Not that we needed a break during our 10-day Brittany trip, but we decided to escape from our homequarters in Cancale and visit the Ile de Brehat or Île-de-Brèhat, a beautiful island just off the coast of France near Paimpol in Brittany known for its variety of flowers and for the fact that it has zero cars. The photos we saw enticed us, but the reality was a little different.
As always, the risk of rain in the spring in Brittany is high and we visited during a storm so for the most part, we were just wet. But the island is charming, even in the worst of weather and we actually enjoyed our stay. The year-round population of Ile de Brehat is around 400-450, in the summer it is 5,000. Oh, those Parisians who all need to get away at the same time! So the best time of year to visit the island is not the summer! Come in May, even early June, September, and early October for the best opportunity to visit the island in relative peace.
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Ile de Brehat is a 2-hour drive from Cancale and then a 7-minute (yes, you read that right) ferry to the island. Before reaching the island we stopped in Paimpol to take part in their annual Fête de la Coquille Saint‑Jacques (Scallop Festival). I love scallops and we don’t get them for less than $30 a pound or something ridiculous like that in Phoenix, so despite the rain, I was all in for a festival celebrating one of my favorite varieties of seafood! We watched people buying pounds and pounds of fresh scallops and had fun watching them haul them away. We sampled a wide variety of foods highlighting scallops and we enjoyed a 3-course lunch featuring scallops. Well, 2 of the courses anyway, that dessert, whew salted caramel pudding, I can still taste it! But on to the island, allez!
How to get to the Ile de Brehat
Unless you own your own boat, canoe, or kayak, the only way to get to Ile de Brehat is by ferry. It’s pretty easy. There is only one company that runs the ferry, it’s called Les Vedettes de Bréhat, unfortunately, their website is only in French, but their ticket agents on site do speak English. Depending on the season you will want to buy your tickets ahead of time, but as we were still in the off-season, we purchased our tickets the same day. The ferry runs all year round leaving from the Pointe de l’Arcouest, north of Paimpol. The address is 6 Route de l’Embarcadère, Ploubazlanec. The trip takes 7-10 mins leaves about every 30 minutes, obviously double-check the schedule. The ticket costs 8.80€ for a roundtrip ticket low season and €10.30 during the high.
Île-de-Brèhat is not a day trip from Paris as it is 5 hours by car to the spot where you catch the ferry. It’s more like something you add on while visiting the coast of Brittany. The largest city with significant transportation options is the capital of Brittany, Rennes. You can take a TGV from Paris (Montparnasse station) but there are multiple transfers and a bus ride. One thing to note on your return trip from Ile de Brehat back to Ploubazlanec, pay attention to where the tide is. There are no signs to indicate which of the 3 concrete landings the boat will come in and take off from. For people accustomed to taking the ferry back in forth it probably isn’t an issue, but it can be disconcerting to not know where you are going to catch your ride home. Of course, in typical misadventure fashion, the morning we took the boat back it was the furthest dock away and a bit of a walk with our suitcases, camera equipment, and backpacks. But we survived. I’m smiling in all these pictures but inside I am grumbling a bit!
Where to Stay in Ile de Brehat
This is a very popular day-trip destination. People come for hiking or biking and then return to the mainland. There aren’t a ton of options, but you do have some. For our weekend stay, we booked a hotel room through Airbnb called La Potiniére. It sits right on a cliff over a very popular beach and has stunning views. Of course, our view was rain. By the time we walked from the ferry to the hotel on cobblestoned streets and sanded paths, we were pretty much soaked.
The main house used to be a restaurant that was quite popular in its day. The chef retired and sold the property to a couple who often sailed past Ile de Brehat and admired the spot. They added 4 rooms, this is ours below. And an apartment/condo on top of them that can be rented by the week. We were there the first weekend it was open (for the season) which was the first of May and they close for the season in mid-September.
The hotel is located above Guerzido Beach which is massively popular during the high season. With the rain, it was empty. But it didn’t matter, the view made up for it! Look at this sunrise! No rain!
- There are a few hotels, the most famous being the Hotel Bellevue.
- Lots and lots of family homes are accessible to rent online (Airbnb, etc.).
- There is one campground called Camping Municipal De Bréhat located on the southwestern tip of the island, in Goareva, just above the Port-Clos.
Things to do on the Ile de Brehat
Well, that very much depends on the weather. You can hike and bike all year-round, but you probably aren’t going to enjoy the beach when it’s pouring down rain! We did a 7-mile hike around the outer part of the island the morning after we arrived and it was refreshing (after the rain) and just gorgeous. We visited cows, checked out farms, and just enjoyed the peace and quiet.
Despite our weather experience, Ile de Brehat has its own micro-climate which is why it is known for its flowers. You’ll see unlikely vegetation everywhere and on everything it’s an interesting dichotomy with the rugged, wild coast. They also have a huge variety of birds. We saw several wild pheasants (big ones!) but did not reach the part of the island where there are 250+ pairs of puffins, something for our next trip for sure!
There are 2 lighthouses on the island. Paon in the northeast and Rosédo in the northwest. These pictures are from Paon.
Two last things that we did not do due to the weather constraints on our time: Near the municipal camping ground is a glassblowing studio, Verreries de Bréhat, where you can watch the glassblowers create magnificent glass objects, or you can try it out for yourself. Visit the Chapelle Saint-Michel, the church where candles were lit for sailors. It is pretty austere from the outside, and the inside as well!
Where to Eat on the Ile de Brehat
Truth be told with our scallop lunch in Paimpol and our rain-soaked walk to the hotel, we picnicked our single evening in the hotel. Breakfast was provided in our room charge. However, I did get a recommendation from the hotel proprietress, which was, Le Creche-Kerio which seems to have good reviews. There are a few other restaurants in the main part of town, but the typical tourist type, creperies, and pizza shops, and a baker. Hotel Bellevue has seafood in their restaurant. There is a small Carrefour grocery store and this out on the path to the Paon lighthouse, there is a lovely organic farm stand that goes by the honor system. They also bake fresh bread daily, we passed by too early or we would have picked some up!
As we were on the ferry pulling away from Ile de Brehat we spotted this tractor pulling what was likely a set of (way smarter) passengers. These people didn’t have to drag their suitcases from outside of town into town and then down to the third dock, but then again, they don’t have a misadventure to share as we do!
How about you? Have you been to Ile de Brehat (Île-de-Brèhat) before? Had you heard of it? Interested? Visited any other similar islands? Do tell!
For a visual summary of this post, check out my Ile de Brehat web story!