Brittany’s Treasures in the Tidal Waters

Brittany’s Treasures in the Tidal Waters

After our visit to the island of Bréhat we finally began to understand, that to see extraordinary sights in Brittany, you don’t have to travel far. You can find yourself in amazing places just by getting lost in the narrow alleys of your “home town”, but if that’s not quite enough, find a camera symbol on Google Maps, that marks an interesting viewpoint, and go check it out. That’s what we decided to do one morning, having already visited some of the more popular touristic sights of our area. We got in the car and headed for the northern tip of Brittany again. We chose to visit a peninsula north of Plougrescant and a small town called Tréguier, a little further west from Ile de Bréhat.

On the eastern side of the peninsula, there is a tidal beach, called Pors Hir – with an oyster farm – and on the western side a nature reserve “le gouffre”.

On the edge of the Pors Hir beach there’s a pretty row of old fishermen’s houses. The characteristic boulders, much bigger than the houses, look as if they have been scattered along the shore by some ancient giants. It was nearly full moon, and in the tidal calendar that means the high tide is at its highest, and correspondingly, the low tide at its lowest. We were there at the time of low tide, and so the beach was like an endless, rocky desert, stretching out for miles. But as we walked further, we saw how this desert was full of life. There were shells and seaweed everywhere, and tiny baby fish in the pools of water.

We followed the tracks of some large machine, and ended up in the great oyster fields. It’s a vast area of long rows of oyster beds, where the mollusks live in mesh bags. Further afield, some workers were sorting or harvesting the oysters. To get an idea of the size of the area, click the picture below!

You can see oyster fields in marine charts all over the coastline. They tend to be in areas that dry out during low tide, which makes it easier to harvest this famous delicacy of Brittany. These Paimpol oysters seem to be the best and most sought after, and we have tasted some of them at our local seafood restaurant in Binic, la Cabane à Crabes. They are really good, if you like the taste – the sea at its purest and best!

Travel expands your horizons, like they say. Until now, I had never spared a single thought on aquaculture, but now I know that oysters were already farmed by the ancient Romans! The industry in France has relied on oyster farming since the 18th century. Compared to agriculture, its impact on the environment is very benign or even restorative, because the oysters filter water and improve its quality. The purpose of life of an oyster, literally! One oyster can filter between 1 and 4 litres of water per hour, so a large field like this must have a very significant effect. I spent a while pondering, whether or not the oysters enjoy their lives in those mesh bags, but they’re probably not that vagabond by nature. They attach themselves to any fixed surface, and if lucky, get to remain there all their lives, which in the wild can last many decades.

Next, we drove across the peninsula to see a house, that reportedly was built between two great boulders. It turned out to be true, but there were many other wonders besides! A footpath led from the parking lot towards the sea shore. The first thing we saw was indeed the amazing house, la maison entre deux rochers, or Castel Meur. It was built in 1861 in this well sheltered place, on a narrow strip of land between the sea and a large pond. The pond might be connected to the sea during high tide – we never found that out, but saw a silvery fish flashing in the water.

This area of Côtes d’Armor is known for its pink granite, and there’s plenty of it here – high, steep hills and endless rocks and small islands along the coast as far as the eye can see. On a splendid, sunny day like this – it was a truly perfect day! – the sea and the sky seemed to be one, and amazingly blue. Between the hills, there are lunar landscapes of flat plains that turn into small bays during high tide, and further inland, grasslands with scattered boulders like some forest goblins, because they are covered in ivy. Visitors are instructed to walk along marked paths, so as not to disturb the delicate flora and fauna.

On our way homeward we saw this funny bell tower of Chapel Saint-Gonéry in Plougrescant – it’s all crooked!

Then we stopped at the small town of Tréguier for a late lunch or early dinner. In France you can count on the restaurants being closed from 2 pm to 7 pm, but we were lucky to find one exception. 

Tréguier proved to be another old and pretty Breton town, with an impressive medieval church in its centre.

After a long day on the road, we needed some home time. But it was la grande marée, and the locals seemed to know something we did not. During low tide they were roaming the nearby beaches in large numbers, dressed in gumboots and armed with all sorts of hooks, spades, baskets and buckets. It was time for some industrial espionage! We sent out a spy to infiltrate the ranks of these hunter-gatherers. She did her job so well, no one suspected her motives, not even when she used Google Translate to ask whether she could have a look inside their baskets!

So, the next day the ladies of our crew set out, duly equipped, in the hopes of catching something. No one, especially the gentlemen of the crew, had high hopes about a seafood dinner, but alas! That’s what we ended up having in our sailboat Aina’s saloon that evening. The coveted Saint-Jacques scallops still remain a mystery to us, but we found plenty of blue mussels. They were mostly found in small heaps at the water’s edge, which at that point must have been more than a mile from the shore. We were so absorbed in the task – a phenomenon not unknown to folks picking berries and mushrooms – we forgot to pay attention to the rising tide. It came in at quite a speed, and filled our boots. No matter, the treasure we had gathered was well worth it!

Cooked with white wine, chili and garlic and served with crunchy baguette, these guaranteed fresh fruits de mer tasted like heaven! Brittany was really offering us its finest treasures – glorious landscapes, unforgettable experiences, and delicious food!

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