Slow down and soak it all up. You’ll find a different kind of adventure in the wild northwest of France, where untamed natural beauty, windswept coastlines and sleepy stone villages await.
We can’t tell you exactly what moment will make you fall in love with Brittany – but trust us, you will. It might be meandering along a coastal path, bathed in the day’s last rays of sunshine without another soul in sight. It might be the moment your kayak paddle hits the water with a soft splash and sandpipers skitter overhead. Or maybe it’ll be splashing local cider into your glass at the end of the day. What’s sure is that Brittany will fuel your imagination and stoke your wanderlust, in bays where grey seals still frolic and on islands where you can sleep under the stars. Come in search of an adventure that will leave your heart full and legs aching.
Begin by island hopping, Breton style. In the Baie de Morlaix, idyllic islets are crowned by prehistoric cairns and lighthouses built into rocky crags. In winter, it can feel like Morlaix Bay plays host to more puffins than people. In summer, the playground switches from the skies to the seas with sailing, stand-up paddleboarding and even the chance to snorkel with the bay’s resident grey seals – at a respectful distance, of course.
Settle in for the night on Île Callot, connected to the mainland by boat or a causeway exposed at low tide. There are no hotels here, but you can bed down in a schoolhouse turned tranquil hideaway, waking to the sounds of the sea and the cry of gulls overhead.
Driving east along the coast from Morlaix, you’ll quickly find yourself on the Côte de Granit Rose, the Pink Granite Coast. There are few places in France more photogenic. Visiting the Phare de Men Ruz is a must: a lighthouse was first built on this wave-lashed promontory in 1860, but the one standing today dates from 1948. At sunrise, the rocks beneath it glow rose gold.
Stop at Cap Fréhel for a not-so-gentle stretch of the legs. The four-hour-or-so circular hike from here to Fort la Latte takes you along 16km (10mi) of the GR34, one of Europe’s epic coastal trails. It’s a beautiful route, at points meandering along the edge of precipitous cliffs that plunge into the Atlantic.
Your end-of-day reward awaits in Saint-Malo, a walled town renowned as much for its fortified position at the mouth of the Rance as its variety of cafés and restaurants. Book a table at Crêperie du Corps de Garde for lacy-edged buckwheat galettes and a few bolées (mugs) of cider. Set aside some time to walk the 12th-century ramparts for spectacular views from all sides. Get lucky with the tides and you might even have time to venture offshore to two tiny islands: Grand Bé, where the writer François-René de Chateaubriand is buried, and Le Petit Bé.
Taste for water-based adventure piqued? On the Rance Estuary, which weaves south from Saint-Malo to Dinan and eventually Brittany’s southern coastline, life moves at a gentler pace. Maud Vatinel, the founder of Sauvage, takes things back to basics. Join her for a day aboard a classic sailing boat, mooring up for outdoor yin yoga sessions and a crash-course culinary workshop using local seaweed for lunch.
Enjoy the tranquillity of the Jardins de la Matz B&B. The owners are organic market gardeners and promote a return to a simple life, which is reflected in little touches throughout the property. Borrow a bike and ride into the wind along the Rance, a peaceful canal that changes into a winding river and then a maritime estuary. The valley has a diversity of landscapes, with locks, old tide mills and charming little villages along the way. Saint-Suliac, with its maze of little streets and its fisherman’s cottages, is one of these. It’s ranked among the most beautiful villages in France. Sitting on a bench, facing the port and watching the Rance is a must.
Put the pedal to the metal as you head an hour-or-so’s drive south to La Gacilly, where hiring an electric bike makes the 10km (6.2mi) cycle to Île-aux-Pies a breeze. Pause to explore the Yves Rocher Botanical Gardens and Brittany’s second-largest megalithic site, or simply take in the views as you roll past wildflower-scattered moorland and down quiet country lanes.
You’ll need to save some energy for adventuring on Île-aux-Pies itself. At the intersection of the Nantes–Brest canal and the River Oust, this pint-sized island is known for its 50m (164ft) granite cliffs and is beloved by climbers. Even beginners can get high with Escapades Verticales, hanging out on rope courses, zip wires and wobbly rope bridges.
Shh, we’ll let you in on a secret. Some of France’s most beautiful beaches aren’t in the south but rather here on Brittany’s southern coast. Even better, the secret’s definitely not out. You’ll see what we mean on the Plage des Trois Fontaines in Arzon. This sweep of golden sand is backed by grassy knolls where you can picnic in the shade of hundred-year-old trees.
When it comes to food, go to Breizh before you go home. On a half-day gourmet walk around the Gulf of Morbihan, you can sample some of Brittany’s most emblematic ingredients. Schlurp fresh oysters at La Belle d’Ilur in Séné, savouring their characteristic notes of seaweed, and sample Tome de Rhuys, a hard cow’s-milk cheese flavoured with local Guérande salt, in Sarzeau.
Finally, let the sun set on the day – and your trip – amid the half-timbered houses of Vannes. At L’Empreinte, the places you’ve visited will come to life again on your plate: perhaps scallops sustainably fished off the north coast in season, redcurrants grown just inland in summer and sea beet foraged in the cool of the morning from local shorelines.
Learn more about the fascinating history and culture of Brittany and start planning your trip at brittanytourism.com