Walking & cycling in Brittany

In 2020 we spent three weeks touring around beautiful Brittany. We walked for many kilometres, particularly on the GR34 coastal path and enjoyed some pleasurable cycling on quiet lanes. We found stunning cliffs, sweeps of white sand and plenty of quiet corners to just sit and enjoy the scenery. Brittany proved to be a fantastic region of France for a varied activity-based holiday.

The list of campsites we stayed at is on a separate blog post. In this longer than usual post I have shared information about the wonderful walks and cycle rides we enjoyed to inspire your own trip to Brittany. Apologies if I have missed a typo in all these words!

Walks & Cycle Rides

  1. A stroll around bays and rocky headlands of Île-Grande, near Trebeurden
  2. Walking among pink granite boulders from Tourony on the GR34
  3. Finding solitude on foot and by bike on the Pays Pagan in Finistère
  4. A walk through history along the cliffs at Pointe de St Mathieu
  5. Walking around the ancient stones and the harbour at Camaret-sur-Mer
  6. Picture postcard Locronan and the Bois de Nevet walks
  7. Above the rocks & crashing waves at the Pointe du Van
  8. Cycling on the Cap Sizun to botanical gardens and Menez Dregan
  9. Coast and wetland walks around Beg Meil in southern Brittany
  10. Rolling along the Nantes-Brest Canal on two wheels
  11. Spectacular coastal walking from Saint Coulomb near St Malo
  12. A circuit of the walls of Saint-Malo

We started our journey on the northern coast of Brittany, heading west and then gradually making our way south around the coast to Beg Meil, south of Quimper. We returned north, driving through inland Brittany to the north coast.

1. A circuit of Île-Grande, near Trebeurden

A perfect evening stroll from Camping L’Esperance near Trebeurden is across the rocky and sandy bay towards Ile Grande.  If you have longer, then the circuit of Ile Grande [around 8 km] is a perfect and satisfying walk.

It was a warm August day when we set off but a sea mist was still rolling along the coast. Crossing the road from the campsite, we headed across the sands. The route you take here will depend on the tides and how much you enjoy paddling. Ile Grande, as the name suggests, is an island but you can often skirt around the sea and cross to the island without using the bridge. On the island we turned right, following the path through a varied landscape. At times we were surrounded by tall bushes, at other times we were on sandy paths just above the coast, walking around deep bays and out onto rocky peninsulas. There were butterflies and wild flowers, sculptures and information boards. The bay by the sailing club was busy with paddle board and wind surfing lessons in full swing.

More than half the way around, the League for the Protection of Birds have a centre near the Pointe de Toul-Ar-Staon that you can visit. By the island’s campsite there is an excellent restaurant We only stopped for drinks here but you could have lunch and it is worth booking as it is popular. We ate our picnic lunch in the sunshine on a sheltered bay full of boats before skirting the salt marshes around the final large sheltered cove. 

After our circuit we walked into the sleepy village and followed signs uphill to an allée couverte, a late Neolithic burial site. This good example in the centre of the island has two large slabs resting on rows of upright stones. Local legend tells of dwarfs who lived here but they didn’t make an appearance on our visit and we carried on up to the outcrop of rocks that gave us a 360 degree view of the island.

2. On the GR34 Sentier des Douaniers from Tourony Port, Tregastel

The Sentier des Douaniers or GR34 is apparently France’s favourite Grande Randonnée (GR) or long-distance footpath and I soon came to realise why. The path hugs the Brittany shore for around 2,000 km (1,243 miles) from Mont-Saint-Michel to the port of Saint-Nazaire on the River Loire.  Known as le Sentier des Douaniers, the path was created in the 18th century to help customs officers apprehend smugglers and it winds around many promontories, inlets and bays. It was our companion on many of our Brittany walks. 

From Camping Tourony we walked around the sheltered and picturesque port and along a popular section of the GR34 around the Côte de Granit Rose, named after the areas distinctive and attractive pink granite boulders. We stopped to watch the boats sailing in and out of the harbour and admire the rocky islets, including one with a neo-gothic castle.   The path wound through shady pine trees and large boulders to Plage St Guirec, a bustling sandy beach with shops and restaurants. 

The next section of the GR34 is simply stunning. In the sunshine, the sea was blue, each bay seemed prettier than the last and the stacks of pink granite boulders added drama to the views. We passed the Phare de Men Ruz, also built of the local granite, that dates from 1948 and is still in use. The footpaths are well marked and visitors are managed so that the colourful heather, gorse and wild flowers can flourish.

This is a lovely enough route to make retracing your steps no hardship, or, like us, you can cut inland back to St Guirec on a path that follows the boundary of the Le Ranolien campsite. We ate excellent ice-creams from Histoires de Glaces on the beach before retracing our steps to Tourony.

In the evening we walked to Tourony beach, a perfect spot for some evening tranquility. We climbed over the massive pink boulders and pottered along the soft sand in the evening calm.

3. Finding solitude walking and cycling around the Pays Pagan near Guisseny

There was so much to like about Camping Vougot, I am surprised we managed to tear ourselves away. We had driven west into Finistère and found quiet roads, deserted beaches and wide views, just what we like. To top this off, the helpful campsite owners gave us information about local walks and cycle routes.

On our first day we followed Cycle Route Two, an easy 23 km circuit from the campsite. This used quiet roads and tracks, through fields of cauliflowers and cabbages.  The landscape is dotted with farms and holiday homes and small campsites for two or three caravans. This is the Pays Pagan, a perilous stretch of coastline where sharp needles of rock lurk just under the water making navigation difficult for boats even on a clear day and when the sea mist rolls in many ships have been lost here. Legends tell stories of wreckers, who lured ships onto the rocks and looted their cargo and that is easy to believe in this remote area although it isn’t clear how reliable the legends are.

The GR34 comes this way, following the rugged bays. On the northern coast we watched surfers waiting for the waves on long sandy beaches. Near Kerlouarn we sat on a rocky headland between a large sandy bay, Plage Roc ‘h ar gonc, and a small sheltered cove and had our lunch. A memorial to a Canadian boat torpedoed in 1944 was nearby.  Our return went inland via a pretty church, Sainte Egarec, surrounded by pink hydrangeas and with a well reached by steps and looked over by a saint’s statue. 

From the campsite, the walk around Etang du Curnic, a local wetland and nature reserve is a pleasant way to spend an hour or so. We spotted coots, swans and a heron on the water and a shy water rail dipped in and out of the tall reeds. In the evenings we would walk the ten minutes to the beach to watch the sun drift into the sea. The waves gently lap against the shore and sanderlings, turnstones and ringed plover feed at the water’s edge.  As we walked back to the dunes, sand hoppers softly flitted around our feet.

The Circuit de Milin Ar Raden, is a 10 km walk from the campsite that is a perfect mixture of countryside and coast.  You could, if you wanted, split this up into two walks.  We began by walking along the lanes between the fields of horses and plots for caravans near the campsite and then climbed the steep green hillside beyond the coast.  We followed sunken paths through dense hedges and bracken and stopped to see La Fontaine Sainte Claire before descending by a gurgling stream where an old mill was hidden in the trees. Taking the paths around the Etang du Curnic we followed the tall dyke enjoying the views of the beach to our right and the ponds to our left. We were back on the GR34, following the coast around a rocky headland and onto the long stretch of white sand at Plage du Vougo. At the end of the beach a track bought us back to the campsite.

4. A walk through history along the cliffs at Pointe de St Mathieu

We drove through the quiet countryside of Finistère to Pointe de St Mathieu that overlooks the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic and the entrance to the port of Brest. This is a popular destination but there is plenty of parking.

The star attraction here is the juxtaposition of the grey stones of a ruined abbey with a tall slender bright red and white lighthouse.  Wandering around the ruined abbey is free and you can pay to climb the lighthouse. I stood in the shade of the old church among the stone columns, looking up at the towering lighthouse. On foot we explored the dark craggy coastline. Signs tells the story of numerous ships and submarines lost off this coast and old gun lookouts remain from war time. Gannets and cormorants flew along the blue sea and sailing boats found a safe course between the rocks and in the distance we spotted the Brittany Ferry to Spain.  Beyond the abbey is the National Memorial to Sailors.

On our return we stopped at Fort de Bertheaume, that sits on an island now accessible by a bridge but in the 17th century it was reached by an aerial gondola.  The site was fortified by Vauban in the 17th century and is strategically important as it guards the entrance to the port at Brest. Fort de Bertheaume was used by Nazi soldiers in the Second World War and the area wasn’t cleared of the mines until the 1990s, when it was opened to the public.  If the bridge is too tame, you can recreate the original access to the fort by taking the zip wire and via ferrata across to the island for the fantastic views out to sea and across the harbour.

5. Walking from the ancient stones to the historic harbour at Camaret-sur-Mer on the Crozon Peninsular

We headed south to the Crozon peninsular, parking above Camaret-sur-Mer near the Alignements de Lagatjar. The 60 stones here are arranged in rows at right angles to each other and the grassy site is a perfect place for a picnic.

It is only a short walk from the stones into the bustling resort of Camaret-sur-Mer but there is plenty to see and you’ll want to take your time.  Before you head for the town, begin with a walk out to the cliffs and the atmospheric ruins of the Manoir Saint-Pol Roux. Home of the poet Saint-Pol Roux this baroque turreted mansion overlooking the sea was occupied by the German army in the Second World War and bombed by Allied Forces.

In the town we began by exploring the back streets. These old lanes are lined with picturesque cottages adorned with colourful flowers in window boxes and bougainvillea plants trailing overhead. At the harbour we admired the boats and the pretty cafes and restaurants.  Camaret-sur-Mer’s historic sites are on the harbour wall. Here there is a row of large wrecks in a boat graveyard and a pretty church that has model ships hanging from the ceiling. At the end is the highlight, the deep pink Vauban Tower. This 17th century polygonal defensive tower with a moat, looks over the entrance into the harbour at Brest, facing Fort de Bertheaume.

6. Picture postcard Locronan and the Bois de Nevet walks

Locronan is a gorgeous and picturesque inland village that knows it.  It’s cobbled streets, lined with charming grey stone cottages lead through intimate squares to the stunning Place de L’Eglise.  The village has been used as a film location many times and is packed with tourist shops. We were staying at the campsite on the edge of the town and on our first day followed the town walk from the map the campsite had given us.

It is certainly worth walking up the hill from the Place de L’Eglise for the views over the town. On this route you can follow pretty paths around the manor house and back into Locronan. Walking downhill from the town centre we found the attractively-situated Chapelle Notre Dame Bonne Nouvelle with a fountain outside. I slipped inside this simple chapel to see the striking modern stained glass. We followed a sunken lane back to the bustle of the town, bought ice-creams to eat in the square and then delicious Breton cassis cakes from the traditional bakery to eat later with a mug of tea back at the van.

Our visit coincided with one of the regular evening artisan markets that go on until late at night. We returned in the evening to stroll around the stalls of baskets, local food, jewellery and toys and enjoy the music and entertainment.

The campsite had also given us a map for a 10 km walk and the next day we set off to more or less follow this. We detoured to see the Chapelle Ar Zonj and the nearby viewpoint across the countryside to the coast. The little chapel has an interesting stone staircase by the gate.

We easily picked up the lane on the 10 km walk from the viewpoint but got slightly lost beyond here. But carrying on along the lane we found the path that goes around the campsite. We walked along shady sunken tracks between stone walls and hedges and quiet lanes towards Bois de Nevet.  In the forest we picked up delightful paths through the lush woodland.  After lunch near the forest HQ we followed a path around the forest edge, finding a pretty pond, but missing our way and resorted to Google to get back onto the road to Kerbléon. From here the route was on lanes by industrial units and farms, gradually coming back round to Locronan. If we ever return, I think this walk would be improved by spending longer exploring the beauty of the Bois de Nevet and returning to Locronan from there, missing out the lanes and industrial areas.

7. Above the rocks & crashing waves at the Pointe du Van

On the Cap-Sizun peninsular, Pointe du Van and Pointe du Raz point like craggy fingers out to sea. We parked at the large parking area on Pointe du Van and walked around the headland, beginning with the stone chapel where we had views across the sea to Pointe du Raz and its lighthouse. It was breezy on this exposed bit of coast where rocks jut out into a blue sea full of white frothing waves. The paths wind among abundantly growing sweet fragrant heather. Before heading back to the ‘van we carried on a little further to two windmills, one built from stone and wood and the other just stone and both with restored sails. The whole walk is about 4 km.

You could walk down to the Baie des Trépassés [Bay of the Dead] that huddles between the Pointe du Van and Pointe du Raz. We opted to drive and walked along the wide sands to explore the rock pools under the cliffs. This bay is popular with surfers and the tide was coming in, creating rolling waves.  The surfing looked both fun and terrifying. 

8. Cycling on the Cap Sizun to botanical gardens and Menez Dregan

A campsite with a cycle route running by it ticks boxes for us and so we stayed a few nights at Camping Plage Kersiny. Once again we had a lovely beach nearby for watching the sunset, this time a rocky bay where curlews and black headed gulls fed among the thick seaweed on the rocks, dodging the spray from the waves.

It is only about a 16 km round trip from our campsite to Audierne and the lovely Parc Botanique Ar Paeron but give yourself plenty of time as there is lots to see on the way. At first we were following quiet residential roads where we stopped to look at the view along the coast. The cycle route signs took us to the sheltered river mouth and harbour where the scene across the river to the charming white buildings of Audierne was lovely. We sat having our picnic while we watched people messing about on boats.  The bridge across the river is slightly further inland and crossing this we walked the bikes along Audierne’s flower-lined promenade that was busy with cafes and shops.

Beyond the bustle of the town we went to the end of the harbour wall and the lighthouse, looking across a sandy beach. We continued cycling along the craggy coast until we spotted signs for the Parc Botanique Ar Paeron and decided to investigate. The lane climbs steeply up the hillside and after cycling down a track we propped the bikes up outside a small hut / entrance.  We paid €4.50 each and were given a map and sent off to explore this peaceful botanical gardens.  The planting is relaxed and the gardens have a charming natural feel, although many plants are labelled with their names and continents.  There were some beautiful and unusual species in flower and bees hummed amongst the beds and butterflies flitted from one colourful bloom to another. This garden is a perfect haven from the coast. We cycled back the same way.

Cycle in the opposite direction from the campsite and you will reach Menez Dregan in Plouhinec around 4 km along the coast.  We left the coastal cycle route and picked up a mountain bike route which turned out to be a great choice, taking us off the roads and onto a green lane, a stone wall to one side and views down to the rocky coast and beaches on the other. Fragrant bushes lined the route and it was idyllic.  We rejoined the road in time for Plage de Guendrez, a large sandy beach that is popular with surfers and swimmers.

Menez Dregan sits on the headland above this beach. This archaeological treasure trove is a large and complex stone necropolis from the Neolithic period.  Built in many phases the site has several dolmens.  Below the burial mound a Palaeolithic cave in what is now a sea cliff is being excavated.  This cave was home to humans when this area was about 5 km from the sea and the cave looked out over grassland. 

9. Coast and wetland walks around Beg Meil in southern Brittany

Our campsite at Beg Meil was close to the small town with bars and restaurants. It was also perfect for some walking. With the huge expanse of Kemil Beach just a meandering ten minutes walk away, you will probably head there first, reaching the sea at the western end of the 4 km stretch of Kemil Beach. Looking along the sands you would be forgiven for thinking you have arrived on a tropical island. The sand is white and pine trees line the bay, under a blue sky this is paradise.

Turn left and walk through the trees to the next bay, Plage de Kermyl. Here rocks edge the sands and more woodland, rocks and sandy bays follow. We walked around the coast to Pointe de Beg Meil, passing large stone houses that have enviable coastal outlooks. At times the footpath resembles a maze, with hedges on either side of us and limited access points to the sands. At the Plage des Oiseaux we descended stone steps through the weathered granite boulders to the sands. On this peaceful beach we sat listening to the lapping of the waves and watched stand up paddle boarders who gently followed the coastline. Further out a fishing boat was working and black headed gulls searched for food. I looked across the sea to the town of Concarneau and searched the sands for pretty shells.  At the stone jetty in Beg Meil we turned inland and walked through the shops and cafes back to the campsite.

We enjoyed a fantastic longer walk of about 10 km when we turned right at Kemil Beach, heading for Mousterlin. On the outward route we walked inland picking up some of the many and popular paths that wind around the wetlands, woodland and streams.  In this lush landscape of dark pine trees and grassland it is hard to believe you are just a few hundred metres from the sea. We spotted egrets on the wetlands and a coypu in one of the pools.  At Mousterlin we stopped for drinks at the cafe overlooking the beach before walking back along the 4 km stretch of Kemil Beach. Low dunes border the sands and I paddled through the surf, watching the swimmers and kite surfers and wind surfers who were taking advantage of a breeze.

10. Rolling along the Nantes-Brest Canal on two wheels

The small village of Le Roc-Saint-André near Ploërmel has a campsite that is right on the Nantes to Brest Canal. This makes it perfect for some easy off-road cycling. The picturesque town of Josselin with its castle is around 35 km round trip or an easier ride is to Malestroit, around 18 km there and back.

Either way the cycling is idyllic on a wide level path. The canal runs through countryside and is lined with trees.  Each lock is colourful with baskets of flowers and watched over by a lock keeper.  Boats gently putter by on the canal and the boating people wave as they pass.  Watching herons, swans and ducks will detain you.

We were lucky to arrive at Malestroit, a pretty little town, on market day. We stopped for coffee and then wandered around the stalls that sold everything from boxes of disposable masks to fruit and vegetables.  There were food stalls with paella and couscous dishes too.  The market is in a square surrounded by attractive timber-framed houses, many with ornate carvings in wood or stone.

The sunshine disappeared and the wind began to whip the stall canopies in the air; we realised it was time to head back, racing along the canal trying to beat the rain. We were about five minutes away from the shelter of the ‘van when the shower began.

11. Spectacular coastal walking from Saint Coulomb near St Malo

Camping des Chevrets was the perfect place for two hikers, there was so many options for walking we were spoilt for choice. Being on the coast you could obviously turn either left or right and we walked inland too.

You don’t have to undertake a long walk from Camping des Chevrets. For a short outing head down to the beach which is the perfect place to watch the sunset or the paragliders that skim above the trees. If you’re tempting to walk a little further then l’île Besnard, not an island but a rocky peninsular now attached to the mainland by a sandy spit of land will occupy an hour or so.  It was breezy and showering as we climbed the cliffs and walked to the headland in an anti-clockwise direction. Overlooking Rothéneuf Bay and harbour the walk became more sheltered and by the time we climbed down to a beach and salt marsh it was summer once again. Rock samphire grows in abundance here as well as purple rock sea lavender. On the salt marsh there were little egrets, oystercatchers, sanderlings, ringed plover and turnstone. 

Another short walk is around Pointe du Meinga, another headland, this time to the right of the beach.  The stony and rocky path around the point is undulating and at times narrow and precipitous, the vegetation giving a clue to the prevailing winds. On the windy side gorse and heather and hardy white sea campion dominate.  On the sheltered side there is bracken, pine trees and tall hedgerows. A path crosses the headland back to the beach and the campsite if you don’t want to retrace your steps.

Our first longer walk [about 14 km] from Camping des Chevrets was to the strange Rochers Sculptes beyond Rothéneuf. At low tide you can walk across the sands, crossing a river over an old concrete walkway covered in seaweed and walking under the cliffs topped with pine trees.  Rothéneuf has a harbour full of boats and plenty of big houses and the waves are channelled through the narrow gap between the mainland and l’île Besnard beyond the harbour. From Rothéneuf we picked up a path above the sea cliffs, occasionally sheltered by high hedges, to a tiny chapel.  Below was a tiny bay reached by steep steps and rocks with a handrail to make it possible and here we sheltered from the wind. It wasn’t much further to Les Rochers Sculptes. These sculputres of figures, faces and animals were created by a priest at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. The priest had a stroke and unable to carry on working spent 15 years carving these sculptures from the granite on a sloping finger of rock. Some sculptures are intertwined and complex, others are simple stand alone heads. The paths between them are narrow and uneven and I was constantly aware of the sea below.  We walked further along the coast to Plage du Val, a small sandy bay between rocky headlands overlooked by attractive grey stone houses before heading back.  On our return the tide was high and we could only walk so far along the beach at Rothéneuf before taking the GR34 high tide variant. This part of the walk had a different atmosphere through pine trees on soft ground and we crossed a small and overgrown dam before scrambling between hedges and brambles on a narrow path back to the bay below the campsite.

Setting off inland we followed quiet roads, green lanes and paths to the village of Saint Coulomb, often following a local MTB route.  We reached the Etangs Ste Suzanne, a large fishing lake surrounded by woodland and divided by a road bridge. We sat on a picnic bench here and watched the great crested grebes.  In the fields were corn and cabbages and the hedgerows were full of ripe blackberries. Saint Coulomb, which took its name from the monk who landed here in the 6th century, is a tidy village with a few shops and a cafe. Around the village are a number of historical manor houses or malouinières built by wealthy shipowners from Saint-Malo.

Our final walk from Camping des Chevrets was the best and the longest at 16 km. The sun was shining and we were following the GR34 along the coast towards Cancale and Pointe du Grouin.  Once we had left the campsite we were away from the roads and saw few people for the morning. Occasionally we noticed someone sunbathing in one of the sandy coves we walked by. In between the bays we were walking above craggy cliffs and lichen-covered rocks with views across the sea or through sharply fragrant pine woodland.  In sheltered corners we were surrounded by bracken and wild flowers and hordes of butterflies, including peacocks and red admirals.  At Plage du Verger there were more people, not surprising as this large beach has an island with an 18th century fort at one end.  You could walk back from here [about 19 km round trip] or catch the bus back to the campsite. We opted to carry on to Pointe du Grouin, a further 6.5 km, on a path that was steep in places but had fantastic views back to Plage du Verger and across to the headland. Pointe du Grouin is a honeypot destination with gift shops and cafes, an orientation table and big views. We caught the bus back to the campsite and treated ourselves to ice-creams and beer at the beachside cafe.

12. A circuit of the walls of Saint-Malo

Our last walk in Brittany was around the old walls of Saint-Malo. We parked our campervan on some on-street parking on Avenue Louis Martin that has ticket machines. This was about 1 km from the old walled town. The ramparts of Saint-Malo are a magnificent walk of 1.75 km, with views out to blue sea dotted with rocky islets and forts. Reaching the harbour we walked along the harbour wall and could see our Brittany Ferries ship waiting for our evening sailing. The compact and crowded city inside the walls has buildings of three or four storeys above narrow cobbled streets. We had our last holiday crepes in a shady square and toasted the beauty of Brittany and its fantastic walking and cycling.

Author: Back on the Road Again Blog

I write two blogs, one about my travels in our campervan and living well and frugally and the second about the stories behind the people commemorated in memorial benches.

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