...all you need to know about walking in Brittany

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Where can I walk?

Tracks provide the normal walking routes in Brittany. Fields and farming land are privately owned and rarely have rights of way across them. Occasionally communes negotiate concessionary paths to provide local circular walks, but you must stay on the prescribed route in these circumstances.

Generally any rural track, unless marked "propriète privé", is open to walkers, but many are only to provide field access for farmers and will not provide a through route or circular walk. Most of these tracks are still owned by the commune and you will rarely have a problem using them. Walking across fields especially those containing crops or livestock, is not generally expected here, unless there is a clear footpath sign.

Around the coast there will always be a marked route for walking, although sometimes the paths on beaches or along estuaries are covered at high-tide, so be aware of tide times (booklets sold in local newsagents (maison de la presse).

What maps should I use?

The IGN Serie Bleue maps (1:25000 – 1cm = 250m), easily recognised by their blue covers, give detailed coverage of all Brittany. The newest editions have walking circuits marked, although these may not always be so evident on the ground. Many older editions are still around and in need of updating. The maps are available from bookshops, some tourist offices and supermarkets. Their website is www.ign.fr.

Local walking maps from tourist offices vary from very detailed to sketchy, so it's always worth carrying the relevant IGN map too. The walking books recommended on the books page have adequate maps and full written directions. (Note that French walking material tends to be skimpy on written directions…)

Where is the best coastal walking?

If you want to spend a few days walking the coastal path, the most spectacular sections are the Pink Granite coast in Cotes d’Armor for its extraordinary rock formations, or for something wilder and more naturally dramatic, try the Crozon peninsula on the Atlantic coast of Finistere. You will certainly get a greater sense of freedom and fewer fellow-walkers on the latter stretch.

Other suggestions: around Cap Frehel in the north and the Pointe du Van in the west.

Many areas of coastline are unfortunately spoilt by a chain of hideous modern houses built right on the cliff-top: the southern coastline and much of north-west Brittany suffers from this regrettable phenomenon.

Are there good walks taking in megalithic sites?

Forget Carnac, if you want to avoid crowds. Just as impressive and far more accessible are the alignments of St Just in Ille-et-Vilaine (circular walk of 13 or 10kms here given in Walking Brittany by Judy Smith or leaflet from the Mairie).

If you have visited the Carnac site, drive westwards a few kilometres towards Erdeven and you will find yourself among the alignments of Kerzerho. A circular walk of 8kms here, taking in many Neolithic remains, features in the Red Dog Book guide Central Brittany: Coast to Coast.

If you want to make a pagan pilgrimage to the largest standing stone (still upright) in France, there is a marked circuit near St-Renan (north of Brest).

Many of the other lonely menhirs of western Brittany can be seen on routes in Walking and other Activites in Finistere (see books).

What about island walking?

The Ile de Batz, just off Roscoff, is a good choice for a day’s walk. The boat trip is only 15 mins and there is a choice of places to eat on the island. A path circumnavigates the coast, and includes the spot where St-Paul Aurelian, having used his bishop’s stole as a lead, drove the dragon which had been terrorising the island into the sea.

A 16km walk around the Ile d’Arz provides excellent views of the Gulf of Morbihan. Take the boat (frequent ferries) from Conleau (south of Vannes) or Barrarac’h. There are refreshment facilities on the island and you can see the old salt beds (marais salants) and enjoy good swimming beaches.

Other suggestions:

Ile aux Moines (day trip), also in Gulf of Morbihan, but busier than the Ile d’Arz.

Ile de Groix (allow 2 days for coastal path walk). Ferry from Lorient.

Ile de Sein (day trip) – remarkable small island in the Atlantic. Ferry (an hour) from Audierne.

Note: island walking is usually very exposed, so take precautions, whatever the weather.

Is there anywhere quiet to walk in high season?

Avoid the coast and enjoy the many quiet pleasures of inland Brittany. The Argoat of western Côtes d’Armor, the woodland of the Trieux valley and the wild tracks of the Monts d’Arrée in Finistere would be good choices. You do not have to go far from the tourist spots to find yourself alone - at Huelgoat, for example, avoid the famous Chaos and cross the D769 into the peace of the forest around the old mining area.

Walks suitable for children?

Forest trails are often the best choices for family outings as the paths are usually easy (for pushchairs, toddlers’ bikes, etc), fairly level and straight. There is also plenty of shade which can be soothing for the fractious aspects of a hot summer. Streams, caves, rocks and rivers are common features to provide extra pleasures for children. Simple exercise facilities, like bars for swinging and posts for leap-frog are becoming increasingly common on managed forest routes.

Eastern Brittany: Forest of Fougères, Forest of Paimpont (Arthurian legends)

Western Brittany: Huelgoat, Foret de Carnoët

Long-distance walking – where to stay?

When planning long-distance routes you will be able to find youth hostels (Gite d’étape – open to anyone) reasonably spaced along the GR footpaths, and there is now also the development of walker specific accommodation (Rando plume) which can often provide meals as well as beds, kitchen facilities and baggage transport. The hosts will also be knowledgeable about their areas and keen to give advice or help. These establishments are in areas of good walking country as a base for local trails, or to be used as staging posts for linear routes.

Trains link the main cities of Brittany (Brest/Morlaix/Rennes and Quimper/Lorient/Vannes/Nantes).

There are often good local buses, especially in summer, and taxis are not usually too expensive (but ask for quote when booking).

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