While thousands of holidaymakers flock to mainland Brittany each year to enjoy its lovely landscape, beautiful beaches and fine weather, the more adventurous head further afield to explore the islands off its coast.
Each with its own unique identity, the Iles du Ponant as they are collectively known range from the tiny Chausey archipelago (just 12 inhabitants) off the north coast to the largest, chic Belle-Ile-en-Mer (5,187), off southern Brittany.
Many of these islands are inhabited and it is often possible to spend an entire holiday on them as all offer a delightful escape from the stresses and strains of everyday life on the mainland. Bicycles are usually the best means of transport with hire available on the larger islands. The smaller, more intimate in scale, are best explored on foot.
Visitors staying on the mainland can island hop by boat; ticket reservations are advised at least 24 hours in advance to guarantee a crossing and these can often be booked at tourist offices in the port of departure. Ferries ply the routes with greater frequency during the high season, taking passengers and freight, and offer a vital lifeline to these offshore communities outside holiday periods.
Carriers include the Companie Maritime Penn-ar-Bed and Compagnie Oceane, both offering daily services from many mainland Breton ports in summer. The journey is all part of the adventure with knowledgeable crew members quick to point out a photo opportunity, be it a shoal of porpoise, a lonely lighthouse or passing gabare (traditional sailing ship).
Before setting out, be sure to do your research. Will there be shops, bars or restaurants on the island; if not, you will have to carry a packed lunch and plenty of water. Is there anywhere to shelter in bad weather? Always pack weatherproof clothing and sun cream. What are the bathing opportunities? Many of these islands have delightful, sandy beaches sheltered from the Atlantic swell so swimsuits are an essential piece of kit, as well as a warm top for the boat trip back to the mainland.
It’s also important to know the size of the island you are visiting. For example Sein (Finistere), Batz (off Roscoff) and Houat (Morbihan) can all be circumnavigated on foot in a day with coastal paths running round their shores. Ouessant (pictured)(Finistere), on the other hand, is much larger and well worth a one-night stopover at the very least.