LORIENT - the city of five ports
The modern city of Lorient is the industrial side of middle-class Vannes. It has suffered the vicissitudes of history without complaining, from the highs and lows of the French East India Company to the terrible bombings of World War II, which destroyed 85% of the town. Lorient was entirely rebuilt but faces new difficulties now that the naval dockyards, from which it derived a healthy living, have been partially closed and restructured. The fishing port and trading port survive, however, and life continues to revolve around the “five ports”.
Larmor Plage - as its name suggests, this resort is concentrated along its fine sandy beach, with a busy water-sports centre, a favourite for windsurfing and sailing. There are pleasant beach-side cafes for less strenuous activity.
Port Louis - Port-Louis is an ancient fort at the entrance to the Lorient seafront, which was built in the heyday of the French East India Company. The Lohic promenade on the 17th C ramparts offers picturesque views of the little village of Gavres and the boats and dinghies that are beached at low tide. The Grands-Sables beach is a favourite with locals for bathing and water-sports.
Interceltic Festival - Between 1 and 15 August, Celts flock to Lorient from all over the Celtic world for this festival, which brings the whole town to life. There are players of bagpipes and bombards, folk dancers, and performers of all kinds, combining live performances with son et lumiere, fireworks, parades, bagadou competitions, concerts and, of course the famous Breton festou-noz (feast nights), which last far into the evening. It is attended by several hundred thousand people, making it the largest festival of its kind in France and the highlight of the Lorient year. (Information 02 97 21 24 29).
ILE DE GROIX - miraculously preserved
The Isle de Groix lies about 3.25 miles off the coast of Lorient, between sheer cliffs and sandy beaches. The island is known familiarly as the island of greks, the local name for the large coffee pots favours by the islanders, Groix is a land of contrasts. In the early 20th century it was the biggest tuna port in France, but it now relies on its wildlife and scientific heritage, and tourism accounts for much of its income. The giant rocks of Groix, its fields, valleys and scattered hamlets have all remained untouched and unspoiled in rare and precious authenticity.
How to get there - there are between four and eight sailings a day to the island, depending on the season. All are from Lorient with the Compagnie Morbihanaise et Nantaise de Navigation. (02 97 64 77 64). The crossing takes about 45 minutes.
The Grands-Sables Beach - this is one of the finest beaches in Brittany and is the sole example of a convex beach in Europe. You could think that you were on a tropical isle, the water is so clear and the sand so white and fine. That is why this area is such a favourite for scuba-diving. You may be lucky enough to discover a garnet, of which there are deposits on the island. The beach of Sables-Rouges is a red, sandy beach, whose name derives from these stones. It is situated further along towards the Pointe des Chats (cats' point) and is well worth a visit.