Brittany is a special region because of its coastline. It is beautiful, rugged and everchanging. It protrudes westward as a peninsular out into the Atlantic Ocean. The Bay of Biscay lies to the south-west and the English Channel sits to the north. Because of this, it provides hikers with landscapes from granite cliffs to sandy beaches; from lush countryside to muddy marshland. One of the best ways to see all of this is to on these hikes!
In this article I am choosing 5 of my favourite coastal hikes to share with you. However, the Brittany coastline is 1700km long with around 800 islands scattered along it. There is almost too much to exploring to do. A lot of these hikes are linked by the GR34 hiking trail. A trail that wraps around almost the entire Brittany coastline; starting at the Mont-Saint-Michel and ending at Saint Nazaire. During the summer months many people bring their tents and hike along these routes for days. These 5 are day hikes that will only take a few hours and make for an excellent day at the coast.
Use this map to explore these 5 hikes along Brittany’s wilder northern coast:
Return to the map by clicking this icon –
1. Île de Batz
Distance : 11.8 km
Duration : 3 hours (+15 minute ferry)
If you are ever taking the ferry to/from Roscoff or just exploring the Finistère department of Brittany, the Ile de Batz is a must see. It’s only a short 15 minute ferry across the island, making it one of Brittany’s most accessible islands. Once you have landed the best way to explore this tiny community is on foot.
The island is reliant on tourism, fishing and the production of fruit and vegetables to sustain itself. It has a population of just 452 people. The majority of whom live on the south side of the island right next the port where you will arrive.
Before setting off at a stomping pace to circumnavigate this island I highly recommend exploring the village of Pors Kernoc. Personally, I headed straight for the Bar du Port as it was a hot day and they were selling ice cream. After that we meandered through the winding streets that climb up away from the port towards the church. The white cottages with blue shutters sit snugly along the lanes and they are almost all lined with flower beds.
You will find not only a church but the tourist information, post office, school house and the library all in this tiny Breton village. If you fall in love with the Île-de-Batz, there are a few places to stay on the island. Including ‘Le Jardin Colonial’ holiday village where you can stay in a cabin near the gardens of Georges Delaselle. The hike ends near here.
If you are in town. Head west and back to the coast. The hike itself is self-explanatory. Just keep the coast on your left and follow the footpath that circles the island. No maps or directions required. Keep walking until you see something worth investigating or stop for a quick swim on one of the islands many beaches. White sand or large smooth rocks – your choice.
What to look out for on this hike:
- Fields of fresh produce – The inhabitants of the Ile de Batz grow potatoes, cauliflower, fennel, carrots, celery, pink onions and shallots. But they are known for their ‘pomme de terre primeur’ or ‘early potatoes’. These potatoes thrive in the mild island climate and are fertilized with seaweed found just off the coast here.
- The Corsaire’s House – Built in 1711. Used by pirates or privateers to keep a lookout over the island’s defences.
- The Lighthouse of the Ile de Batz – Built in 1836. At 42 metres high you won’t miss this impressive and essential island structure. Now home to a museum that features the old wardens quarters and the history of life on the island.
- The Northern Beaches – The north stretch of the hike is the longest section and it winds in and out. Starting with rocky chimneys and pebbly shoreline and eventually turning into a long stretch of sand.
- Ruins of St Anne’s Chapel – A historic monument now in ruins due to its abandonment in the 18th century. The abbey was built in the 10th century on the site of a monastery founded by Paul Aurelian, a monk from Wales.
- The Gardens of Goerges Delaselle – A beautiful botanical garden home to an abundant collection of exotic plants.
2. Ploumanac’h, Perros-Guirec
Distance : 9.6 km
Duration : 2 h 30
When people talk about the Brittany coast, they talk about the granite rose coast. Romantic, pink, sandy rocks positioned along the edge of the sea as if put there deliberately. The rocks themselves are a particular shade of rose making this stretch of coast feel like there is a permanent sun set. And when the sun does hit, the colours change and the view only gets better. There is no place better to see this than on this hike around the peninsular of Ploumanac’h.
A favourite game of the locals is to give the rocks identities or names. Like when you were a child looking up at the sky pointing to each cloud and saying what you see. It’s the same here but with the rock formations. What do you see when you look at the rocks here? Some of them are as tall as 20 metres high and as daunting or imposing as that sounds the local nicknames for these rocks are less so. Napoleon’s Hat, the Lovers’ Hideaway, the Mushroom…
Ploumanac’h is a village in the commune of Perros-Guirec. These place names don’t sound very French do they? Both names derive from the Breton language. ‘Plou’ meaning parish and ‘Manac’h’ from St. Manaccus, an Irish monk. Perros, or ‘Pen-Ros’ in Breton, means ‘top of the mound’. And Guirec is a Breton name, still used here to this day. The meaning of Perros-Guirec is probably ‘the top of Guirec’s mound!’
This hike is an out and back with a loop of the peninsular. We are starting on Trestraou beach just outside of Perros-Guirec. There is a small car park there and Perros-Guirec is a classic Breton seaside town worth a visit or equally a great place to base yourself while visiting Brittany. I recommend Hôtel de Perros for those who like to be in town, close to the bars, restaurants and shops. For families or just to be a bit closer to nature and the pink granite then I would recommend Camping Sandaya Le Ranolien. You can start the hike from there too!
However, by beginning your hike just a little further down the coast you will get the full effect of the peninsular reaching out into the channel ahead of you. And the granite starting small and building into large interestingly shaped mineral treasures by the time you hike out onto Ploumanac’h itself. I must add that if you are doing this hike suring peak summer season you will by no means be by yourself. The beauty of the region attracts many visitors and the proximity to the ‘Sept-isles’ attracts birds and therefore bird watchers too.
The ’Sept-Isles’ or seven isles is Brittany’s largest bird sanctuary and is home to 27 species of birds – including puffins! Although I have yet to make the trip out there, the ferry runs from Perros-Guirec. If you are a bird fanatic or are just looking for a little adventure you can choose from an excursion of 1h45 for 20,50€ or 2h30 for 23,50€ – reserve your tickets on the Armor Navigation website.
Following this hike is easy, your path is clearly marked by the white and red GR34 signs. It is not a very technically challenging hike with good paths and plenty of public toilets along the way. If you want to factor in a coffee or ice cream stop along the route I would recommend pausing at Saint Guirec beack and walking into the village of Ploumanac’h itself.
Now for the hike’s highlights. Here is your checklist of things not to miss on this hike:
- The Sentier des Douaniers – another name for the hiking trail you are following. It is a section of the GR34 hiking route and was once used by customs officers to combat smuggling.
- Château de Costaérès – Despite its appearance, the fairy-tale castle of Costaérès that stands atop a rocky islet does not date from the Middle Ages. Built in 1896 by Bruno Abakanowicz. A private estate, the island and its castle are not open to visitors.
- The Oratory of Saint-Guirec – Built on the beach of Saint-Guirec in the 12th century, in memory of this Saint who, supposedly once landed on this beach. Legend has it, single women who place a needle into the nose of the saint’s statue will be married within the year. That is, only if the needle stays in place after high tide!
- The Ploumanach lighthouse: set on a huge block of rose-pink granite, built from blocks of rose-pink granite, it blends in perfectly with the landscape. Very photogenic and emblematic, you will find it on a lot of postcards.
- Maison Du Littoral – Located right on the coastal footpath surrounded by the rose granite rocks, the Maison du littoral team manages the Ploumanac’h site. Inside you can find permanent and temporary exhibitions that focus on conservation, awareness and the history of the region.
Why are the stones pink?
The impressive, pink-coloured granite formed about 300 million years ago. Over time, layers of earth on top of the granite were removed by the power of wind and water, exposing the remarkable landscape. The characteristic colour of the stone is caused by a mixture of three minerals, mica, feldspath and quartz. Besides the Côte de Granit Rose, there are only two further coastal stretches in the world with the same characteristics: on the island of Corsica and in China.
3. Cap Fréhel
Distance: 12.9 km
Duration: 3 h 30
When you arrive at Cap Fréhel you will instantly know why it is one of the Côtes d’Armor’s most iconic peninsulas. It is a spectacular drive before you have even set foot on the ground. The peninsular climbs steadily and reaches it’s peak at the famous lighthouse. Which is where I recommend you park your car.
The pink sandstone cliffs that fall beside you throughout this hike are 70 meters high. Prepare for it to get windy up there, even on the brightest of summer days. These cliffs are also home to hundreds of nesting birds. Similarly, to Ploumanac’h this site attracts birds watchers.
From February to mid-July these birds nestle into the cliffs to hatch their young. Bring your binoculars as you pass ‘La fauconnière’ a tall chimney stack of rock, smeared with droppings and teeming with birds. It is just after you pass the lighthouse and join the footpath. If you really want to observe the birds going about their business April is a good time to visit. The young will just be venturing out of their nests!
Not only is this site a bird sanctuary but it is also has some very interesting geography. Despite being surrounded by rocky outcrops and sandstone cliffs, the entire peninsular is covered in marshes and heather moorland. This is a protected geological site. Recognised nationally and internationally as an important coastal environment.
On this hike look down as well as up. Especially after being blown away by the coastal beauty of the first half of the hike. Don’t forget to appreciate the changing landscape as you cut back across the peninsular. Visit in the springtime to see bright yellow gorse and pink sea thrift or in the summer to walk through a sea of purple heather.
While this circular loop offers you the best that this area has to offer, if you are looking for a hike that includes a stop at a beautiful sandy beach for a dip then you might want to follow the coastal path southwest after exploring the lighthouse. There are several small sandy beaches on the way that are exposed at low tide. However, if you don’t want to worry about the tides ruining your fun there are 3 beautiful beaches, in 3 consecutive bays. Plage de La Fosse, Les Grèves d’en Bas and Anse du Croc.
As this is quite a long hike, why not factor in a coffee stop or some lunch? At 6.6 kilometres you will find Le Petit Galet a creperie that will serve you a famous Breton galette and a bowl of cider. Or, if you want to continue further there is La Ribote at kilometre 9.3. A French restaurant serving local classics like Potée Bretonne (a fisherman’s stew) or moules mariniere and frites (mussels and fries).
The historical sites of interest on this hike:
- The First lighthouse – Built in the 18th century the first lighthouse can still be seen next to its modern successor.
- The Second Lighthouse – Another, bigger and better lighthouse was designed and built in the 19th century and then destroyed in the second world war. It was used as an observation post before the Germans decided to dynamite it.
- The (current) Cap Fréhel Lighthouse – After the war construction on the current lighthouse began in 1946. As one of the 5 most powerful lighthouses in France, this lighthouse is nothing if not impressive. Its lantern is located more than 100 metres above sea level and the light from its beacon carries for 53 kilometres! The site is open to visitors from April to early November. Do not hesitate to climb the 145 steps to enjoy a panorama. Just remember you’ve only just started your hike!
- Fort la Latte – Otherwise known as La Roche Goyon. As it was built in the 14th century by Étienne Goyon , Lord of Matignon. The Goyon family is one of the oldest in all of Brittany. Constructed during the War of Breton Succession (1341 –1365), it is in a perfect strategic location. A naturally impregnable fortress, with views across the English Channel and the Emerald Coast. A historic monument since 1925, the Joüon des Longrais family have been continually restoring and maintaining the fort. So much so, that it retains its walls, drawbridge, dungeon and medieval garden.
4. Île des Ébihens
Distance: 10.7 km
Duration: 3 hours
If you’re looking for a hike with a sense of adventure, then this is definitely one you should do. It starts at the Pointe du Chevet, just north of Saint-Jacut-de-la-Mer. This hike is in two sections: the out and back across to the island and the circuit around the town of Saint-Jacut. Which section you begin with will all depend on your timing.
⚠️ WARNING ⚠️
Do not begin this hike without first looking at the tides!
You must look at the tides before starting. Use a website like marée info. Why? Because the tides here have a huge range. Brittany has the world’s second largest tidal range. In some parts the range between high and low tide is 14 metres! One minute the sea will be lapping at your ancles with not a beach in site and merely a few hours later there will be nothing but sand for miles. You might already be able to tell from the map but on this hike, you are walking out at low tide to an island.
To be safe I would recommend heading out to the island as the tide is still on its way down. If there is enough land to walk across of course. From the car park you descend immediately to the beach, watch out for slippery and uneven rocks. Then you begin your crossing. If there is a low level of water still you can cross in welly boots or take your shoes off and get your feet wet.
Once on the island make sure to keep an eye on the time and begin to make your way 2 hours after low tide. Unless you would like to spend an extra 6 hours stranded on the island. If you are incredibly unlucky and miss your window, stay close to where there is vegetation – the tide wont reach you there. And pack snacks just in case. Otherwise, if you’re feeling even more adventurous, you can hire a kayak in the nearby beach town of Lancieux and paddle out to the island at high tide.
Something that you are sure to see while on this hike are local people and families bent over searching in the sand. The swell of the tide brings with it all sorts of treasures. Not least of which is shellfish. Pêche à pied or fishing on foot is a national sport in Brittany. And the île-des-ébihens is one of the most popular places to do it.
Want to give it a go yourself? Here are three techniques for fishing on foot:
1. Fishing for razor fish – Look closely at the sand beneath your feet. You are looking for a key shaped hole that may have a razor fish just below the surface. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over the hole and wait to see if anything pops out!
2. Fishing for crabs – Carefully turn over the half-submerged rocks that surround the island and keep an eye out for anything moving underneath. And watch out for their strong claws! Be sure to put the rocks back exactly as you found them afterward – the sea life depends on it.
3. Fishing for clams & cockles – Get digging! Look for the darker patches of sand that may have small breathing holes. Use a trowel, spoon, fork or just your fingers and you are sure to uncover something beneath the surface.
The island itself is private and you will pass a private residence on this hike. Be sure to stick to the footpath. Once on the island you will find yourself surrounded by tall trees and a thicket of bushes. Then you will emerge once again out onto a rocky outcrop with more beautiful sand beaches on all sides. Use your time on the island exploring these beautiful coves, clambering over rocks, or keeping an eye out for the bird and sea life.
Return to the mainland for the second section of this hike where you circumnavigate the town of Saint-Jacut-de-la-mer. The entire town is on a thin three-kilometre-long peninsula. If you decide to venture into this small town, you will find all the shops, restaurants and cafes along the Grand Rue. The architecture here is a mix of traditional stone cottages and imposing villas.
Other points of interest on this hike:
- La Tour des Ebihens – An impressive granite tower now sheltered by the island’s trees. This tower was finished in 1696 and one of many coastal defences for the port city of St Malo.
- Plage de la Chapelle – One of the île-des-ébihens many beaches. Sometimes known as port de la chapelle because of all the boats that anchor here. It is south facing and has public access. The perfect spot for a picnic.
- L’Abbaye Saint-Jacut-de-la-Mer – Benedictine monastery founded by Saint Jacut in the 5th century. Now it is a guest house as well as a cultural and spiritual centre. Often hosting events and concerts, this abbey opens its doors to everyone.
5. Cancale to the Pointe du Grouin
Distance : 14.6 km
Duration: 4 h 30
Cancale is the Oyster capital of France. Louis XIV ordered his oysters from Cancale. If you are a big lover of seafood then you cannot pass an opportunity to visit this unassuming fishing town.
Steeped in history and a long tradition of fishing, the people of Cancale are proud of their reputation and it isn’t hard to figure out why. Either start or end your hike at the oyster market. Look for the lighthouse at the end of town. The one waving the green flag of Cancale, adorned with a ship surrounded by oysters.
This hike is a long one if you choose to do an out and back to the end of the peninsular, known as Pointe du Grouin or the point of the pigs snout. I don’t know how accurate that name is really. If you are looking for a good full day’s hiking, then by all means go for it. However, this hike can be enjoyed in sections. Either start at the dramatic pointe du grouin or the oyster market of Cancale and choose one of the three beaches to turn around – Port Mer, Port Picain or Port de Briac. If you happen to be hiking on a weekend the numbers 15 and 8 buses run from the pointe back to Cancale.
As well as being a very long hike, it is also quite challenging. You are following a well signposted section of the GR34 – look out for the red and white signs. Although this path climbs and descends constantly and is made up of several rocky sections where scrambling may be necessary. Look at the elevation profile below to see what following the unrelenting rugged coastal path looks like.
You will be rewarded for your efforts by the beautiful views, the scent of pine and the three ports that break up the journey. Only Port Mer has somewhere to buy coffee but all three have bathroom facilities. Each is different and depending on the tides and the weather you can stop at any of them for a quick dip in the sea.
Looking out to sea from this hike you are, in fact, looking across the bay of Mont Saint Michel. The famous UNESCO world heritage site. Which is actually located in Normandy – it is just across the border! If you are lucky and it is a clear day you will be able to make out the mound in the distance. Look for the shape of the abbey’s spire on the top. The difference between the Mont Saint Michel and one of the other islands in the bay is its very distinct pointed shape.
Legend has it that the mythological creature Gargantua was walking in the bay of the Mont Saint Michel one day when something got into her boot. It was bothering her as she walked. So, she took off her boot and shook it. Three stones fell out and flew across the bay. These stones became the Mont-Saint-Michel, the island of Tombelaine and Mont-Dol. If you have time while in the region, Mont Dol also makes for an interesting visit and is considered one of the most important Palaeolithic sites in Brittany.
Closer to the hiking trail are a few other islands. The most impressive of these is the island of rimains which has an 18th century fort on its south side. Now a privately owned island with a swimming pool and a helipad. Other islands here are home to many sea birds. Especially the île des lands, directly opposite the pointe du grouin. Surrounded by sea and protected, this island in completely inaccessible and therefore a paradise for wildlife. Bring your binoculars to get a better look.
As it is the home of Oysters. Here are my food related recommendations on this hike:
- Marché aux Huîtres de Cancale – The Oyster market is the best place to get fresh out of the bay oysters at a fraction of the cost you would in a restaurant. Choose between the flat oysters and the round. Enjoy them with a squeeze of lemon and then throw the shells onto the beach and make a wish.
- Le Vigneron du Muscadet – One cannot sample the oysters of Cancale without a drop of Muscadet! This wine seller will advise you and direct you towards one of their excellent dry white wines.
- Lunch in Cancale, L’Arrière Cour– Restaurant with warm vintage decor and excellent food. Here they serve classic seafood dishes as well as vegetarian sharing platters. Experience a warm welcome and a full stomach.
- Lunch at Pointe du Grouin, Brasserie de la Pointe du Grouin – On a calm sunny day, you will not beat the view from this restaurant. A truly special experience and an excellent reward for a day’s hiking. Here, the menu is simple – seafood, salads or crêpes.