Next time you’re in France, consider visiting this jewel in the Bay of Biscay
Unless you’ve sailed the Brittany coast en route to La Rochelle, you’re perhaps unlikely to have detoured from your mission through France, if driving, by venturing out into the Bay of Biscay to one of the country’s most beautiful islands.
The island positively sparkles with colour; whether it’s the brightly painted cottages, the fluttering bunting on the visiting yachts or the glittering sea that reflects and refracts the blues of the sky; as it either laps the wide north-eastern beaches or fractures against the south-western cliffs.
There’s a Mediterranean feel to the warmth here as Belle Isle is not only more moderate in temperature than the adjacent Brittany Coast but it retains the shabby chic air that was once St. Tropez before the jet set arrived. The western Atlantic coast however has all the rugged brutality of soaring craggy cliffs – like the Aiguilles de Port-Coton that inspired Monet to immortalise them.
Situated just 14km away from Quiberon (the closest French mainland port for reaching Belle Isle) you can travel to the island either by car ferry to Le Palais, the capital, or to Sauzon as foot passenger.
You don’t really need the expense of taking your car by ferry; as car, bike and scooter hire is easy and there are numerous hiking trails from the principal towns that make a vehicle almost superfluous.
To call Le Palais ‘the capital’ is to suggest that it’s a dynamic bustling metropolis. Far from it. No sooner have you disembarked from your ferry, or your yacht that nestles cheek by jowl with a hundred others in the tightly packed inner basin, than you’ve walked from under the imposing shadow of the Citadel and slowed your pace as you pass into the enchanting side streets and onward and outward into the countryside.
That said, the town, which is the most inhabited on the island, encapsulates the spirit of the island with its quaint houses, restaurants, bars and cafes so familiar to Francophiles the world over.
Of little use to you here – we walked for quite a while up through the streets lined with colour-washed houses and cottages in vivid primary colours and hues, in search of a recommended restaurant. The problem is we can’t remember its name, nor find it on the guides and maps of Belle isle – so perhaps it’s now closed. The meal was memorable even if the restaurant and its location isn’t!
Never fear; there are ample choices in all price ranges to satisfy the hungry traveller.
If you’ve arrived on foot by ferry, you might now be in Sauzon, the large but picturesque harbour on the north coast – and once again you’ll be enchanted within minutes by the sleepy streets and little cafes and restaurants. We find our way to Ros Avel, a little restaurant that, not surprisingly perhaps, specialises in fish dishes and sit outside in the warmth of the setting sun for aperitifs before heading indoors for a lovely meal.
Being in the Bay of Biscay, you’ll obviously want to visit Belle Isle during the summer months, unless you welcome a battering from the elements – and although visitor numbers double the population, the island is sufficiently sizable and rugged to lose many of the tourists amidst its grassy slopes and extensive and varied coastline.
We’ve been to Belle Isle twice – both times on a yacht – so had the luxury of our own accommodation and unlimited time. It’s the sort of place, however, that you could easily fill a day, a weekend or a week in, depending on your inclination towards long leisurely walks and even longer lunches.
It’s a place to rest, relax or to exercise all of your senses in turn.
Belle Isle, literally, ‘the beautiful isle’, delivers its promise in terms of villages, landscape and its inhabitants – a truly lovely place to visit and rest your head.
Here are some useful links to various websites with specfic links to pages that will be useful if you plan your own trip to Belle Isle
Belle Isle en Mer – Official website
Belle Isle en Mer – Official website – ferry crossings
Belle Isle en Mer – Official Website – by Car
Roz Avel Restaurant – Rue du Lieutenant Riou, 56360 Sauzon, France