The sky is overcast and the wind is blowing at the tip of Arcouest. A very short crossing later and we’re in another world, in Technicolor: pink granite rocks sculpted by the tide dot the turquoise water, blue agapanthus covers entire fields, umbrella pines bend over to lick the sea… it looks like the South. And yet we’re off the Bay of Saint Brieuc, on the Bréhat archipelago.
Between authenticity and whispered isolation, this island in Brittany attracts aesthetes.
But Bréhat has the misfortune of being close to the mainland. It takes just ten minutes to cross the Ferlas channel and reach the island, one of the most visited in Brittany. The Port Clos slipway is a hive of activity. Pensioners push their carts filled with provisions bought on the mainland, and a small train towed by a tractor waits for tourists to climb the cobbled path leading to the village. As for the regulars, they pull their cariole (the pedestrian island has to be earned) to reach their homes, often located in the north.
And the shuttles run every 30 minutes at the height of the season! This excessive tourist pressure is unsatisfactory for both visitors and local residents, who are fighting to regulate the area. Small, bucolic, car-free roads can suddenly lose their charm, crowded with pedestrians and bicycles. BUT…
… if you go off the beaten track or wait until evening and are lucky enough to be able to stay on the island for a few days, then the magic happens almost instantly.
It’s at dusk, between 6pm and 8pm, when the speedboats come to an end, that you can take full advantage of the Olympian calm of this charming little island. The effect is striking as soon as the last shuttle leaves. It’s also the best time to visit the island’s highlights.
With a divine, sublime light that envelops the landscape in such softness, you feel as if the island belongs to you. Notoriously, it’s also from this hour onwards, when the silhouettes become sparse, that every person you meet on the island will greet you as if you were now part of the community of privileged residents. Here, the art of living is cultivated discreetly. And we’re pleased about that.
3.5 km long and no more than 1.5 km wide, Bréhat is actually made up of two main islands, linked by a small Vauban bridge. The southern island is the most flowery, while the northern island is wilder, with its moorland relief. To speak of an island might be a misnomer, as it is in fact a multitude of islets and rocks, a bewitching archipelago made up of 86 neighboring islets and reefs. By dint of their “stone-pushing” skills, local sailors have become formidable maneuverers.
If we have one piece of advice for visiting the island, it’s to get lost. Endlessly.
To conquer wild Bréhat, you have to love walking, climbing, pedaling uphill, navigating through rocky terrain and gardening. Straddle your bike and take all the little paths alongside the main trails, and you’ll always find a nice surprise and quiet spots to spend a few hours.
The north of the island is rather wild, with endless moorland and rocky outcrops, with the Peacock lighthouse at the far end of the island, facing the immensity of the sea.
To the south, the island forms a small, typical village with picturesque lanes; this is where you disembark, at the foot of the first shops, restaurants, crêperies and … bike hire companies of course. With just 380 year-round residents and those lucky enough to own property here, everyone knows everyone else. Each house is designated by the name of the lineage whose births it sheltered. The Le Boulaire family, the Prigent family, the Petibon family, the Mével family, the Bocher family, the André family…
You never arrive at Bréhat by chance, and like an incredible impressionist painting, the landscapes of the island of Bréhat have won over many artists and intellectuals (Paul Gauguin, Marc Chagall, Bernard Buffet, Pierre Loti, dEmil Cioran, the Goncourt brothers…).
Bréhat offers its visitors an (almost too) perfect picture. Brittany’s, like a concentrate of the region’s finest.
3.5 km long by 1.5 km wide
Where is Bréhat? In France, in the Côtes-d’Armor department, north of Brittany and the tip of the Arcouest , near the town of Paimpol, off the coast of Ploubazlanec.
How to get to Bréhat From Paris, it’s quite convenient and smooth. 4 hours by train to Paimpol, then a 30-minute shuttle (bus line 24) from the station to the L’Arcouest port of embarkation in Ploubazlanec. The “Sur Mer Bréhat” and “Les vedettes de Bréhat” companies provide 10-minute access to the island via a shuttle that crosses the Ferlas channel all year round.
How to get around the island? On foot, by bike or… by tractor with “Le petit train de l’île de Bréhat” (information on 06 86 77 85 46 or email@example.com). It’s handy to reserve a seat on the little train when you arrive with your luggage. Most bike rental companies are located at the landing stage on the south side of Bréhat Island, and all charge similar rates. You can expect to pay around €15 a day for a mountain bike, and €30 a day for an electric bike. With a map of the island in hand, it’s possible to circumnavigate it in a day, or in two days if you want to take your time and see most of its points of interest.
Where to sleep and eat?
Few accommodations are available on Bréhat. Given the island’s popularity, most hotels are booked up very quickly during the high season. If you want to stay on the island, you’ll need to book early. The hotel Men Joliguet, with its sunny terrace, is just a stone’s throw from the pier and offers comfortable rooms, surrounded by a garden typical of the island, full of flowers and with a sunny terrace. All 5 bedrooms are en suite. Some even have a fireplace.
Some seasonal rentals are also available via the usual platforms. See also the official website of the Bréhat Island tourist office. We recommend the Corderie area for its small beach, its calm and its central position, which means you can go either south or north, depending on your mood.
There is also a municipal campsite on the island. It is located on the south-western tip of Bréhat, near the glassworks. All information and rates for the Bréhat campsite are available on the Bréhat Island Town Hall website.
Most of the restaurants on the island of Bréhat are located in the village of Bréhat, or on the road leading from Port-Clos to the village of Bréhat. There are also a number of restaurants on the island, notably on the Guerzido beach and on the north island, next to the Saint-Riom chapel. We particularly recommend Le Crech Kerio, just outside the village, for its terrace, delicious food and friendly service.
If you want to shop on the island, you’ll find a grocery store with excellent products, a market, a bakery and a mini-market in the village. The Kervillon farm, located on the north island, also sells organic fruit and vegetables and makes sourdough bread.
Please note: there are no ATMs on the island.
The book to pack in your suitcase? Fishermen of Iceland by Pierre Loti
The song to include in your playlist? Orenlla Vanoni’sappuntamento
And especially where to drink your Spritz? At La Potinière on the Guerzido beach. In the evening, the beach empties out and you can enjoy a few mussels and French fries with a glass of wine while admiring the postcard-perfect sunset.
If I had known, …
I’d have got into the local rhythm with a well-oiled schedule. Early in the morning, I’d head off to the village to do my grocery shopping and then to the market. Afterwards, we’d pop into the Allegoat bistro for a drink with the regulars. Then we’d go back to our house or a boat for lunch, laze around all afternoon and only come out again at around 7pm for an aperitif. We’ve had worse programs… :-)
I would have waited until the end of the day to go for a swim on the island’s only beach, the Guerzido beach, in the arc of a circle, lined with pink sand and surrounded by granite rocks, located at its southernmost point. And then, of course, there are the Spritzs right after (or during, for that matter).
I’d have straddled my bike a little before sunset, bottles and glasses safely wedged in my basket, heading for the Birdo mill (an ancient 17th-century tidal mill) which, crowded during the day, offers an exceptional viewpoint in the early evening.