A girl after our own hearts, guest contributor, Kirsten Gallagher is a also big fan of active travel. Over the years, she’s been hiking beautiful natural areas around the world from Ireland to Guatemala, but today, she’s taking us to beautiful France. Come along as she takes us along on her wonderful experience hiking in Brittany – one of the country’s most breathtaking coastal regions.
As we’ve said many times before, hiking is a wonderful way to really see the best off-the-beaten-path places in a new destination, and you don’t need much to do a quick hike to take in the scenic views. Read on to check out Kirsten’s best hiking tips for this part of France.
Hiking in Brittany, France
Brittany, the northwest corner of France, is often overlooked by tourists, many of whom descend upon Paris before exploring the country’s famous wine regions to the south. However, if you’re looking for a little less glamour and a little more rustic charm, Brittany, or Bretagne as it is known en français, is a perfect choice for you.
Brittany has some of Europe’s most dramatic coastline, and along with that, more than its fair share of fresh and delicious seafood. It also offers a surprisingly unique blend of cultures.
Did you know that Breton culture is intimately interwoven with that of Great Britain (Grande Bretagne to the French)? In fact, most of Brittany’s inhabitants consider themselves part French, part Celtic, and speak a language quite similar to Gaelic, also called Breton. As in the Republic of Ireland, all of the signage is in both languages.
Learning about the GR34 trail in Brittany
I made this linguistic discovery while I was walking around Camaret-sur-Mer on Presqu’île de Crozon, my chosen starting point for a day of hiking along Brittany’s lengthiest trail, the Sentier des Douniers, which is also called the GR 34 (thankfully). Well-known in the hiking world for its gorgeous scenic views, the GR 34 starts near Rennes and ends at Cap du Raz.
It covers roughly 1,700 kilometers or 1,056 miles and attracts everyone from serious hikers intent on a multi-week excursion to families with small children hoping to spend just a couple of hours taking in the rugged scenery. If you’re the former, the GR 34 is a remarkable hiking trail. It’s situated on high cliffs offering vertiginous views overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. You’ll be able to breathe that unmistakably salty sea air while making your way along the gently undulating trail.
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The day before I set out I had visited the Tourist Office in Brest (8 Avenue Georges Clemenceau), the largest city in Brittany, where I was studying French. My teachers had recommended that if I could only do a section of the GR 34, that I should do some hiking on Presqu’île de Crozon, a peninsula accessible from Brest by ferry.
There is only one ferry per day, departing at 9:00am and returning at 6:00pm. It’s important to book in advance since Presqu’île de Crozon and nearby Île d’Ouessant are popular among French and other European vacationers.
Disembarking at Camaret-sur-Mer, I was immediately delighted by the seaside town. Bistros and cafés line the waterfront where, for a reasonable price, you can get a big bowl of mussels or a dozen oysters caught only a few hours ago that morning.
That day, I was lucky: I arrived on a Sunday, when, during the summer, there is a weekly marché aux puces (flea market). I perused old books on Breton folklore, African masks, naval uniforms, Persian rugs and a slew of knick-knacks. There was something to interest everyone. After poking around for a while, I headed to the Tour de Vauban, a prominent landmark in Camaret-sur-Mer, to get my bearings and begin my hike.
Exploring Tour de Vauban to the Pointe de Toulinguet on a Brittany hike
From the Tour de Vauban, I began walking west, following the beach (the beaches in Brittany are fine for swimming although a little cooler and rougher than some like). Map in hand, it wasn’t long before I saw a wooden post with a red and white symbol that resembled Poland’s flag. Such posts designate the GR 34.
Fortunately for hikers, there are many of them and distances and lookout points are clearly marked. This particular day, I decided to hike from the Tour de Vauban to the Pointe de Toulinguet, where there is a lighthouse, and back again.
Soon, I was up high on a cliff, looking down on the Atlantic ocean and breathing it in. The trail runs fairly close to the edge, allowing you to take in the scenery both around you and below you.
Short, scraggy grasses and purple flowers line the trail. When the trail dips, you can scramble down to one of the rocky beaches and cool off from your exertions with a quick dip. However, on a whole, the GR 34 is not too difficult to hike. It’s long and there are some inclines, of course, but there aren’t any many major ascents. If you like slow and steady, the GR 34 will surely please you, as it did me.
Later on in my trip, I hiked other short sections of the GR 34. I wish that I had had the time to hike it in its entirety and visit more of Brittany’s lovely little towns along the way. If you’re planning on going to Brittany, I recommend giving yourself enough time to hike the trail and see this very special part of France.