Bonjour to Brittany: A break in NW France

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AS I SAT enjoying a freshly baked croissant while watching the sunrise over the small French town of Roscoff, I was able to get my first taste of a holiday in Brittany. I had travelled overnight by ferry from Plymouth, managing to sleep through most of the journey in my comfortable cabin. This trip was to take me to France’s Wild West – the department of Finistère, which juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. The rugged and beautiful area is just about as remote as France gets, sitting six hundred kilometres from Paris, with Canada being the next stop heading west.

Roscoff is often said to be the most attractive of all the Channel ports and it’s easy to see why.  The town is built in traditional Breton style and has a laid-back and relaxed, almost village like atmosphere.  In the centre there are small shops and restaurants, the latter providing an opportunity to sample the wonderful cuisine that Brittany is famous for.  During my trip I visited one of the town’s numerous creperies where I tried the local speciality, crêpes washed down with a bowl of Breton cider – delicious!  But the food here isn’t all about the pancakes; the seafood is second to none, while the region’s farmers produce excellent butter, cheese and fresh vegetables.  It’s fair to say you won’t go hungry when travelling in this part of France!

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Many readers will be familiar with the traditional British stereotype of the French: a moustached man clad in a striped shirt, sporting a beret and a string of onions around his neck. You may not be aware, however, that this image has its origins in Finistère.  For many decades Roscoff locals working as ‘Onion Johnnies’ made a living by crossing the Channel with their bikes to sell Breton onions to customers in the UK.  Today, the memory of these pioneers lives on with a museum dedicated to them in the town.

Just over the water from Roscoff lies the tiny picturesque island of Île de Batz, which is home to just over five hundred people. Travelling there on a small passenger ferry from the mainland, it is possible to enjoy great views of the stunning coastline that can be found in this part of the world. While on Batz we hired bikes and cycled around the island’s quiet lanes, passing deserted beaches with snow white sand, countryside creperies and picture-postcard French villages. The island is laid-back and peaceful; the perfect place to get away from it all.

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Meanwhile, back on the mainland, the active theme continued as we stocked up on French goodies for a picnic before heading out of town for an afternoon hike around the headland, taking advantage of the coastal paths which provide great opportunities to enjoy the region’s stunning coastline. Later, the ferry ride back to the UK gave me a chance to catch a last glimpse of France before reflecting on my break in this peaceful corner of the country. In fact, calm and relaxation seems to be the theme throughout this corner of France and I, for one, am sure to return.

Getting there: Brittany Ferries (brittany-ferries.co.uk) sail between Plymouth and Roscoff year-round, with crossings taking six to eight hours.  There are often special offers available, so check the website before booking.  Alternatively, you can fly directly to Brest Brittany Airport, an hour’s drive from Roscoff, from London-City (cityjet.com), Gatwick (easyjet.com), Birmingham and Southampton (flybe.com) during the summer months and from several UK airports via Paris all year (airfrance.co.uk).