Explore Wild Western Brittany
As much as I like living in Paris with its multitude of world-class museums, delectable restaurants and diverse cultural activities, sometimes I need to get away from the hustle and bustle and there’s no place in France further removed from this big city buzz than Brittany’s wild western coast.
Literary meaning the end of the earth, the department of Le Finistère has swept me away with its unspoilt nature, remote islands, quaint lighthouses and gorgeous sunrises and sunsets to bookend a glorious day of hiking, biking or blissful relaxation.
A wonderful way to discover the area is by hiking along the GR 34, a 1,800 km-long trail that snakes the whole length of Brittany’s coastline. If you’re coming over by ferry, you can start from charming fortified Saint Malo, one of my favourite French seaside towns, otherwise you could start closer west from the city of Brest (accessible from Paris by train). Either way, once you hit the trail, you’ll bide farewell to any remnants of the city and hello to the open sea and sky.
The paths are well marked, so there is no fear of getting lost, though you will certainly get distracted by the breath-taking landscape and dazzling emerald and aquamarine shades of the sea. I love the feeling of freedom while ambling along scenic Cap de la Chèvre and I truly feel like I’ve reached the end of the world at the Pointe du Raz, jutting out into the Atlantic at the tip of the Finistère.
Make your way along to the misty Crozon peninsula, where you can stop in for some freshly caught seafood at the charming village of Camerat while admiring the local fishing boats in the harbour and its famous 17th century Vaubon fortress. The area also hosts the “Festival du Bout du Monde” - the World's End Festival - a lively annual music festival held at the end of July/early August, adding a little local character to your wanderings. For a different type of cultural pursuit, track down the ruins of the Abbaye de Landévennec, founded back in the 5th
The official markers are not the only things here that line your path - you’ll also be guided by a series of lighthouses. I recommend stopping in at the towering 65-metre Eckmühl lighthouse, the third in a trio on the Pointe de Penmarc’h. You’ll be greeted by its friendly keeper, Alexandra, who fill you in on the building’s history and kindly unlock the spiral stairwell with its 290 steps up to the viewing terrace, and though the climb is a bit of a struggle, I was blown away by the incredible views of the port and bay.
Afterwards, if you’re craving even more spectacular views of the area, take to the skies paragliding above the Ménez Hom deltaplane. The wind from the sea makes this last hill of the Black Mountain range ideal for gliding. Even if you don’t brave the “flight,” the hill makes for an excellent climb or you can hike or bike higher up the rocky summits of Monts d'Arrée - possibly one of the best places in the area to enjoy the sunrise.
Any visit to the wild coast of Brittany wouldn’t be complete without a little sail out to one of its many islands such as those found in the Iroise Natural Marine Park; a UNESCO designated Biosphere Reserve. Here you can visit Ouessant (Ushant), Molène or, departing from the lovely harbour of Audierne, you can easily catch a ride over to the Isle of Sein. With their picturesque settings, slow pace and refreshing breeze, you may never want to leave… or at least, like me, the revitalizing experience will keep you going in the city before your next escape, hopefully back to Brittany.