We were up at 6AM for the drive to the Channel Tunnel (We'd considered the much longer crossing to St Malo which would be a much shorter drive in France, but at £600 versus effectively nothing for a
Tunnel crossing, we accepted the longer drive, perhaps unwisely).
An earlier train breakdown delayed our crossing by 1h 40m, but itwas smooth otherwise.
We endured a long and troubled drive to Plerneuf, near St Brieuc in Brittany. French toll motorways had long queues at each pay booth and some were for as pitiful amount as 1 or 3 Euros... Our old Citroen, reaching 100,000 miles on the trip, but just serviced and MOT’d, showed warning lights when in traffic, although, whilst getting warmer according to the gauge wasn’t getting dangerously hot and certainly didn’t seem that way when we stopped and checked under the bonnet.
We finally arrived at our temporary home at 8PM. The house was a roomy 4 bedroom (probably five, but two rooms were locked, presumably containing the owner’s treasured possessions) with a bathroom and a separate shower room.
Located in a typically quiet French village with a pretty church and no through traffic expect a few groups of cyclists on Sunday morning and the regular passing of two combine harvesters each night around 10PM.
The house owners showed us around and gave us freshly made pancackes, a jar of excellent jam and a bottle of local cider.
They were very friendly and waved us goodbye as they went... well... somewhere.
We all slept well, so it was nearly 10 before we were all up and eating breakfast.
First we drove to the next small town, Tremuson, and bought petrol and a few things before driving into the larger town of St Breuic for a quick look round.
It's the usual French town mix, some lovely old parts and lots of rather bland modern ones.
The centre was picturesque in parts and featured many very old buildings. We also spotted a few restaurants to think of eating in later in the week.
We then drove on to Binic on the coast.
It was a bit grim looking in the grey weather and with the tide in, but the beach looked promising with a nice sandy expanse below the sea wall.
Under the grey skies we drove onto Paimpol (twinned with Romsey),where we found a boat filled harbour surrounded by seafood restaurants all very busy at lunchtime on a Sunday.
We walked into the attractive town and found a number of less busy restaurants, where we settled on Pizza (for Ryan mainly) which was ok, if not amazing and then wandered around some
more, buying some amazing ice creams before returning to the car.
Finally we continued along the coast to Trévou-Tréguignec where the tide was out, revealing a huge expanse of sand fringed with rocky outcrops.
With the tide out (after Mandy had a paddle) we clambered over the rocks and spotted fish, crabs and crayfish in the rockpools left behind by the sea.
A bit of ‘extreme balancing’ exercises for my recuperating broken knee, but it was ok and I enjoyed it, especially as the weather got a little brighter here.
After the previous long day we were still tired and it was gettin on in the afternoon, so we drove back to Plerneuf for a cup of tea and then bread and cheese and jam for dinner
and a check of some leaflets picked up to decide what we might do on Monday.
If the weather was good we hoped to go to a local beach, but it dawned grey again, so we decided to visit the nearby Chateau Hunaudaye near Pledeliac, about 15 miles away.
As we arrived at the Chateau, the weather brightened considerably and we enjoy warm sunshine as we explored the mainly ruined (during the Revolution) chateau. Ruined it may be, but it’s still impressive with high towers and ramparts and a deep water filled moat.
There were many stairs to navigate whilst we explored the castle, which took their toll on my knee.
The castle is pretty cheap to get into compared with similar places in the UK and with the good weather it was lovely to explore for a few hours.
English leaflets guided us around the various towers and ruined halls, so we got a fair idea of what everything was and how it fitted into the grand scheme of the castle.
We had an ice-cream in the sunshine in the creperie attached to the small farm where the Chateau lies and then decided to drive to nearby Jugons Les Lacs, purely because it looked close on the map in
the chateau car park and had a lake.
Jugon Les Lacs turned out to be a small, pretty town with many old buildings on one end of a long, thin lake.
After a great lunch in the main square (I had mussels, Mandy had Lasagne de Mer, Lauren Spaghetti Carbonara and Ryan Saucisse et Frittes), we walked along one shore of the lake for a
mile or so and then returned and drove around to a boat hire place where we rented a Pedalo for an hour, which got Mandy and Lauren fit as my knee was not up to driving a Pedalo.
It was about 5 when we left and drove back to Plerneuf via a large Carrefour Hypermarche (to stock up on essentials for the rest of the week) on the outskirts of St Breuic.
Tuesday saw another grey start, and the forecast was for rain, so although we took our swimming towels and suits, the plan was for another indoor day.
In this case, we decided to visit the Oceanopolis aquarium at Brest which features (as well as many fish) colonies of Penguins.
The drive took around an hour and a quarter and we arrived about 11:00. The place was already busy and we parked in car park 4 of 4. It cost about 60 Euros for the 4 of us (Lauren, at 17, still counted as a child remarkably in these days) with the glossy, but rather lightweight, guide book.
The complex is split into 3 zones and the girl at the ticket office recommended we start in the Temperate zone as the others were ‘busy’.
I can only guess at how busy they were as it was a major jostle to get anywhere near any of the tanks to see the fish (and some common seals) in the tanks. The displays were pretty good (focussing in this section on sea life from around the Breton coast), but it was packed and sadly few of the
displays had names of the fish and other sea creatures in English (and the French names were often very different).
We moved from here back to the area that splits into Polar and Tropical. The queue for Tropical looked pretty static, so we elected, much to Ryan’s delight, to go and
see the Penguins next. They were ok with some young and a few of the Penguins deigning to swim underwater for our entertainment, but the promotional photos suggest
large (King or Emperor) Penguins and we saw nothing like that.
There were Rockhoppers and Gentoos, so Ryan was happy and it was, at least, a little cooler and less packed in here.
Again there were Seals, Harp Seals and Grey Seals, frolicking and these were much better value than the mainly static Penguins, as they swam at the large glass windows (oddly upside down a lot!) veering away at the last moment.
There were plenty of other tanks with fish and other Polar creatures on display and here, thankfully, at least the names were listed in English along with French and Latin classifications.
Finally, we made our way into the Tropical zone, which was really quite warm and as packed (by now it was about 2PM) as the Temperate zone had been. There were plenty of colourful fish to enjoy in here and a huge tank containing Sawfish,
Nurse and Leopard Sharks (and some other sharks) and rays, which could be viewed in the upper section through three rather pitiful porthole windows, from the glass walled lift (which oddly faced only onto a small walled off section of the whole tank in which,
at least, a couple of large sharks swan as we descended – just as well as we’d waited 15 minutes for the ride) and from the bottom in a couple of viewing areas which included overhead glass so that you could see the fish swim over you.
We were all tired out and pretty hungry by 2:30, but the queues for the restaurants were terrible still. Fortunately we found a sandwich bar selling rather good filled baguettes at not too extortionate prices and ate those outside away from the crowds and the heat.
It had brightened a bit by now, but still wasn’t sunny or overly warm for mid-August.
After eating, we checked the overcrowded gift shop (I soon lost interest), Ryan bumped into his English teacher (how depressing must that be for a teacher!) and then we watched the playful Common Seals in the top of the tank we’d seen them in earlier, which was exposed (as was another tank with Temperate fish in, including some sharks).
After wandering around an exhibition (helpfully well captioned in English alongside the French) on the Ocean’s bio-diversity (in the 1700s someone believed they’d catalogued ALL the sea creatures at 176 species, there are millions know today) we
thought we’d take a last look at the Penguins, but by now the queue was huge, so we decided to give it a miss and, by now 4:30, headed back to the car and the easy, but lengthyish drive back to Plerneuf.
Oceanopolis is probably a great aquarium to visit on a sunny day, but being a main indoor attraction in the area, it was packed on this grey, damp day and to be honest they didn’t
really have the facilities to cope with all the people there.
I wouldn’t say it spoiled our enjoyment, but I sense we’d have enjoyed it more if there had been less people there.
The forecast was ‘okay-ish’ for Wednesday, so we hoped to go the beach especially as we’d spent a lot of time driving so far and quite a lot walking which was causing my knee to get quite sore towards the end of the days.
Mandy wanted to check out the fruit in the market in nearby St Breuic too, so the plan was to visit there first and then go to the beach a little later.
The first part went ok, it was getting quite warm as we set off to St Breuic market and we purchased some fruit and gifts, but as we wandered around it clouded up a lot.
We returned to our temporary home for lunch and decided that it wasn’t going to be good enough for an afternoon on the beach. Instead we decided to visit a nearby Chateau and garden.
This one is called La Roche Jagu and is just north of Pontrieux about 30 minutes drive away, although we get a little lost on the way out and ended up getting there via mainly small D roads, which took a little longer.
The castle appears to be owned by the local authority, so was pretty cheap to get into (just 4 Euros for adults and 3 for under 18s) and you can explore the grounds for free.
This chateau is more a fortified manor house than a castle like Hunaudaye and in excellent condition. The 3 floors are all accessible, although the majority of the 2nd and 3rd were being used for an exhibition on colour (all in French unfortunately), but you could still explore the rooms. Helpfully there were cards in each room explaining their purpose and history, printed in, as I recall, English, German and Dutch.
It’s an impressive building inside and out and dominates the valley of the Trieux river with incredible views.
In the grounds, after exploring the chateau, we split up and tried a couple of the marked (sometimes not the brilliantly) walks in the grounds, which are quite hilly as they all take you down to or at least towards the river.
After an ice cream we headed back, stopping briefly on the way to take in the view (and some photos) of the river at Pontrieux.
By now we’d done over 400 miles since arriving (so much for not driving or walking so much!) and needed some petrol so we headed to the Intermarche in Tremuson (where the petrol seemed cheapest) and then to Breuic for dinner.
We had a curry in the relative rarity of a French Indian restaurant. None of the staff we saw bore any indications of Indian ancestry and the food wasn’t much like you would find in an Indian restaurant in the UK, but it was tasty enough, if far from a cheap meal (not that a curry’s a cheap option in the UK these days) and the restaurant did a brisk trade on a Wednesday evening, so obviously the locals enjoy it.
The weather was looking good for Thursday so we decided we would go to the beach and not make any other plans.
Fortunately, things went according to plan and we awoke to blue skies dotted with small white clouds.
I was first up, so wandered down to Plerneuf’s centre to buy some Croissants and bread from the Boulangerie where Mandy had become enough of a regular for them to know which bread I wanted by saying “Comme la Femme Anglais”!
After breakfast Mandy prepared a picnic and we set off for Binic.
The sunny weather had obviously bought out the crowds as the town and beach in the centre of Binic were packed (There were also stalls all over town selling secondhand books), so we drove on until we reached the edge of town and spotted signs for Plage du Corps Des Gardes by the Binic Super U.
The signs took us to a tiny unmade car park on the top of the cliffs, but below we could see a mainly stony beach with no-one on it. We decided this would do and descended the winding path to the beach.
When we arrived (this was about 11AM) there was another couple (the man fishing) on the whole beach and we settled ourselves on a couple of patches of sandy not far from the water’s edge and stripped off for a swim.
The water didn’t feel too bad on the feet and lower legs, but as we went in deeper and deeper our warm skin felt the chill of the water more and more. Once fully submerged and swimming though it didn’t seem too bad and we swam and splashed around for a while and I did a few of my Hydrotherapy exercises for my knee.
After that we lay on the sand until the encroaching tide threatened to reach us and moved a long way up the beach to some more sand which was obviously above the high tide mark.
We had lunch, explored some of the rock pools and noticed the beach gradually getting busier. After another swim in the afternoon, we packed up to leave about 4 O’clock.
After stocking up with beer and wine (to take home) and some extra food supplies for the next couple of days and the return journey at the Super U, we drove back to ’our’ house in Plerneuf and had a light dinner after which we watched a film.
We planned to go to the Ile de Brehat on our last day.
The weather didn’t look too promising, but we set off anyway and arrived in about 40 minutes.
We bought tickets (14 euros each) for a circular tour around the island (sadly all the commentary was in French and not terribly clear, so of very limited value to us) and direct return at any time later in the day.
The tour was pretty good value for the extra 5 euros as we’d never seen the Ile before and this gave us a view of it that we certainly weren’t going to get on land.
On landing (About Noon) we rented bikes (there are plenty of places in Port Clos) and set off for the highest point on the island, the 34m high hillock on which sits the Chapel De St Michel. We stopped and climbed the steps to the chapel. The view from here over the tiny islets around the main island was amazing, but having rented the bikes for just 2 hours we didn’t have much time to linger.
We then set off through the south island and onto the North island (only a tiny bridge which is easy to miss separates the two) and headed for the Phare Paon. We got within viewing distance, but conscious of the time we didn’t actually get all the way up the lighthouse, although the pink granite that gives this part of the coast (The Pink Granite coast) its name was most evident.
We had an ice cream in the lovely tea rooms and gardens by the Phare and then cycled back to Port Clos, by way of Le Bourg and then returned our bikes.
After that we walked from Port Clos back to Le Bourg, where we had lunch in the Vielle Aube. Mandy and I had delicious Brochette De Sardinnes (Grilled sardines kebab basically) which tasted great and was relatively affordable at 10 Euros. The kids only had a bowl of chips each and then 3 of us had Profiteroles (at an eye watering 8 euros!) while Ryan had Ice Cream. With drinks the bill came to a rather shocking 74 Euros, but it was probably the tastiest food we had all week.
We strolled around the shops in town and back at Port Clos after lunch and then caught the 4 O’clock boat back to Pointe de l'Arcouest.
As we drove away it started to drizzle, in contrast to the rather hot temperature we’d had all morning and the pleasantly overcast (but still very warm) afternoon.
There was nothing but packing to do at the house ready for our return the following morning. With a 16:00 crossing on the Tunnel booked we planned to leave at 8AM and hoped that the traffic and the car would be less troublesome on the way down.
The journey home proved less stressful with a lot less traffic (although it looked, if anything, even worse heading towards Brittany) on the route via Rouen and no problems with the engine
overheating. We even had an hour or so to look around the Cite Europe shopping centre at the Tunnel Sous La Manche and still caught a slightly earlier train than we were scheduled on.
We had a good holiday in Brittany, as we always have before.
Going those few miles further west was good as it meant we did spend the whole week exploring places we'd not been before, which was our intention.
The weather was hardly outstanding for a Breton August, but equally it wasn't bad, certainly better than the UK experienced the same week.
Our 'home' for the week was comfortable, well located and peaceful and we all came back a little more refreshed from a week's break from the norms of life.