When you think of Brittany, what do you picture in your mind? Wide, sandy beaches and wild, rocky coastline? Tiny harbours and the the gliding sails of little boats on the horizon? White cottages with blue paintwork against a blue sky? Galettes, cider and steaming piles of delicious moules frites?
Most of these things can be found all over Brittany, but if it's the picture-postcard images that you're looking for, the best place is without a doubt the department of
Finistère in the far west of the region. And that is where, armed with swimming suits, towels, and very few plans, Understanding Frenchman and I went for this year's Breton holiday.
We stayed in the Locronan, a little village officially described as a
"petit cité de charme", and it was indeed charming.
On the way we visited the old walled city of Concarneau and, walking along the coast in a nearby nature reserve, finally saw the beautiful turquoise sea that features in so many photographs of la Bretagne but can be quite elusive in reality.
On our first full day, we visited the Pointe du Raz, the most western point on mainland France. Declining to pay 6 euros for the car park, we parked near a little harbour in the village of Plogoff and walked for about an hour around the coast to reach the point, which seemed like a much nicer way of arriving. We thought it might be heaving with tourists, but in fact it was quite calm.
After the Pointe du Raz we spent a wonderful afternoon playing in the waves at the Baie des Trépassés, a beautiful beach just to the north-east of the point. The water was cold, but so clear and inviting-looking that it didn't take us long to dive in and start enjoying the surf. After that, we made our way back to Locronan along the country roads of Cap Sizun, stopping to admire the cliffs and windmills on the way.
There's weekly nocturnal market in Locronan on Thursday evenings in the summer, but after a quick look around the stalls, we realised it was going to be difficult to find somewhere to eat that evening, as everywhere was booked up, so we drove down to the harbour town of Douarnenez. It was pretty, but much less touristy and more of a working port than some of the other places we visited, and it took us a while to find the street with all the restaurants in it. Trip Advisor gave us a good tip, though, and we had dinner at the Crêperie Tout le Monde, where everything was delicious but the best speciality was the Breizh Twixx, a buckwheat pancake filled with salted butter caramel and covered in chocolate sauce.
We were a bit pessimistic about our last day in Finistère because the weather forecast was terrible and we woke up to grey skies and rain. We abandoned our plans to go to the Crozon peninsula, and instead decided to drive back east along the coast, stopping off at the Pointe de la Torche and the village of Penmarc'h on the way. In fact, we were lucky and the rain stopped just as we arrived at the Pointe de la Torche. Even in good weather, the vast beach at La Torche is better known for surfing than swimming, as the strong currents mean that the sea is quite dangerous if you don't know what you're doing. We spent an hour or so strolling along the sands and admiring any of the surfers who actually managed to stay upright on their boards.
On the way back, we stopped off in Vannes to visit one of UFM's relatives. Vannes is a beautiful little city, but on a day in August that wasn't very great for going to the beach, it was absolutely heaving, and in addition, there was a braderie, where all the town centre shops were selling discounted items on stalls in the streets, so you couldn't really move for people. We went up to the ramparts and strolled past the port, then attempted to leave despite the traffic jams which stretched from one roundabout to the next, creating absolute gridlock. We can always go back sometime in the depths of winter to explore the rest!