Brest in Brittany is a port city with a strong military history and is home to Océanopolis, a huge ocean discovery centre that is the only one of its kind in Europe.
An important harbour and military port, Brest has been at the forefront of French Naval history since Cardinal Richelieu's time. Built as a defensive port, the Naval Academy was opened in 1752 and in the Napoleonic era it was used to build warships to fight against the English. Still an important military port today, a nuclear submarine base was opened at Ile Longue in 1972. During WW2 it became a German U-boat base and the Allied bombings against the base resulted in 90 % of the city centre being destroyed. Rebuilt in the years after the war, Brest has since become an important centre for sea research and a thriving university town. It is perhaps most famous for its sea festival, Les Tonneres de Brest, that happens every 4 years. The next festival is due in 2016. A festival for seafarers and enthuasiasts, Les Tonneres de Brest showcases a huge selection of boats from rowing boats to three mast tall ships. Traditional sailing ships sail beside modern research vessels, a varied mixture of maritime cultures with sea shanties on the harbour mingling with demonstrations of innovative new technologies.
Brest's other call to fame is Océanopolis, a stunning ocean discovery centre with 4 pavilions filled with aquariums - the Tropical, Polar, Temperate and Biodiversity pavilions. A spectacular adventure into the underwater world, you can plunge into the depths of the shark tank in a panoramic elevator, visit the penguin colony, watch the deep-sea creatures inside the abyssbox, a tank kept at the underwater pressure of 18,000 to 20,000 below the sea. An absolutely fantastic day out! Discover more about Brest and the history of seafaring in France at the National Navy Museum inside the Château de Brest and the Brest History Museum at the Tour Tanguy. Located on a roadstead, the area around Brest has many beautiful landscapes including the Penfeld river, the fjord-like Pays des Abers, and the Monts d'Aree, Finistère's rocky 'spine'. In the city itself, why not take a walk around the National Botanical Conservatory Garden, which, in assocation with Kew Gardens, contains the world's largest collection of endangered plants with 4,000 plant species, 1,700 of which are endangered? The city also has the 48 hectare Keroul Wood which has lakes, large grassy areas, playgrounds and paths for walkers and joggers as well as a château, formal gardens and an old mill.
Brest has a lot to offer those who love shopping with designer fashions and large department stores as well as wine cellars, delicatessens and several great markets selling everything from cheeses, meats and fruit and vegetables to crafts and antiques. Don't miss out on trying some of the excellent seafood, caught locally, as well as the traditional Breton crêpes and cidre.