Looking for a walk I had not done before on a beautiful sunny day in April, I decided to explore the coastline north of Saint-Quay-Portrieux. Where I had never been before. Using my trusty Komoot app I saw that several hikes began and ended at the Plage du Palus. A long sandy beach with a conveniently located bar and creperie for the end of your hike. Little did I know that after just an hours hiking I would discover a stunning islet and an ancient port that is one of the last of its kind. Gwin Zegal.
Along the section of coastline between the city of Saint-Brieuc and the famous granite rose coast, you will find the Falaises de Plouha along the GR34. This hiking trail covers the entire peninsular of Brittany. It is a must do when visiting Brittany and each new section I hike is varied, exciting and breathtakingly beautiful. This is how I found myself hiking the cliffs near the town of Plouha.
This hike was no walk in the park. Right away I felt like I was on the Inca trail in Peru as we mounted an almost vertical staircase up from the beach. And once on the trail the path did not let up, undulating, winding, up and down with a mix of dirt and gravel path with some tree roots thrown in for good measure. It is a fantastic workout.
However, if you’re not a big hiker there is a path that runs parallel – set just back a short distance from the coast. I used this trail on the way back to turn my hike into a circuit rather than an out and back. You can access all the points of interest from here without doing your knees in!
Falaises de Plouha
It was not a surprise to me to discover that these cliffs are in fact the highest in Brittany. The Pointe de Plouha is the highest point at 104 meters up. From this point you get a stunning panorama of some of the Côtes d’Armor’s highlights. The archipelago of Brehat to the west, the bay of Saint Brieuc to the east and directly opposite you can see all the way to Cap Fréhél.
This dramatic clifftop trail begins at Bonaparte beach and ends where I began my hike at the Plage du Palus. An 8km stretch of undoubtably some of the most stunning coast in Brittany.
Enjoying this sporty, sunny hike was plenty for me when I reached the opening in the trail that revealed Gwin Zegal. Reaching for my water bottle and cursing myself for not packing sun cream, I drank it all in. It’s like something out of a novel. The curve of the rock, the pebble beach and the port. They sit nestled below the cliffs in a perfect combination of nature and civilisation working together.
As soon as you see it you can tell this port is special. Made up of about 40 tree trunks 8 to 10 meters high have been planted upright in the sand. Boats are moored to the stakes, gently rising to the tops of the trees with the tide. It is the perfect emplacement, sheltered by a rocky islet and accessible at low tide on foot. This technique has been used since the 5th century and the port here at Gwin Zegal was established in 1854.
Listed as European Maritime Heritage, the port of Gwin Zegal is a source of pride for the local people. It is one of only 2 ports of its kind that exist in all of France. The other port is also in Brittany, the Port du Mazou in the Finistère. These are the last two reminders of this ancient practice.
This small forest port really is a living, ever changing thing. American red oaks are used because they only take 25 years to grow compared to 75 years for a classic oak tree. Therefore, to maintain this port over 150 oaks have been planted around the town of Plouha. Once planted with their roots in the sand the trunks have an average lifespan of 15 years. Two or three times a year the oldest are removed at high tide and replaced.
After climbing up the islet next to the port, known as “the turtle” by local people and relishing in my discovery, I returned to my walk. You really have to earn this place. Hiking up to the highest cliffs in Brittany, then down to the interested and unexpected Gwin Zegal at sea level and finally back up the clifftop again. Take it from me. It is so very worth it.
But what does it mean?
The name Gwin Zegal doesn’t sound very French. That’s because it is Breton. The Gaelic language of the people of Brittany. Gwin is the Breton word for wine and zegal means rye. Literally, the port is called Rye Wine or perhaps they really meant whiskey? As Brittany whiskeys are often made with rye. Tempting and delicious.
Want to visit?
I recommend staying in the town of Saint-Quay-Portrieux, located just 7km south of where I started my hike. It is a small but bustling seaside town with plenty of hotels, campsites, bars and restaurants. Or you can stay in Paimpol. 21km north of Gwin Zegal, with access to the island of Bréhat and the rose granite coast.
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A travel and lifestyle blog. By me, Lydia. I'm based in Brittany, France and I am here to share an honest and informative account of my life here.