Head west from Brittany‘s beautiful coastline and you’ll find the island of Belle-Île-en-Mer, whose name aptly translates to ‘beautiful island’. Visitors flock here in the warmer months for tranquil beaches and striking coastal scenery. No wonder Monet loved it so much.
France’s third largest island has been a popular location for artists over the years. Most notably, French Impressionist painter Claude Monet captured the essence of the coastal rock formations during the 1870s and 1880s, receiving high praise in the art world. Artists John Peter Russell and Henri Matisse also painted Belle-Île’s landscapes.
You can visit Belle-Île-en-Mer all year round by ferry from two locations on the Brittany coast: Quiberon and Vannes. The crossing takes about 45 minutes and prices start from €30 for a round trip. Le Palais is the capital of the island, though still very much a bijou one. However, the island is very well set up for travellers, especially in the warmer months, so there is a lot of accommodation choice as well as restaurants, museums and more to discover in this quaint town.
It’s hard to believe for such a little island, but Belle-Île-en-Mer has about 60 beaches. On Belle-Île-en-Mer’s western coast is where you’ll find the rugged coves and wilder patches of sand. For sand dunes at their finest, head to Herlin beach. For the longest beach on the island and one that’s easily accessible, Les Grands Sables is the one to go for. For evening sun from arguably one of the prettiest coves in the island, opt for Baluden beach. Finally, if you want a beach all to yourself (not to mention the turquoise water), explore Les Canons.
Belle-Île-en-Mer is a playground for lovers of the outdoors, whether you love hiking or watersports. The path that hugs the whole coastline is perfect for hiking, and renting bikes once you’re on the island is easy. There is also horse riding, surfing and other activities on offer. Make sure to visit the lighthouse at La Pointe des Poulains (pictured below). There is trail up to the lighthouse, weaving through the slightly undulating coastal landscape. It really shows off the island in its best light; beautiful and wild and rugged. You can also visit the Sarah Bernhardt Museum, and find out about the woman who discovered Belle-Île-en-Mer in 1894.