I’ve spent at least one week, often up to a month, every year of my life in Pont l’Abbé in Brittany, France. While France has always been one of the number one destinations for British holidaymakers, in recent years the numbers have dwindled due to the increased poor exchange rate of the Euro and of course the recession. But who wouldn’t want to spend their days looking perpetually windswept and rosy-cheeked after cycling around the luscious countryside and pristine coastline followed by evenings tucking into fresh shellfish and enough butter to send your cholesterol through the roof? It may be the Breton blood flowing through me making me a little biased, but there’s definitely something about the Finistère seaside and Atlantic sea breeze that slows down time and makes everyone a little more carefree. (That, or the fact that the majority of the population are either retirees or holiday-makers…)
Considering that Brittany makes up a third of the total French coastline, there’s plenty of beaches to choose from. In the area surrounding Pont l’Abbé, there’s the famed surfers paradise La Torche and it’s quieter neighbour Tronöen. These are two of my favorites because the fine and unpolluted sand is similar to that you’d expect to see on a caribbean beach, and they have high dunes (which haven’t fared too well in the recent weather) that seclude the beaches from land and have provided me with numerous hours of fun as a child. There’s even an old Nazi bunker! If you fancy a go at surfing, which I have failed miserably at on numerous different attempts, there are loads of surf schools on offer, such as He’enalu.
However, if you can’t cope with the flying sand due to the blustery winds (hence the surfers) lle-Tudy may be more up your street. This one is not as secluded from civilisation and is more of a typical holiday beach resort, with tanned, leather-skinned grandparents galore and even a small port just a few minutes walk away with numerous cafés to choose from for ice cream (if it’s warm enough) and boat watching.
Brittany is also a great choice for foodies because, apart from it’s most well known export – Crepes, it also boasts many other treats to satisfy those sweet cravings and give you the extra layers to survive the breeze. The Kouign Amann, literally “Butter cake” in Breton, is essentially caramelized layers of sugar and butter in-between thin, flaky layers of buttery pastry. It’s one of those foods that tastes so rich, so good, in fact too good, that you know it must be so, so bad for your health. But everything is okay in good measure, and a slice of Kouign Amann is something everyone should be treated to at least once. For those with a desire for more savoury tastes, Brittany is great for seafood, although once again many of the sauces are also heavy on the butter. So for a bit of change I’d recommend trying ‘Lotte à l’Amoricaine’, which is a tomato, shallot and white sauce cooked with the freshest of monkfishes, as at the ports you can buy fish caught that very day. Despite the fact you’ve probably eaten crepes before I’d also recommend going to a creperie, because Brittany is after all their birthplace and the choice of fillings is much more varied than your standard ham and cheese. The small port town of Sainte Marine has some of the best creperies. What’s more creperies are the ideal places to try some Breton cider with your meal!
The celtic culture is also very prominent, with plenty of festivals held in celebration of its heritage and various reminders of the area’s rich historical past. For instance, just before the beach of Tronöen, there’s a church from the 15th century. So there’s plenty to visit whilst bike-riding or driving around the area.
Whilst doing all of the above, it’s vital you invest in some classic fresh clothing, in the form of the French seamans’ uniform of Breton stripes. These are widely available at the village markets, (where you can also surprisingly get some branded clothing such as Petit Bateau at a much cheaper price) and any fisherman clothing stores on the coast. This way you can channel your inner Bardot and make your experience a truly Breton one.
Images sourced from Pinterest