Brittany’s coastline stretches to more than 1200kms from Mont St-Michel (just into Normandy) to the Loire, and it provides all one could possibly want in terms of walking and sight-seeing. The north and west coasts are the best areas to focus on, being more remarkable and with greater expanses of wilderness than the flatter and more built-up southern shore. Estuaries such as the Aber Wrac’h, Aber Ildut and that of the Trieux river offer more sheltered and often gentler paths.
High stark cliffs, low headlands, dunes, sandy beaches, rocky coves, wood-lined estuaries, marshes and natural harbours all combine to provide an endless variety of terrain and view-points. Geological interest abounds from the coloured granites of the north to volcanic pillow lavas at Lostmarc’h and L’Aber on the Crozon peninsula. There are numerous opportunities to study flora and fauna, with many natural reserves and centres of interpretation where ecology and environmental issues are presented. Try the Maison du Littoral on Pink Granite coast, the Maison des Dunes at Keremma and the Maison de la Baie d’Audierne north of Penmarc’h.
If you are interested in bird-life, head for the ornithological reserves of Cap-Sizun near the Pointe du Raz or the Baie of Goulven on the northern coast where spoon-bills winter. By the Maison de la Baie d’Audierne there is an observation tower above the marshes of Pays Bigouden. A boat trip to the Sept-Iles from Perros Guirec or the little island of Molène in the Atlantic will also be rewarded by numerous sightings.
Man’s impact on the landscape of the coast is revealed in many structures such as lighthouses (that on the Ile Vierge is the highest in Europe), semaphore stations, daymarks, forts, look-out posts, customs officers’ shelters and WWII fortifications. There are also many coastal chapels and abbeys, reflecting the early arrivals of religious men from Britain in the 5th and 6th centuries. Legends abound of saints arriving in their stone boats or driving demons over the cliffs, as St-Pol did on the Ile de Batz.
The series of forts masterminded by Vauban, Louis XIV’s Chief Engineer, to protect the vital harbour of Brest is well worth seeing on a day’s walk from Pointe St-Mathieu to the city itself. This route also passes the U-boat station in Brest and its medieval chateau, which contains a good maritime museum.
For another wide-ranging historical walk, follow the coastal path from St Malo with its walled city (restored after WWII) and maritime traditions westwards via Alet once the capital of the Celtic Coriosolites tribe, and now with a museum about the site in a German blockhaus created within an 18th century fort. In the summer season you can then cross the Rance estuary by ferry to enjoy the 19th century resort of Dinard.
Islands are also excellent places for walking, given that most are fairly flat and stunning views are all around. The Ile de Batz near Roscoff (15 minute boat trip) is perfect for a day out, allowing time to go right round and to visit the famous gardens with plants from all around the world. In the Gulf of Morbihan, a 16km circuit of the Ile d’Arz provides fine views of this island-studded inland sea, plenty of swimming opportunities and historic interest with the marais salants from the days of a flourishing salt industry.
The most spectacular scenery of all is on the Atlantic coast, with the Crozon peninsula and Cap Sizun offering the thrill of high cliffs, dramatic seas and many interesting historical relics from the Neolithic age to the Atlantic Wall defences of WWII. Paths here are demanding with steep descents to coves and ascents over towering headlands, but the reward is an as unspoilt a landscape and as vivid a seascape as one could wish.
North coast – St-Malo, Cap Frehel, Pink Granite Coast – Sentier Douaniers, Pointe du Primel – Loquierec, Dunes of Keremma, Aber Wrac’h and Aber Benoit
West coast – Pointe du Corsen (westernmost point of France), Camaret to Cap de la Chevre on the Croizon peninsula, Cap Sizun (Pointe du Van & Pointe du Raz), Baie d’Audierne
South coast : Odet estaury, Laitia estuary to Quimperlé, Belon estuary, Gulf of Morbihan
Islands : Batz, Ouessant, Sein, Groix, Belle-Isle
©Wendy Mewes / brittanywalks.com