Brittany has a very varied landscape and there are many choices of terrain for walking, so considering your location is an important step in organising a walking holiday here. The question of access is also important if you want to keep driving or use of public transport to a minimum.
Coming without a car
If you want to come without a car, then both Roscoff and St-Malo ferry ports will give you good walking from the terminals.
The new Saints' Shore Way guidebook (March 2013) gives a 133km route from Roscoff to Lannion via the coastal path, passing historic towns and much spectacular scenery. Return by train to Roscoff. St-Malo gives you access to the Rance estuary towpaths as well as an interesting stretch of coast eastwards via the strange rock sculptures of Rothneuf to the oyster capital of Cancale and the Bay of Mont-St-Michel.
Choosing an area
This depends on the type of terrain you enjoy walking. Brittany offers a great variety of landscapes and within a couple of hours by car you can alternate between moors, forests and the coast, but it’s sensible to choose a base in an area where good options for shorter and longer walks are available. You may also need to rely on public transport to return from linear walks, which makes some places more obvious choices than others.
If you like forest and country walking, with the high hills and moors nearby, then Huelgoat would be a good base. Only 45 minutes from Roscoff ferry, it will provide a few days of walking: you can add on the wild moors of the Monts d’Arrée with a short car journey or taxi ride. Many circular walks are well-signed in both these places. The forest of Brocéliande, north-west of Rennes, with all its Arthurian legends, has a fine range of circular and long-distance routes, but you will not be able to rely on public transport to join up the dots. A good bus service to Rennes itself operates.
If coastal walking is your aim, you are more likely to be following a linear route and then needing to return to your car or accommodation by public transport. An area like the Pink Granite coast has a bus service to help with this, and once you get away from the 3km famous bit, there will not be too many people. The coast from St-Brieuc up to Paimpol via the cliffs of Plouha is a sensational walk, and there are bus routes which can help with getting back at the end of the day.
The most spectacular coastal walking in Brittany is the Crozon peninsula on the Atlantic edge and here buses will not help, but either your accommodation provider or the reliable local taxis will for a very reasonable price. Don’t imagine it will be too difficult – people are used to walkers’ requirements.
The Nantes-Brest Canal across the centre of Brittany has a continuous towpath along its 365kms. The coast provides more than 1500kms of walking, with footpath GR34 covering the whole distance, mostly near the shore. The Green Ways, using old railway tracks and canal towpaths, make up many hundreds of kilometres to walk or cycle. Red Dog Books has walking guides to all these options. www.reddogbooks.com
There is a good range of accommodation in most areas, but if you are walking the coast or the Nantes-Best Canal you will need to book in advance as places are limited and many are closed out of May-September. B&B and gites advertised on this website (see Accommodation) are all owned by people who know about walkers’ needs and can offer advice and help. It is very important when booking any type of accommodation to check that what you need is on offer. Can they provide packed lunches? What about luggage transportation if you are walking a linear route – will they do it themselves or make arrangements for you with a local taxi firm? Don’t forget to check the price for any extra services.
Local transport varies from area to area. In general terms much of the coast has a reasonable service in summer, and some places all year round, whilst the interior is less well served. Trains can be useful, both the TGV and local TER services. If you took a week walking from Roscoff to Brest via the coast, you could then get an express train back to Morlaix and branch-line up to Roscoff. Taxi firms are easy to find (they do most of the hospital service work in Brittany) and usually reasonable in price and obliging. Brittany Walks advice is to use a car, bus, train or taxi in the morning to get to your furthest point and then take your time during the day to walk back. The other way round puts you under pressure to reach a certain point at a certain time.
Each department has its own bus system: Finistere – www.viaoo29.fr, Cotes d’Armor – www.tibus.fr, Ille-et-Vilaine – www.illenoo.fr, Morbihan – www.morbihan.fr. For train services, see www.voyages-sncf.fr and www.ter.fr
What sort of walking do I want? How far can I walk each day?
What sortof accommodation is there? Can I carry my own stuff?
How will I get lunches and water if I’m off the beaten track?
How will I get back from a linear walk?