Journeying through the western regions of France opens up all sorts of adventurous corridors, be it the rocky coves of the north Brittany coast, the alluring wilderness of the Cotentin Peninsula in Normandy, or the cycle paths along the River Loire that lead all the way to the Atlantic.
Whether your idea of a thrill is a woodland walk or a high-speed, high-altitude zip wire, the diversity of landscapes and terrains makes for prime adventure country. Take a road trip across the Channel to Western France with Brittany Ferries and enjoy your own space, feeling pleased that you’ve chosen the safer, roomier and altogether more pleasant alternative to flying. Here you can discover a host of exciting activities to meet every taste, from paddleboarding in Brittany’s gentle bays to coasteering the craggy cliffs of the Normandy coast.
Start your trip in Saint-Malo, a beautiful town that overlooks the Bay of Mont Saint-Michel, which marks the start of the GR34 walking trail. Also known as the Customs Officer’s Path, it follows 2,000km (1,242mi) of Brittany coastline. Enjoy a bite-size hike on the Emerald Coast, just west of Saint-Malo, where you’ll find heather and gorse-scented headlands, wide, empty beaches and the dramatic Fort La Latte on Cap Fréhel.
From there, hit the road along the coast towards Perros-Guirec, on the Pink Granite coast, check into Hotel Castel Beau Site and enjoy a sundowner cocktail while gazing at views of its excellent beach. Next morning, sign up for a stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) adventure on nearby Trestraou beach, where you can explore the gentle bays and admire the curiously shaped pink boulders hewn by the sea and wind. If you’re after a bigger adrenaline shot, book a surfboard and hit the waves with the help of Perroz Surf School in Trestraou Bay.
It’s another hour and 45 minutes to the Côte des Sables, where you’ll find glorious empty beaches and crystal-clear water. From Plouguerneau, an island-hopping adventure awaits on the Île Vierge; take the little ferry and stay the night in a lighthouse converted into a hostel that sleeps 10 (opening in spring 2021). The island is tiny, just 6ha (15 acres), but it’s the ideal place to embrace North Finistère’s savage coast and see the waves crashing dramatically against the shore.
The southwest corner of Finistère is just as wild; the Pointe de la Torche is one of the world’s best surfing and windsurfing destinations. Get some pointers on how to ride the Atlantic rollers from 29Hood surf school. Not far from the coast, check into the cosy Chez Céline & Juliette, a loft apartment with an ecofriendly vibe, created using upcycled materials. And finish your trip at Roscoff, where a late evening ferry allows time for a seafood platter on the quayside.
For a heart-pumping adventure in the neighbouring region of Normandy, thrillseekers can sail into Cherbourg at the tip of the Cotentin Peninsula and head west for some coasteering in the Baie d’Ecalgrain. Once you’re decked out with a helmet, wetsuit and lifejacket, you can clamber along the rocks, jump into swirls of white water and canyon into inlets with the sea crashing below. Meanwhile, at nearby Siouville-Hague, you can catch the waves as they roll into the wild Normandy shore with a surf lesson at the Cotentin Surf Club.
Relax after your exhilarating day at Hotel Le Landemer, with hilltop views of the Channel. The next day, head south along the impressive coast road, making a pitstop to admire the colourful beach huts at Gouville-sur-Mer before reaching Granville. Pause for breath on the hour-long ferry ride to the tiny French Channel islands, Les Îles Chausey, before taking to the sea again for a sea-kayaking adventure that gets you up close to the incredible wildlife. Paddling between the 350 islets (50 at high tide), you’ll see sea birds, seals, dolphins and, in the crystal waters beneath, lobsters and crabs.
Switch off at Hotel du Fort et des Iles; then it’s back to the mainland in the morning to continue south and inland, ready to hurl yourself into the void from the Soulevre Viaduct. This partially dismantled railway viaduct that towers over the Souleuvre River is now a hub for adrenaline-junkies thanks to the AJ Hackett Extreme Sports Centre. Take a bungee jump from the 63m-high (206ft) platform, or strap in for a ride down the 400m (1,312ft) zip wire at a speed of 100kph (62mph). If you’re game for more heart-stopping adventures, there’s also a pendulum jump and a giant swing. Recover with a final night in at the B&B Aux Murmures de la Nature near Honfleur, where the zen Buddha cabin is the ideal place to chill out before getting the ferry back from Le Havre the next morning.
Make a beeline for the outdoorsy city of Angers, where you can explore its four different rivers by canoe, boat or bike. If opting for the latter option, be sure to dip in and out of the 900km (560mi) Loire by Bike cycle route, which connects Cuffy (near Nevers) to Saint-Brevin-les-Pins (Loire-Atlantique). Or if green and pleasant towpath pedalling is more your thing, rent a bike and cycle along the Mayenne River, stopping for the night at one of the special bivouacs on stilts along the way.
Otherwise, start with a canoe outing from the Savatte dock, overlooked by the mighty Chateau d’Angers, and paddle along the River Maine; it offers gives a good vantage point from which you can admire the city’s other attractions, including Saint-Maurice cathedral. Paddle past the wildlife haven that is the Parc Balzac down to a small lake, Lac de Maine. Stay over at the Hotel 21 Foch before heading west to the Atlantic Coast the next day.
It’s a two-hour trip from Angers to Pornic on the Atlantic coast, which makes a great base for coastal walks through pine forests and past fine sandy beaches that feature on the Côte de Jade (Jade Coast). Further north, at La Baule-Escoublac, channel your inner superhero on an unforgettable ride on a Flyboard; the water jet-propelled board at your feet will see you launch 5m (16ft) into the air.
Head back towards Nantes for an overnight stop with a difference: the Villa Cheminée is a tiny cottage for two perched atop a 15m (49ft) red and white striped tower (copied from a power station), created in 2009 by Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi.
Before heading back to the ferry, stop off in the Sarthe department for some mountain action in the Alpes-Mancelles: hike to the highest point Le Mont des Avaloirs or swerve along the mountain bike tracks on two wheels. If four wheels is your bag, you can bump through the woods in a Swincar – a silent, electric, all-terrain vehicle that gives you free roam of the Sarthe Valley thanks to Les Insolites de JSK, who can also provide you with a wigwam, a treehouse complete with glass dome, or a glamping tent for the night.
Finally, make your way to port to catch the ferry back across the Channel – thrilled to have come, sad to be leaving, and safe in the knowledge that Brittany Ferries will keep you safe with the appropriate measures on your homeward journey.
Whether you’re thinking of visiting Normandy, Brittany or the Atlantic Loire Valley regions of western France, make the famous Channel crossing with Brittany Ferries and start the adventure from the moment you get on board.