Brittany's most beautiful natural areas
Fill your lungs with a breath of fresh sea air and feel the soft grass and impenetrable granite beneath your feet... Brittany is a region rich in dynamic seaside landscapes and windswept rocky hills just waiting to be climbed for tremendous views of the verdant countryside below.
Brittany is home to 3 spectacular natural parks - the Amorique regional natural park from the stunning Monts d'Arree to the coast, the marshlands of the Briere regional natural park and the Parc Marin d'Iroise, France's first marine park just off the coast.
Whether you're looking for dramatic moors and rocky hillsides, or jagged cliffs and coves on the coast, Brittany will have something to offer you. Several islands and archipelagos make for excellent day trips to admire their flora and fauna with some astounding bird populations.
Myths and legends abound in this inspiring region - from the mythical city of Ys, said to be hidden beneath the sea of the coast of Finistere, to the chilling marsh of Yeun-Elez, claimed to be a boggy mouth to hell.
A fascinating region of striking coastal and rural landscapes, why not find your own adventure into the wilds of Brittany? Below are 10 of Brittany's best natural sites - all just waiting to be explored.
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Brittany's 'coast of legends', the Pays d'Aber, is a spectacular set of fjord-like rocky inlets north of Brest. Dotted with charming villages, the people of the Abers made their living by gathering seaweed, the history of which can be found at the ecomusée. Oyster farming is popular at Aber Benoit. Off the coast of Aber Wrac'h lies Île Vierge where the highest lighthouse in Europe stands 270ft high. Boat trips are available to the island and you can climb the 397 steps to the top. Take a walk along the coastal path of this stunning 10 mile stretch of coastline, which forms part of the GR34, with it's great views, pretty chapels and ancient stones. There are plenty of opportunities to get out on the water with several watersports centres offering sailing, diving and kayaking tuition. Or, if you'd rather appreciate the beauty and wildlife of the area on land, wander down to the sandy beaches of St Pabu, a series of sandy dunes recognised for their flora and fauna.
Bay of Mont St Michel
Although the abbey itself is located in Normandy, much of the Bay of Mont St Michel is on the Breton side of the border. Home to some of the world's most extreme tidal variations, the bay has a striking, ever-changing landscape. Be sure to take a tour with an experienced guide who knows the tides as they can come in remarkably quickly. If you feel like being a bit more adventurous, you can go sandyachting across the bay from Cherrieux. Explore the diverse landscape all around with fertile farmlands covered in old windmills, many of which are open to the public; the Banc des Hermelles, a reef built by sandworms; and the bouchots, a forest of wooden posts that are used to cultivate mussels and are visible at low tide. The mussels caught here, moules des Bouchots, have their own AOC status. It is said that forests once extended out into the bay where the bouchots now stand.
Les Sept Iles
7 islands just off the Côte de Granit Rose, Les Sept Iles have often been described as looking like whales lurking out at sea because of their rounded shape. They are home to vast numbers of seabirds including puffins and other birds that are rarely seen in France. Gannets nest here from spring to September whilst guillemots, fulmars, kittiwakes and manx shearwaters are amongst the other bird species that congregate on the island. Boat tours go from Perros-Guirec and Port-Blanc to this amazing bird metropolis which is also home to a small colony of grey seals.
Brittany's largest island, Belle-Île lies just off the coast of Morbihan and is famous for its temperate microclimate and 60 beaches. The Côte Sauvage, or 'wild coast', on the south west of the island is very popular with walkers. Ferries from Vannes, Quiberon and La Turballe dock at the island's main town, La Palais, where the 18th century Citadelle Vauban stands guard. Now a luxury hotel-restaurant, the fort was built by the famous military engineer Vauban in defense against the British. The history of the island and its occupation in the early 1760s by the British can be discovered in the fort's museum. Belle-Île has several fishing villages whilst the marina in Sauzon is now mainly used for pleasure boats. Visitors are also attracted by the island's renowned opera festival, the Festival Lyrique en Mer which takes place every August. The actress Sarah Bernhardt famously bought the fort at Pointe des Poulains in 1894, which now holds a museum of her life and has some great views of the continent.
Bay of Morlaix
Covered in many tiny islets that are one of Brittany's most important ornitholigical reserves, the bay of Morlaix is a great area for catching a glimpse of some seabirds. In winter it is home to 60,000 pairs of seabirds, particularly puffins and terns and boat trips are available out to the islets in summer. You can also visit the Île Callot, an idyllic island less than 2 miles long that is home to just 9 families and is covered in pretty coves. There is also some great architecture around the bay with the Château du Taureau, built in 1544 to defend the coast against the English and the Cairn of Barnenez at Carantec. Europe's oldest megalithic mausoleum, the Cairn of Barnenez dates from 4,500 BC and is covered in engraved symbols such as wavy lines, axes and bows. A mystical place, the cairn has several burial chambers and was once covered in earth although it has been uncovered by modern quarrying. Restored in the 1950s and 1960s, objects including some Neolithic pottery, axes and arrowheads, found during its excavations can be seen in the vistor's centre.
Gulf of Morbihan
Not far from Vannes in south Brittany is this remarkable inland sea with 42 islands, many of which are owned by celebrities.The 2 largest islands, Île aux Moines and Île d'Arz are popular tourist destinations in summer for good reason. The cross-shaped Moines has spectacular walks along its 4 mile coastline whilst Arz has some lovely creeks and coves that are perfect for a dip in the warm waters of the gulf. You can take boat trips all around the gulf from Vannes, whilst trips also go from Larmor-Baden to the island of Gavrinis where a long, ancient stone passageway adorned with carvings is possibly Brittany's most impressive megalithic site. More megaliths can be found in the area, particularly at Locmariaquer where Le Grand Menhir, now split into 4 pieces on the ground, is the largest menhir ever erected in Europe. The Table des Marchands, a stone burial chamber covered in engravings, and Er Grach, a 500m long tumulus, can also be found nearby.
Île de Batz
Just a 15 minute boat ride from Roscoff, the pretty Île de Batz makes for a perfect day trip. With 600 inhabitants, mainly fisherman and farmers producing cauliflowers and potatoes, the island is a peaceful, car-free respite from modern life. Unspoilt beaches like Grève Blanche with its white sands and clear waters, and the exotic garden containing over 2,000 plant species from across 5 continents are just some of the beautiful sights on offer here. Cycle around the island, which is just 2.2 miles by 0.9 miles, and visit the Bronze Age burial site, the 19th century lighthouse with a 360 degree view of the island and coast, and the Trou de Serpent rock formation where St Pol legendarily cast a dragon into the sea.
Cap de la Chèvre
A breathtaking headland on the Crozon Peninsula, the Cap de la Chèvre is just south of Brest in the Amorique Regional Natural Park. A wild and windswept rocky outcrop covered in heath, heather and some rare small blue flowers called crozonnaise that are unique to this spot, the Cap de la Chèvre has a distinct savage beauty. At the mineral museum, the Maison des Minéraux, you can find out all about how the peninsula was formed and about the rare flora and fauna of the site. The area has a strong military history with an 18th century gun battery and 19th century barracks at Morgat. Crossed by 25 miles of marked trails, the headland is easy to explore on foot, by bicycle, on horseback, or even accompanied by a donkey. See the Cap from the sea by taking a boat trip or go kayaking around the pretty coves. The waters are out of bounds for swimmers due to the strong Atlantic currents but it is one of the best places in France for surfing.
Known as Finistère's spine, the Monts d'Arree have some of the best views in Brittany. Located inside the Armorique Regional Natural Park, the monts separate the north and south of the Finistère department. A forbidding, yet romantic, place where only bracken and heather grow, the Monts d'Arree have a grandeur that is all their own and distinctly Breton. Experience sensational views from the top of Roc Trévelez that stands 384ft high and the Montagne St Michel, an extraordinary rounded hill topped by a 17th century chapel that is battered by the winds. The area below is criss-crossed by paths for walkers and riders amongst the unspoilt villages, beautiful churches and museums about traditional life. You will also find the eerie Marsh of Yeun-Elez, which is said to be a boggy entrance to hell.
Pointe du Raz
Brittany's own Land's End, Pointe du Raz is the furthermost tip of the region and has its own stark beauty. Wander along the breathtaking cliff-top walks through the gorse and heather and discover the awe-inspiring views that enchanted Gustave Flaubert and Victor Hugo. The Baie des Trespasses, 'the bay of the dead' is just north of the pointe and is so named because of the number of shipwrecked bodies that the strong currents, some of the strongest in Europe, used to wash up here in the past. Today however, it is a scenic spot with rolling green meadows that descend to a sandy beach popular with surfers. Legend has it that the mythical city of Ys is buried beneath the sea in this bay. From nearby Audierne, a popular seaside resort with a sheltered beach that still also operates as a working fishing port catching prawns and crayfish in particular, you can take a boat trip in the summer to the pretty Île de Sein, a small island inhabited by fishermen.