By Elaine Hunter
In a quiet corner on the edge of an out-of-the-way cove, we find ourselves watching sail boats breeze by as our children jump over fresh Atlantic waves in the warmth of a low evening sun. The water is cold but not ‘Scotland’ cold so the little ones shriek with delight as they splash in the frothy surf; even our toddler has a go and is thrilled to be part of his older brothers’ wave catching adventure.
There are rocks to our left; with secret pools filled with sea-life treasure and jutting ledges just begging to be jumped on. Our five-year-old is in his element, grinning from ear to ear as he finds starfish shells and swings faded jellyfish from bits of seaweed.
We’re in Brittany, France, in a little bay that time forgot, it seems. There’s not a British voice for miles; in fact the few people who are sharing this little beach with us, stare curiously as if trying to decipher what language we are speaking. These shores know only French words for amazing, charming and stunning.
And just as you’d expect, it’s not long before an old wizened Breton man feels the need to find out more about us and eventually warbles in his slowest French a little about the history of our home for the next 10 days.
He tells us that this beautiful bay was once occupied by the Nazis – the swastikas can be seen to this day on the island outpost that sits 500 metres from the beach – where the guns shot the allied troops out of the skies. So why did the Germans choose this place, we ask the man in the best French we can muster. But just as typically, he shrugs his shoulders and wanders off deep in thought.
If you’ve ever visited Brittany; you’ll find that because of the 750 miles of twisting, turning coastline, much of its rich heritage is linked to the sea. Rugged rocks on towering cliffs give this land an almost raw Celtic quality but the views if you’re brave enough to go walking on the cliff-tops are breathtaking. Elsewhere there are glorious sandy beaches and classic resorts that are perfect for just about every conceivable water sport and, of course, age of child.
In between these two different extremes, there are hundreds of charming little sheltered bays to be discovered, many of which are harbours for Brittany’s traditional fishing villages where little has changed for centuries. Like almost everything about France’s most westerly region, its coast has a character that spells out its history and tradition.
We are staying in a villa in Kersolf; a tiny place just outside the village of Moëlan sur Mer, which falls between the bustling city of Lorient and the quaint walled city of Concarneau.
There’s a sprinkling of houses in this hamlet; mostly holiday homes for city dwellers or being rented by tourists like us; albeit French ones. There are a handful of older residents who look like they’ve retired here – and as we eat outside our holiday abode; sipping wine while the children play in the garden, we can think of no better place on earth to do that.
This area is ideal if you’re looking for a relaxing, peace and quiet holiday. There are no noisy restaurants or bars here. No hotels with entertainment every night. No street sellers looking for your holiday Euros. Just the beach, the sound of the waves and your family.
Half way through our stay, we head to Concarneau, which is one of France’s largest fishing ports, stopping on the way in Pont Aven – which nestles inland from the tip of the Aven estuary and is packed with tourists and art galleries.
It feels like a very upmarket town; trappings of affluence drip like ivy from the shops and restaurants. This was where Gauguin came to paint in the 1880s before he left for Tahiti. (He inspired the Pont-Aven School of fellow artists, including Émile Bernard, the town has no permanent collection of his work).
It’s not a huge surprise that Pont-Aven has been a favourite with artists for centuries. It’s picture-postcard pretty; well kept and positively bursting with culture and class. Just upstream of the little granite bridge at the heart of town, the promenade Xavier-Grall offers glimpses of where those who inhabit another world live. It’s magical here.
After some lunch, we head off to Concarneau and browse around the shops and stalls in the walled city. We are greeted by a live statue dressed as Pirates of the Caribbean’s Captain Jack Sparrow which at first intrigues but then frightens our young family. More reminiscent of the Edinburgh Festival than a medieval town; there is a little area where local artistes can come and entertain at their leisure. It feels very hip in this old medieval setting.
Concarneau is a bustling little place though; a market’s in full swing in the centre, the tourist shops are doing a roaring trade selling tops with the traditional Breton blue and white stripes and the on-street cafes and restaurants are busy but not crowded.
After forking out for three Black Pearl style swords, we relax in the little square drinking heftily-priced beers (around £5 each) and orange juices. Loyalty reigns in France, the French like to keep the produce local; looking at you sideways should you suggest you are looking for an Italian bottled lager.
The fishing museum located inside the walls of the town would be ideal if you were to visit on a rainy day but you can only get the best of the city if you walk around the bay and ramparts, which provides some delightful views. We hear that the early morning fish auction “La Criée” is a fascinating experience and that there are boat trips out to the Iles de Glénan, a small archipelago, home to a famous sailing school and seabird sanctuaries. The Iles de Glenan can actually be seen from our holiday villa, so almost all at once we feel we are getting to know this area; if just a little bit.
And despite having everything you could possibly want in a French city, we are happy to be heading back to our little haven by the beach; and as the sun goes down on yet another fun-packed day, we are all the more thankful for the stillness in Kersolf with only the roar of the waves to remind us that we’ve found a little piece of heaven here on earth.
Accommodation: Villa Geelong – sleeps nine, has direct footpath access to beach of Trenez. Swings, children’s games, table tennis. BBQ. Conservatory with sauna, jacuzzi, shower, and games room as well as private indoor heated private pool 6.5 x 3.2m with counter current. Deck area furnished with sun loungers and awning. (£1500 to £2500 per week; depending on time of year.) Contact www.belles-villas-bretagne.com; or email@example.comfirstname.lastname@example.org
Getting there: Flights to Brest airport; (one hour’s drive from Moelan) range from £147 to £449; depending on time of year. KLM, Air France both fly from Glasgow; log onto www.cheapflights.co.uk for more information.