Ile de Bréhat – Brittany’s Island Paradise

Ile de Bréhat – Brittany’s Island Paradise

When our friends came to visit us from Finland, it was time to shake off the winter slumber and get to know our surroundings for real. Of course, we had completed a few boat projects every now and then, and taken our folding bikes on dozens of tours around the neighbouring villages and countryside – not to mention spending those socially packed weeks in Finland at the darkest time of the year. Still, life in our winter base had been pretty quiet compared to the fireworks of these couple of weeks that the four of us toured around Brittany! I wrote previously about our visits to Mont-Saint-Michel and the city of Dinan, and now the journey continues!

We planned to tickle our boat, Aina, out of her cosy hibernation mode, and spend a day or three sailing with our friends, weather permitting. We had chosen the island of Bréhat, at the northernmost tip of Brittany, as one of possibly interesting spots to explore by boat. There are a couple of places near the island where you can anchor in settled weather. Unfortunately, a fishing net wrapped around our prop didn’t agree with the plan, and we couldn’t get a diver to help us out, until our friends were back at their home ranch in Finland. But we had a rental car at our disposal, so we decided to visit Bréhat by car and ferry instead.

Before the island tour we went to see a Celtic whiskey distillery called Glann ar Mor, situated at the tip of the Pleubian peninsula. But the distilling process turned out to be a top secret, so we had to settle for a nice whiskey tasting instead, and left the place a couple of bottles heavier. That wasn’t too bad! They make an excellent gin, too, by the way.

Next, weigh the anchor! We boarded a ferry at the harbour of l’Arcouest, and only travelled about a mile before reaching Ile de Bréhat. It’s one of the most popular places to visit in Brittany, and turned out to be a real paradise of an island. The time of our visit, mid March, is still fairly early spring, so we can only imagine the floral splendour of summer. 

The island’s climate is very mild due to the Gulf Stream, so you can find palm trees, figs, hydrangea and other plants here that normally grow much further south. In March, the apple and cherry trees, daffodils and tulips were in full bloom. No matter how cold your core, this kind of overwhelming beauty will melt it for sure!

Bréhat is actually a small group of islands. The main island consists of two halves, connected by a bridge, and around them there are several smaller islands, islets and rocks. The southern part between the harbour and the island’s main village, le Bourg, is densely populated, but the further north you go, the more arid and rocky the landscape becomes. At the northern end there are two lighthouses. We only had a day to explore, so we decided not to venture that far, and had a long, winding, leisurely walk along the southern roads and footpaths.

These winding alleys make you want to get lost! Click the thumbnails to see bigger pictures.

300 people live on the island, and multiple times more during the summer. The old houses are popular as holiday homes – and who wouldn’t like to spend a holiday in a place like this! It’s one of those places where your imagination runs wild. The small stone houses with their cute window shutters, the endlessly winding alleys surrounded by stone walls, the tiny fields and little gardens are straight from a children’s story book!

The sea creates a very distinctive landscape around the islands – or the tides, to be precise, because they make the place look different every moment. We walked around during low tide, and saw boat scattered along the bottom, on dry land. A few hours later, as we were leaving with the last ferry, the water had already risen, rocky formations disappeared underwater, and the boats were afloat again. The tides will probably always remain a novelty to me!

In the old times, though, life on Bréhat was not all sunshine and flowers. It’s a harsh environment, so the crops of wheat, buckwheat, barley and vegetables were never abundant. Fortunately there was fish in the sea. Most houses kept a cow or two, a few pigs, sheep and goats, that mostly roamed free on the islands. Piracy was a lucrative business for a number of people! Many ships were lured into the rocky shallows, and the corsaires pocketed their cargoes of sugar, cocoa, spices and other treasures. Today the descendants of pirates have their own association, founded to keep alive the memory of this notorious period in local history.

The tide mill Birlot was built in 1633-38, and it kept grinding flour devotedly for the next 300 years. In the 1920’s a baker settled on the island, and started importing flour from the mainland. The boulanger bread became so popular, it was no longer worthwhile grinding your own flour. Poor Birlot was forgotten and fell into decay, until in the 1990’s it was restored and turned into a museum, where you can even see it in operation. The working hours of the miller in this place were, not surprisingly, dependent on the tides. Rising tide can freely run through the dam, but there are gates to regulate its flow back into the sea. During the busier seasons, the miller must have had to work nights, too, because the tide waits for no man, or rooster’s crow – it only follows the moon.

Late that night, exhausted again, but very happy, we returned to our boat. How is it possible that, day after day, the places we visit just keep getting more and more stunning? What will the next wonderful place be? And what exciting experience awaits us, when the full moon brings a supertide?

Bye bye, Bréhat! Hope to see you again! If you’re wondering about the quality of the photos in this post, it’s because they were taken with a mobile phone. I forgot to replace the memory card on my camera! Oh, fiddlesticks! 

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