Brittany’s southern coast is best known for mainland Europe’s most famous prehistoric site, the megalithic alignments of Carnac, complemented by other ancient relics scattered around the beautiful, island-studded Golfe de Morbihan. While the beaches are not as spectacular as in Finistère, there are more safe places to swim and the water is warmer. Of the cities, Lorient has Brittany’s most compelling festival and Vannes is a lively medieval centre, while you can also escape to the islands of Belle-Île, Hoëdic and Houat.
More about France
Find out more
Considerably larger than the other Breton islands, at 17km from east to west, gorgeous Belle-Île, 15km south of Quiberon, feels significantly less isolated than the rest. However, its towns – fortified Le Palais; Sauzon, arrayed along one side of a long estuary; and Bangor, inland – are consistently lovely, and it offers wonderful opportunities for walking and cycling. At different times in its turbulent history the island belonged to the monks of Redon, the English – who in 1761 swapped it for Menorca – and Lorient’s Companie des Indes.
Belle-Íle is far too large to stroll round, but a coastal footpath runs on bare soil for the length of the exposed Côte Sauvage with its sparse heather-covered cliffs facing out into the sea. To appreciate this and the rich and fertile landward side, some form of transport is advisable – rental bikes are widely available in Le Palais.
The Golfe de Morbihan
The Golfe de Morbihan
The sheltered Golfe du Morbihan – mor bihan means “little sea” in Breton – is one of the loveliest stretches of Brittany’s coast. It is said that the gulf used to hold an island for every day of the year, but rising seas have left fewer than one per week. A boat tour around them, or at least a trip out to Gavrinis near the mouth of the gulf, is a compelling experience, with megalithic ruins and stone circles dotted around the beguiling maze of channels and solitary menhirs looking down from small hillocks.
At the head of the Golfe de Morbihan, Vannes, southern Brittany’s major tourist town, is such a large and thriving community that the size of the small walled town at its core, Vieux Vannes, may well come as a surprise. Its focal point, the old gateway of the Porte St-Vincent, commands a busy little square at the northern end of a canalized port leading to the gulf itself. Inside the ramparts, the winding car-free streets – crammed around the cathedral, and enclosed by gardens and a tiny stream – make great strolling territory.
Modern Vannes centres on place de la République; the focus was shifted outside the medieval city during the nineteenth-century craze for urbanization. The grandest of the public buildings here, guarded by a pair of sleek bronze lions, is the Hôtel de Ville at the top of rue Thiers. By day, however, the streets of the old city, with their overhanging, witch-hatted houses and busy commercial life, are the chief source of pleasure.