News - India Outbound ,
Sands & Beaches
A ‘Tahiti Lagoon’ in Brittany
Les Glénan archipelago in French Brittany offers unique blue lagoon beaches and protected wildlife. It also harbours a world famous sailing school. Come enjoy the real pure Breton air.
Seychelles? Tahiti? No, Brittany. Les Glénan Islands, in the western tip of France, about 16 km off the south coast of Finistère, its beautiful wild beaches with white sand, clear blue water will make you feel that you are on a paradise island in the Pacific Ocean. Of course, if we look at it, there is a big difference – since it is in the Atlantic Ocean that has cold streams – the water is quiet chilly, even in summer, when the islands are easily accessible for tourism.
But for real amateurs, who enjoy beautiful sunbath and vivifying salty air, there is no such thing as ‘les îles des Glénan’, the French name of the Glénan Islands. They are real, still wild and full of unique opportunities for swimming, trekking, sailing and even scuba diving.
In the 18th and early 19th centuries, Les Glénan Islands were designated by the British as the Penmarch Islands. But their real identity is Breton and their name, ‘Inzi Glenan (Glénan Islands)’ is still prevalent in their local language. They used to be a good shelter for the Corsairs, pirates that attacked merchant ships in the Atlantic. During the late 17th century and the 18th century, the pirates even attacked the French Royale fleet, using Les Glénan as base. The Corsairs had support from fishermen for their supply. They boarded and plundered vessels in the area. Later, they also took advantage of the French Revolutionary Wars and the continental blockade imposed on the British Islands by the French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, who, however, could never realise his dream of invading them.
Crêpe and Celtic dance
The Bretons, inhabitants of the region of Brittany, are very proud of this deep and tumultuous history and of their distinct multi-millenary culture. From Celtic music and dance to food specialties such as the famous ‘crêpe’ (pancake) and deep Catholic roots. As distinguished sailors and fishermen, some of these inhabitants have travelled quite far, to Asia and South America so to say.
Once you reach Les Glénan, you can sense why it is so Breton and a world apart. Should you stay here you would become an islander—with the codes and sense of small community. Here, solidarity amongst people is paramount because they have to fight isolation and elements such as wind and rough seas.
The islands are a famous tourism destination during summer, especially for a daytrip when one stays in Finistère. First, its shallow seabed is a delight for a boat or sailing trip, even for a private sailing lesson (see box). Its international scuba diving school is equally worth it. You can also board a catamaran with windows to enjoy the undersea view through clear water.
Go around the islands, which have their own distinct flavours and interests. For instance, Penfret Island enjoys a lighthouse and semaphore, signalling through use of flags and other signs. Île Cigogne (Stork Island) is famous for its fort, built in 1756 to prevent English pirates from entering the lagoon and the Île aux Moutons (Sheep Island) is a nesting ground for wild birds.
Then, of course, have a bath in one of the lagoon-type beaches. The easiest is Saint-Nicolas beach, with its turquoise water and light blond sand. It is a favorite for windsurfers. Or take a boat and discover the other more secretive beaches on many other islands.
At low tide, you can walk from the main Island of Saint-Nicolas to Bananec Island. Then, a ribbon of sand emerges and you really feel like a Robinson Crusoe – the poor hero imagined by Daniel Defoe – in this white piece of temporary land, but without the danger and solitude.
Do not miss the treks. The Glénan islands harbour France’s smallest nature reserve. It was established in 1974 to protect a unique and fragile specie, threatened with extinction— the Glénan Narcissus, an off-white flower. To observe it fully, go off touristic season, in April, when this small flower covers the island in a pristine white coat.
The inhabitants of the islands, now populated only seasonally, have always been very close to nature and animals of all sorts. It is even said that in the 19th century, a Glénan native was the largest breeder of langoustine and lobsters in France.
Have a walk between the few houses of Saint Nicolas, most of which are in a traditional Breton style with slate steep roofs and thick stone walls painted in white. Don’t expect a five star comfort if you stay in one of the guest houses on the Island (see Where to Stay) or are invited by a local.
The island is spartan in terms of electricity, being powered by a combined power plant and sticking to an ecological lifestyle. You can no longer build on Les Glénan, a protected area, hence the houses that have already been built are considered to be highly coveted treasures. Most probably, after a fresh bath, you can have an equally fresh beer or Breton cider, and a nice meal in one of the few local restaurants near the main port of Saint-Nicolas. And at night, once back on the continent, the magic of the wild Glénan will spell its long lasting effect, until your next visit.
How to reach
For a daily trip, take the ‘Vedettes de l’Odet’ boats, which have been running on the route to the Glénan for almost half a century now. Board for instance from Bénodet, Loctudy, Concarneau.
Phone: +33 2 98 57 00 58.
Where to stay
Staying overnight on the islands is a challenge – there is no hotel, and camping is strictly forbidden. One or two small guesthouses can welcome you though. You can book through the tourism office of Fouesnant-les-Glénan: 4, Espace kernévéleck, 29170 Fouesnant. Phone: +33 2 98 51 18 88. website: http://www.tourisme-fouesnant.fr/ Or choose one of the nice hotels or guesthouses in Fouesnant (commune in the Finistère department of Brittany) itself such as Hotel Les Sables Blancs or Hotel de la Pointe de Mousterlin, with its unique sea view.
Then, you can also discover this charming little typical Briton town of Fouesnant, before taking the boat for Les Glénan. Come especially during a Fest Noz (night festival in Briton), a traditional celebration, with acoustic instruments and dancing in groups.