A Walker’s Guide to Brittany
Brittany is extremely popular with walkers and hikers and has more walking trails than any other part of France. There is so much to discover from the stunning coastline and beautiful countryside to the many historic churches and picturesque towns and cities – the only difficulty is choosing your route!
Coastal walks in Brittany
You can plan a walk along the entire Brittany coastline following the GR34 coastal path. It is a well signed and maintained route that follows the coast for 360 miles taking in many villages and towns on the way so you’ll always be able to find somewhere to buy lunch or supplies. Hiking the whole distance would take around 70 – 80 days but you can, of course, pick a shorter section if you don’t have the luxury of that much time!
Highlights include the more remote Cap de Chevre coastal path on the Crozon Peninsula which has the most dramatic views of the Atlantic Ocean, and the section of path between Perros-Guirec and Ploumanac’h where you can experience the spectacular Pink Granite Coast rock formations. The unique Sillon de Talbert sand and pebble spit that stretches 3km into The Channel is also an exhilarating route to walk.
Canals and Green Ways
Perhaps the most famous walking route in Brittany is the Nantes-Brest Canal; 365km of tow path beside rivers and canals where you can see nature and wildlife in the beautiful rural scenery. The route also takes you past lovely medieval towns, chateaux and churches and gives you a close look at the fascinating engineering feats that created this important 19th Century waterway. It’s a great choice for a relaxing hike; the path is well maintained and largely flat and there’s no chance of getting lost!
Other popular ‘easy’ walking routes are the Green Ways or Voies Vertes which are paths that follow former railway lines. The main one in Brittany spans 126km from Carhaix to St Méen le Grand. Other recommended Green Ways are the route from Morlaix to Rosperden with a detour to see the Huelgoat Chaos, and the shorter section from Quimper to Douarnenez.
Thanks to its religious history there are several interesting pilgrimage routes in Brittany that make excellent walks.
The Tro Breizh is a Catholic pilgrimage that visits the seven cathedrals at Quimper, Saint-Pol-de-Léon, Tréguier, Saint-Brieuc, Saint Malo, Dol and Vannes. The cathedrals honour the seven founding Saints of Brittany; Celtic monks who came to the region from Britain in the 5th or 6th Century. Local legend states that you must complete the pilgrimage at least once in your lifetime or do penance in the afterlife walking it with your coffin on your back!
The Compostella routes are five long distance trails through Brittany that were used as part of a longer pilgrimage to Spain. Medieval pilgrims honouring James the Elder or ‘St-Jacques’ came from all over Northern Europe on these paths sheltering at the beautiful Abbeys and Churches on the route. The 1500km of paths are maintained by the Breton Association of the Friends of St Jacques who offer guidebooks and information to help you on your way.
The Saints Shore Way stretches 133km along the Brittany coast between Roscoff and Lannion via Morlaix. The route is inspired by a similar path in Cornwall and is a great place to experience the beautiful nature and interesting history of the area. The Way is split into sections with a choice of circuits, routes and even buses to help you plan your day.
A smaller religious route is the 12km Circuit des Chapelles at Le Faouet, a pretty (though sometimes steep) walk through woods and riverside that takes in two beautiful decorated chapels.
There is no shortage of beautiful natural sites in Brittany and many have walking trails for you to explore. Climb the Monts d’Arrée (the tallest hills in the region) for fantastic views of the surrounding moorland scenery. Follow the Gorges de Corong to see the amazing granite boulders or do the 11km Circuit des Fontaines from Kerpert through the gorgeous Brittany countryside. The Broceliande Forest is another great choice for rural walks with more than 20 different signposted trails through these magical woods steeped in the myths and legends of King Arthur.
Heading for the coast you could choose to walk the Trieux Estuary from the majestic gothic Chateau Roche Jagu along the river past secret harbours, forests and moors until you reach the sea. The islands in the region are also excellent places to plan hikes and go exploring; unspoilt and sometimes uninhabited they are a real treat for ramblers looking to see bird life and amazing natural scenery. Ile de Batz near Roscoff, the Glénan Islands in the south, Ouessant Islands on the west coast and Ile de Moines in the Gulf of Morbihan are all wonderful places to visit.
Walking doesn’t have to be in the countryside – Brittany has some interesting cities, towns and villages for walking tours including Pont Aven where the painter Gauguin lived and worked, Rennes with its historic architecture and St Malo where you can walk the ancient ramparts of the town. You could even take a longer route from St Malo to Mont St Michel taking in the the pretty commune of Cancale, famous for its oysters and enjoying the full glory of Mont St Michel bay and the mount itself.
If you are planning a walking holiday in Brittany why not book a gite, cottage or B&B with www.holidayfrancedirect.co.uk you’ll get 20% off your Brittany Ferries crossing taking you straight into the Brittany ports of Roscoff or St Malo so you can drive less and walk more!
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By Jess Boston
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