France // Brittany //

Île de Sein

Of all the Breton islands, the tiny Île de Sein, just 8km out to sea from the tip of the Pointe du Raz, has to be the most extraordinary. It’s hard to believe anyone could survive here; nowhere does the island rise more than 6m above the surrounding ocean, and for much of its 2.5km length it’s barely broader than the breakwater wall of bricks that serves as its central spine. In fact, Sein has been inhabited since prehistoric times, and was reputed to have been the very last refuge of the druids in Brittany. It also became famous during World War II, when its entire male population answered General de Gaulle’s call to join him in exile in England. Today, more than three hundred islanders make their living from the sea, gathering rainwater and seaweed, and fishing for scallops, lobster and crayfish.

Never mind cars, not even bicycles are permitted on Sein. Depending on the tide, boats pull in at one or other of the two adjoining harbours that constitute Sein’s one tight-knit village, in front of which a little beach appears at low tide. There is a museum of local history here, packed with black-and-white photos and press clippings, and displaying a long list of shipwrecks from 1476 onwards. The most popular activity for visitors, however, is to take a bracing walk, preferably to the far end of the island, from where you can see the Phare Ar-men lighthouse, peeking out of the waves 12km further west into the Atlantic.

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