Boasting the longest coastline in France, Brittany is a delight of beaches, special islands, historic towns and wildly beautiful landscapes. By Sue Dobson
Beaches of fine sand backed by dunes and interspersed by creeks and curving bays, craggy islands and dramatic gorse-carpeted cliffs, home to nesting seabirds, define Brittany’s 2730km of coastline, the longest in France. Pink rocks, carved by the elements into bizarre shapes, rise from an azure sea.
A region rooted in myth and legend it offers walled cities, half-timbered houses, quaint fishing villages, busy ports, pretty estuary towns, castles and châteaux, defensive forts, even menhirs and megaliths from Neolithic times. Fertile farmland offers up the fruits and vegetables for which Brittany is famous, from pink onions to the apples that make delicious cider and apple brandy. Order a fresh seafood platter for a sumptuous display of the fruits of the sea.
Along the Côte d’Emeraude (Emerald Coast), scene of gorgeous family beaches and campsites galore, are the historic port of St-Malo and its refined sister Dinard.
St-Malo has seen saints and sinners, explorers, adventurers and pirates, merchants and slave-traders, periods of peace and periods of war – the Second World War reduced it to ruins but the town has been admirably restored. Walk the ramparts with their gates, bastions and watchtowers for an overview of the old town’s maze of streets and landmark cathedral. Enjoy the café culture and shops around Place Chateaubriand.
Across the Rance river estuary, sedate Dinard presents an altogether different face. Popular with royalty in the early 20th century, it attracted the rich and famous who built grand seaside villas. It also caught the attention of artists, including Picasso. There are wonderful walks along the coast from here and a collection of small resorts, including St-Lunaire, where Debussy is said to have been inspired to compose La Mer and St-Briac, immortalised by Renoir.
The Côte de Granit Rose (Pink Granite Coast) feels like a world apart. The crazy shapes of the rocks, the houses built among vast boulders, the spectacular beaches and the changing colours, from soft shades to fiery pinks in the setting sun, all mesmerize the eyes and senses.
The pink disappears and the coastline gets wilder as you reach into Finistère, the most traditional part of Brittany. Here are hilltop churches and châteaux hidden in woodland, island-strewn bays and countless beaches.
Roscoff may now be best known as a cross-Channel port, but its days as the haunt of pirates and smugglers are made much of in the town. Take a look at the grand granite houses dating back to the prosperous 16th and 17th centuries and don’t miss the quirky Musée des Johnnies, which tells the story of the bike-riding Breton onion sellers.