Brittany is surrounded by many islands which provide an extra edge to walking experience with the fun of a ferry ride and the sense of being in a separate world.
There is quite a variety of terrain on offer depending on the island you choose, despite the generally shared characteristics of seascapes, lighthouses and small ports.
Some islands lend themselves to a day out, being small enough to walk around in 2/3 hours, but others require several days to circumnavigate the coastal path. The length of ferry journey is also a factor if you want plenty of time for walking and seeing sights on the island.
Ideal for a half day walk and time to visit a famous garden is the Île de Batz (pronounced Ba), easily accessible just ten minutes from Roscoff with regular ferries throughout the day. An 8km circuit is marked but take the time to go on out to the far western coast where St-Pol is said to have thrown the dragon over the cliff. Cliff is something of an exaggeration, but Toull ar Zarpant (serpent) is still the name of the cove.
Another small island on the north coast, sharing the same kind climate and with some spectacular scenery is the Île de Bréhat. Ferries for the short trip across go from the Pointe d’Accourest near Paimpol. There’s a more touristy and built-up feel to Bréhat at first, but cross the Pont Vauban and get on to the northern island, continuing for 2kms out to the Phare de Paon to get away from the crowds.
The Île d’Arz (pronounced Da) in the Gulf of Morbihan is another suitable destination for a day trip, with a 16km circuit taking in beaches, a famous tide-mill and the former salt-marshes. For something more adventurous, take the ferry from Audierne out to the Ile de Sein in the Atlantic beyond the Pointe du Raz. Nowhere on this tiny island is more than 8m above sea-level, so very easy-going, and you certainly get a full sense of the power of the ocean on a 6km walk around the elongated coastline.
For longer trips there are two contrasting experiences not to be missed. Ouessant, the most far-flung of the Breton islands, is well-worth the 1.5/2hr journey from Brest, or 1 hour from Le Conquet. Here you have real cliffs and a more demanding walk with four marked circuits. Stay for a day or two and visit the Le Stiff, the oldest working lighthouse in France, and the lighthouse/signalling museum.
A less dramatic but incredibly beautiful walk with some serious gradients can be found on Belle-Ile (45 mins from Quiberon), where actress Sarah Bernhardt bought a house for summer visits. Allow 4/5 days to go right round the very varied coast line, including the pretty port of Sauzon, the ‘Needles’ of Port Coton and many fine beaches.
Other islands for a good day’s walk: Moléne (Atlantic), Ile aux Moines (Gulf of Morbihan, 14kms) and Île Groix (from Lorient, 27kms of coast path)