in France.

During the 19th century cloth, salt, wood and even onions were exported from here, making it a thriving location for maritime trade. The old harbour of Roscoff stands as a reminder of this today.

The flamboyant Gothic style church, known as the Notre-Dame-de-Croas-Batz, towers over the harbour and is a must visit for those who love to relish in architecture and history.

Take a stroll around the town and admire the richly decorated houses that once belonged to ship-owners. Many of these beautiful dwellings are now listed as historic monuments, and some are even open to the public. Be sure to visit the house known as ‘Mary Stuart’ where Mary Queen of Scots is said to have stayed during her time in France.

The area is also home to two picturesque beaches, Rockroum and Perharidy which are perfect for an afternoon stoll.

Isle of Batz

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Image credit: Yvon Boelle

Fifteen minutes from the coast of Roscoff, is the stunning Isle of Batz. Although close to the mainland, the islands impressive exotic landscape makes it feels like a world of its own.

Thanks to its mild climate more than 2,000 exotic plants can be found here. It takes roughly half a day to walk its coastal path, and along the way you will be treated to glorious views of the ocean, tropical plants and some amazing wildlife.

If at any point you fancy a rest, you can stop off at one of the sandy beaches (there are over 20 on this island alone!) and relax in the sunshine.

While there, be sure to check out the panoramic views of the island that can be seen from the top of the 44-metre-high granite lighthouse.

Bay of Morlaix

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Image credit: Emmanuel Berthier

The Bay of Morlaix is best known for its little islands as well as being one of Brittany’s most visited birdwatching reserves. It is the perfect place to visit if you are looking to avoid the crowds and enjoy some relaxing time away.

Less than two miles long, the island of Callot is accessible by foot at low tide. With just nine families living here, it is a popular destination for day visitors who love the coves, views and cultural festivities.

The Bay is also home to the Cairn de Barnenez - history buffs will delight at this megalithic mausoleum. The largest of its kind in Europe, the structure even outdates the Egyptian pyramids. Dating back to 4500BC, many of today’s visitors marvel at its wealth of engraved symbols.

Be sure to also visit the historic fort known as Chateau du Taureau, which is located on a tiny island off the coast of Carantec. It was originally built in 1542 to defend the area from English invaders and was later used as prison, giving Brittany it’s very own Alcatraz. Today, visitors can choose between guided tours, theatrical encounters and even a singing or storytelling experiences.

Carantec

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Image credit: Yannick Le Gal

Also located in the Bay of Morlaix, is the seaside resort of Carantec. With seven beaches and what feels like an endless coastline, the resort has become a popular destination for watersports enthusiasts.

For those who enjoy the ocean views but prefer to stay on dry land, there is a nine-hole coastal golf course, boasting some of the most stunning views of the area.

A visit to the maritime museum is lovely way to get to know some of the crafts of the sea. Or, why not hit the Carantec Market in the morning for some fresh French produce, and plan a picnic in the Waterside Claude Goude park.

Vannes

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Image credit: Jacqueline Piriou

The mystical walled town of Vannes is a must-visit on any trip to the Gulf of Morbihan. Take a stroll through the medieval streets, and you will feel as though you have wandered back in time. With around 272 listed buildings, this town is a treasure trove of times past just waiting to be explored.

The Vannes Historical Festival takes place every year and helps to keep the stories and traditions alive. There are a range of public events for everyone to enjoy, including visits to the blacksmith’s forge, a coin-making workshop, falconry displays and artillery demonstrations.

The town also has two fabulous museums you can visit. Château Gaillard, located inside a 15th-century mansion house and La Cohue, which once hosted the Breton Parliament and is now the museum of fine arts. Whatever you decide to do during your time in Vannes, you won’t be short of ways to spend your time.

Gulf of Morbihan

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Image credit: Alexandre La Moureux

The Gulf of Morbihan, where the ocean has carved a little cove into the countryside, sits idyllically at the south of Brittany. From the countless islets that are scattered across the bay to the dazzling light that washes over the area during the day, people often refer to it as ‘the pearl of Brittany’.

The Gulf covers about 40 square kilometres between Vannes and Auray to the north, and Arzon and Sarzeau to the south, and is the perfect place to board a local sailboat and explore.

From the bird reserve of Séné Marshes to the Rhuys Peninsula to the Passage de la Jument –  site of one of the most powerful tidal bores in Europe – this region is full of wild charm.

Treat your taste buds and explore one of the region's oyster farms where local farmers will teach you everything you need to know about the pearls of the seashore, or stop off at one of the ports along the way and enjoy an authentic French meal, made with some of the finest ingredients from the region.

There are endless possibilities when it comes to outdoor activities, from paddle boarding in the bay to taking in the stunning views along the GR®34 long-distance footpath, which is an extraordinary route that takes in the whole of the Breton coastline.

Needless to say the Gulf of Morbihan is the perfect destination for cycling enthusiasts. Cyclists can enjoy stunning scenery as they pedal along Brittany's coast and between its range of unique islands. Make sure you stop off at the magnificent Château Suscinio, a 14th century former hunting lodge of the Dukes of Brittany.

If you're looking for something a little bit more relaxing, why not try thalassotherapy or seawater therapy? The region has many centres where professionals offer treatments based on enjoyment and sea air. It's the perfect way to unwind after a long day of sightseeing.

 

Ile aux Moines & Isle of Arz

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Image credit: Yannick Le Gal

The two largest islands in the Gulf of Morbihan are Ile aux Moines (‘Monks’ Island’) & Isle of Arz.

The southern climate of Ile aux Moines makes it the perfect place for palm trees and orange trees to grow in abundance. With half of the island covered in woodland, there are lots of opportunities to immerse yourself in nature. Why not take a bike through the ‘Bois d’Amour’ woods or walk the heather-covered hillsides?

Take a kayak around Beach Goret, a charming little cove that is ideal for a relaxing day in the water. Or, stretch out on the beautifully sandy Dréhen Beach (The Great Beach) where you can watch sail boats coming and going from the shore.

With several restaurants and options for foodies, this is the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of life for a few days. The island is known for its eco-chic style and has several campsites that are fitted out with all the amenities you need for a great overnight stay.

Next to Ile Aux Moines, is the Ile of Arz, the second largest island in the Gulf of Morbihan. This area is bubbling with charm and is a haven for those who love to explore new places on foot. The coastal path allows you to loop the entire island and enjoy beautiful views of the Gulf. Choose to stay on the path or dip in and out of the gorgeous beaches along the way.

For some insight into the islands history, be sure to visit the Sailors and Captains Museum (Musée Marins et Capitaines) which tells the story of when almost all the island’s men went to sea, after being enlisted in the merchant navy.

Enjoy Brittany by setting sail from Cork to Roscoff. With up to twp sailings a week it’s now possible to enjoy a short break in the region and Brittany Ferries do all the planning for you with a range of self-drive holidays. Four night breaks start from just €219 per person based on two nights' bed and breakfast and overnight return crossings from Cork to Roscoff. Find out more here.

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