QUIBERON and its peninsula - an authentic wild coast
Quiberon is a world apart, which is hardly surprising since it was once an island and is linked to the mainland only by a string of dunes called tombolo. Lovers of solitude and sightseers alike can lose themselves walking along the Cote Sauvage (wild coast), while the other side of the island offers an intimate, yet ever-growing, seaside resort, providing all the usual attractions and every type of water-sport.
CARNAC - necropolis or temple of the sun
With its beautifully sheltered beaches, particularly mild climate, stylish villas and seaside pines, Carnac is a foretaste of paradise for many summer holiday-makers. But this summer resort, which is divided between the town and the beach and is one of the most elegant in Brittany, is even better known for its alignments of world-famous menhirs. In addition to its flourishing tourist industry, Carnac is also farming country, so it gains income from both sources and ensures that the landscape is well looked after.
The alignments - the lines of stones rise up from the moorland and scrub over a distance of about 2.5miles. There are three main henges and they are now protected by wire fencing. The Kerlescan, the smallest, consists of 240 standing menhirs. There is an observation post at the Kermario, from which the 982 standing stones can be admired. Like Stonehenge, all three are oriented precisely towards the sunrise at the summer solstice or the equinoxes.
La Trinite sur Mer is the former port of Carnac and it has become world-famous as the yachting port of the champions. This is where Eric Tabarly and his successors experienced their moments of glory before they collected prizes around the world. The Trinite marina has berths for over 1,000 yachts and is always full. Races, regattas and parades of tall ships are held throughout the year, so it is not surprising that in season there is a major sale of maritime objects, new and old, scientific instruments, model ships, furniture and navigational aids.
LOCMARIAQUER - port of the Cote of Morbihan
This important historical site, which contains the most impressive menhirs and dolmens of the region, is also a charming village, which faces Port-Navalo and controls the entrance to the Cote of Morbihan. The number of inhabitants of this little seaside resort, which out of season is mainly inhabited by farmers, market gardeners and oyster-farmers, grows tenfold in the summer. It is now at such a point that tourism is tending to take over from traditional local occupations.
The Kerpenhir Headland - if you follow the shoreline, you will reach the Pointe de Kerpenhir at the other end of the Cote of Morbihan. The granite statue of Notre-Dame-de-Kerdro was erected to protect sailors. From the narrows, there is a wonderful view of the Cote waters mixing with those of the Atlantic Ocean. From the Pointe de Kerpenhire to the mouth of the river Crac'h there is a succession of lovely sandy beaches, which are popular with water-sports enthusiasts and bathers.
AURAY - from river to sea
Auray is an ancient town built on the steep-sided estuary of the Loch, which at this point, is called the River Auray. It was the home of Georges Cadoudal (1771-1804), one of the leaders of the Chouans, the anti-Revolutionary movement. Auray's old town is intact, and its little harbour is miraculously preserved. It lives mainly on income from tourism ad a flourishing retail trade, but it is also an important centre for small traders and craftsmen.
Etel and its river - this large fishing village lies on an inlet and is very quiet except during the tourist season. The surrounding landscape is wild and magnificent, and Etel is famous for the Etel sandbar, a long and dangerous reef that partially blocks the mouth of the river. The river Etel is only about 9 miles from Auray. It is a lovely place to visit, and the marshes are home to rare birds and the charming bankside village of Saint-Cado. An enchanting trip in a motorboat lasts about 1.5 hours (02 97 55 23 80).
Cote OF MORBIHAN - Brittany's “little sea”
Exploring the Cote - there are several ways of seeing the Cote. The simplest is to take a Vedettes Navix motorboat from Auray, Vannes, Locmariaquer or Port-Navalo (02 97 46 60 00). These boats sail around the Cote and will stop at either the Ile d'Arz or the Ile aux Moines. Alternatively, you can hire a private motorboat or a sailing dinghy (beware of the oyster-beds and the currents!) or hire a yacht with its own skipper. The ultimate experience is to fly over the Cote in a light aircraft (Aeroclub de Vannes-Meucon - 02 97 60 73 08).
Il aux Moines and Ile d'Arz – the two largest islands in the Cote are very different from each other. The Ile aux Moines contains pretty villas and is covered with sub-tropical vegetation - camelias, mimosas, orange trees - and woodlands with poetic sounding names, while the Ile d'Arz seems barren and unwelcoming at first signt. Both islands have fishing villages with quaint cottages and lanes, several megaliths and pleasant beaches from which to paddle or swim. The Ile aux Moines (monk's island) is the larger and is easily accessible as there are sailings every 15 minutes in season from Port-Blanc. The Ile d'Arz is linked to the mainland by ferry from Conleau.
VANNES - almost on the sea
Vannes is a city of shops and tourism, with hundreds of retail outlets and an old town that looks like an open-air museum. In recent years Vannes has experienced a revival, thanks to the many small and medium-sized business that have opened up here. Its trump cards, however, are its old buildings which are particularly well preserved, its proximity to the sea and the Cote of Morbihan, and its strategic position on a coastline rich in historic and natural heritage.
A stroll through the old town - the walled city of Vannes is easily comparable to the other Breton cities with a rich medieval history such as Vitre and Dinan. Wander down the cobbled streets, discovering crossroads at which there is a 15th C half-timbered house or an 18th C mansion. The main market is held in the Place des Lices every Wednesday and Saturday. From here, a maze of streets will eventually lead you to the Place Valencia or the Place Saint-Pierre, in front of the cathedral, which is a particularly delightful part of the town.
RHUYS PENINSULA - enclosing the Cote of Morbihan
The Rhuys peninsula, which encloses the Cote of Morbihan to the south, has two very different characters. On one side there are marshes and bays populated by the flora and fauna that are typical of the Cote, and on the other there are the wave-lashed, windswept beaches and cliffs, which benefit from their southern aspect and have an extraordinary mild microclimate. In winter the peninsula is peaceful, interrupted only by the oyster-farming, but in summer the crowds are beginning to invade the Rhuys peninsula from Quiberon, disturbing its tranquillity.
Rambles on the peninsula - there are 50 miles of signposted paths around the peninsula, which leave hikers and ramblers with almost too many routes to choose from. On the Cote side (leaving from Saint-Armel, at the entrance to the peninsula) walking is the best way of getting to see the thousands of migratory birds that overwinter in the marshes. Another route leads to the Chateau de Kerlevenan, a rather stange, Italianate building built out in the fields in the late 18th C. Maps and information are available from the tours office, Place des Trinitaires, Sarzeau (02 97 41 83 37).
Saint-Gildas-de-Rhuys - The Plage de Kervert is an extension of the Plage de Fogeo in the direction of Saint-Gildas. It is largely unspoiled and is edged with dunes planted with marram grass. This idyllic area is now a naturist beach, but the prospect of all this nudity should not deter you from visit the village of Sain-Gildas. It is the religious centre of the peninsula due to its famous abbey, which was founded in 530 by St Gildas. The theologian Peter Abelard stayed in the 1130s and wrote letters to Heloise from here.