Brittany - at the eve of the year
The summer is over. The children have gone back to school. The windsurfers have packed their boards and wetsuits away for another year. Brittany’s holiday season is at an end.
Well… not quite. As Bondholder Lloyd Daniels discovered last year, before Le Manoir du Hilguy closes its doors for the winter there are excellent reasons to grab a late holiday, Breton-style.
The sun is shining from a cloudless blue sky and it is pleasantly warm considering the time of year. Nearby trees are predominantly dark green with a hint of bronze and yellow ochre on some of their leaves. Before us the tidal River Aulne snakes its way round a wide sweeping curve as it flows towards the Atlantic Ocean at Brest. The tree-covered ground to the north of the river rises steeply, almost forming cliffs. Opposite, high above the trees, the spire of Rosnoën Church is just visible and here and there small houses are dotted amongst the woodland.
The tide is in but going out and the gulls are moving downstream catching fish as they go. Little egrets stalk their prey in the shallows of the opposite bank almost 200 metres away. From time to time a shag flies downstream skimming the water looking for fish. Suddenly a wren darts along the stones that edge the river bank in front of us. In the long grass nearby, bees are busy looking for pollen. As the tide recedes, more and more sea birds gather searching for food on the enlarging mud bank created at the bend in the river.
I am writing this sat beside this river in Brittany on a beautiful November day. Today is All Saints Day, and a bank holiday in France. It is the day before All Souls, when churchyards and tombs are decorated and ceremonies are held for the ‘faithful departed’. Shops and businesses are closed so there is less traffic on the roads, particularly in the towns and cities, which makes them easier to negotiate and find one’s way around.
Margaret and I are staying at HPB’s Le Manoir du Hilguy and today dawned bright and sunny. After a leisurely morning we set out for Douarnenez, the onceproud capital of the French sardine industry. It was still lunchtime (noon to 2.30pm) when we arrived and traffic was minimal so we found the town centre with ease. We followed the signs to Le Port and admired the old harbour. We took the coastal road past the modern port facilities and then on to a cliff top near the town centre, where we stopped to admire the views of the nearby Isle Tristan. The road continues round to the estuary of the River Rhu where there are excellent views across to Tréboul and its harbour on the opposite bank. The river is a safe haven for scores of yachts of all sizes. It is also the location of a boat museum which contains a fascinating variety of ancient craft including fishing boats, a steam boat, and a lightship from England. Although the museum is not open at this time of the year, I was able to appreciate and photograph most of the collection from the roadside path beside the river.
We travelled a short distance northwards and took a lane down to an expansive sandy beach in the Baie de Douarnenez. A party of French people were having a picnic laid out on the sand, when a family arrived and the children immediately made off down the beach with their buckets and spades. A couple of surfboarders were making the most of the waves created by the incoming tide. The bright sunshine was glinting on the water in the bay and the sails of half a dozen yachts were to be seen. It became increasingly busy after lunch as cars arrived with locals wanting to enjoy an afternoon on the beach in the warm sunshine.
The thermometer in the car for the outside temperature had been steadfastly reading 15°C all day, but now it was certainly more than 20°C inside, after standing in direct sunlight for some time. There is heat in the sun in Brittany in November!
We moved on and headed north-eastwards along the D107 to Plonévez-Porzay, to a fascinating railway museum in the basement of a private house. This amazing collection of railway artefacts is well displayed and the owner, who speaks a little English, gives a conducted tour. Entry is free and since visits can only be made by appointment, it is potentially available for viewing all the year round. We stopped in the town-centre car park beside the church.
We then travelled north along the D63 to Plomodiern where there is a Michelin two-star restaurant, and the Crêperie Les Genêts. The latter has been run by an English couple for more than 20 years and has a varied menu of crêpes but also specialises in fish and chips! It is located near the end of the village when leaving northwards on the D47 to Châteaulin.
Staying on the D47 we left the road to Châteaulin and climbed up to Ste-Marie-du-Ménez-Hom. There is a car park here and nearby an ancient church with a calvaire in the church yard. Today we decided against continuing the short distance along the D887 main road towards Crozon and turning off to go to the top of Ménez-Hom (303 metres); we have been there many times to enjoy the panoramic views of the sea and surrounding countryside including the valley of the River Aulne and the city of Brest – and watch the skylarks rise into the air and the hang gliders lift off. Instead we turned off the main road, following the D47 downhill to the banks of the River Aulne at Le Passage.
The name refers to the ferry which has long since ceased operation. The derelict remains of the flat-bottomed ferry boat (flat-topped as well for carrying a vehicle or two) are beached at the end of the grass-covered promenade. This has been created by building a sloping retaining wall at the river’s edge and has a slipway midway along. The area is well maintained with the grass cut regularly. There is a substantial brick-built covered barbecue, seats with exercise pedals, and an information board about the River Aulne. Across the broad track from the promenade there are a couple of well manicured cottages, a small toilet facility, an ivy-covered stone building that has seen better days, and above it a walled garden with shrubs and flowers. We get out our picnic chairs and sit down with the warm sun on our backs in this haven of peace and tranquillity. It is very difficult to find words to describe the beauty of this idyllic location with its expansive views and everchanging wildlife activity. But then this is just one of many such locations within easy reach of Le Manoir du Hilguy. Brittany offers variety and places of interest to suit all tastes and will not disappoint. A visit at the end of the season is well worth consideration.
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