Brittany’s northern coast offers up some quite astonishing natural drama. But journey past Dinard and the enchanting half-timbered houses and ramparts of Dinan, and another astonishing natural wonder awaits; the marvel that is the Pink Granite Coast.
This is a rare land that somehow the French have successfully managed to keep hidden from prying overseas eyes; a treasure trove of naturally pink weathered granite 300 million years in the making and stretching for over 30 kilometres. The only other places on earth that can boast geology like this are Corsica and China. So join me in finding out just what this corner of France has in store for you.
It’s a two-hour drive from St. Malo direct to Perros-Guirec one of the main resort towns of the Côte de granit rose but stopping off at Erquy is well worth the diversion. This charming fishing harbour sits at the headland of the eastern end of the magnificent Bay of Saint-Brieuc. If you have time, stop for lunch at one of the numerous harbourside restaurants (Le Table de Jeanne is one of my favourites) where fresh scallops are de rigueur, and sneak a glimpse those pink rocks tantalisingly visible in the distance across the other side of the bay.
“You know Scots who speak Gallic can understand our Breton language perfectly,” says Didier Alno from Perros-Guirec’s tourist office who is showing me around his home town. We’d just been atop the historic lock that controls access to the town’s harbour. Built in the 1800s it transformed the town’s fishing industry by protecting the boats from the vagaries of the daily tides. “They are so unpredictable,” says Didier, “no two days are the same.” The town was once the hideaway for wealthy Parisians who built impressive second homes here to escape the capital in summer.
The main beach is a huge swathe of sand fronted by restaurants and shops, but for me, the real delights of Perros-Guirec are the quiet little coves around her peninsula, the spectacular walking path through the giant pink granite boulders around the Ploumanac’h Lighthouse (which is part of the legendary 1,700 kilometer GR34 walking route that stretches along Brittany’s coast from St. Malo to Cap du Raz) and the elegant town centre literally built with pink granite everywhere you look.
The Romanesque church of Saint-Jacques a fitting centrepiece for the town’s chic seaside villas and cosy restaurants; the numerous pieces of art dotted along the streets, a reminder to visit the town’s impressive granite sculpture park.
La Villa des Hydrangeas
This is an excellent B&B hotel to serve as a base for the region. Owned and run by Coralie and Eric this 16 room hotel is perched high up at the head of the peninsula offering stunning views across the Atlantic to the 7 Iles archipelago and still just a 10-minute walk into the centre of town. The sweeping ocean view is obviously the jewel in the crown, but Coralie’s interior design skills bring plenty of contemporary style and elegance to the party.
The farm-fresh breakfast feast is practically legendary locally with many of the ingredients taken from the hotel’s beautiful garden. My garden room featured sliding patio glass directly out onto a small private terrace leading directly to the lush garden where a small gate put me almost within touching distance of a path down to a small beach at the foot of the cliff. The hotel’s name gives you a clue as to what flower dominates this region and from April onwards they are blooming gloriously in every colour wherever you look.
Adjacent to Perros-Guirec the village of Ploumanac’h is best known for its popular natural harbour and beach where you once again pick up the coastal path. It’s another pink rock moment, a chance to gaze again at more enormous weathered smooth boulders.
Dinner at Restaurant des Rochers, which is part of the harbour-front Hotel Rochers will be memorable; beautiful food at outstanding value for money courtesy of talented chef Paul Gandillon.
Les 7 îles cruise
An absolute treat for birders, the seven islands archipelago is a protected nature reserve of small islands just off the coast, uninhabited save for thousands of birds, many you won’t find anywhere else in France. It’s an avian spectacular of puffins, northern gannets, shags, herring gulls and so many greater and lesser black-backed gulls you would think one of the islands has a white wall.
You might also spot some grey seals and small penguins if you keep your eyes peeled. Regular 90-minute boat tours depart from Perros-Guirec and on the way back you’ll get to see another treat; the Pink Granite Coast from the sea.
Ile de Bréhat
Just a 45-minute drive from Perros-Guirec close to Paimpol lies the car-free island of Bréhat, 3.5km long and 1.5km wide, it’s just a ten-minute ferry ride from the mainland. It’s a wonderful day trip exploring an island untainted by much in the way of development. Having said that, the list of famous people who have their exclusive summer homes here is shrouded in privacy, but I was reliably informed with a knowing smile there are more than a few famous politicians. Bréhat is actually two islands, connected by a small footbridge built in 1695, and has two distinct features.
At the tip of the northern island, a lighthouse stands guard over a breathtaking array of rugged pink rock known locally as Bréhat’s Grand Canyon. Take your time and explore the crags and crevices and walk up to the lighthouse for a spectacular view. On the opposite southern tip is Guerzido, Bréhat’s only sandy beach. Protected from the westerly winds it’s a favourite spot for families to drop anchor for the day.
Le Bourg on the south island is the main village with a bakery, numerous cafes and restaurants, a supermarket, tourist office and even one or two hotels. There are bikes for hire but if you like walking, it’s no more than an hour from one end to the other and along the way, you’ll pass fig trees, eucalyptus and mimosas and the odd small herd of cattle or sheep. I walked up to the Grand Canyon and enjoyed a picnic lunch out of the wind nestled by the side of a giant pink boulder with nothing but the sound of gulls to distract me. Bréhat is a brilliant day out, but make sure you take note of the ferry return times!
Back in Perros-Guirec as I bade adieu to Eric at the hotel before my return to St. Malo and my Brittany Ferries crossing he said: “come back in high summer, everyone wears pink to match the rocks!”
You know, I might just do that.
Images of Breha,t les 7 Iles and Sculpture Park (c) Andy Mossack
Other images: Alexandre.Lamoureux and Yannick Le-Gal
Tell me more about Brittany’s Pink Granite Coast
For more details on Brittany’s Pink Coast please visit Brittany Tourism
La Ville des Hydrangeas 53 Boulevard Georges Clemenceau – 22700 Perros Guirec
Click here for the very best rates for La Ville des Hydrangeas.
Getting to Brittany
Brittany Ferries operates the longer routes from Portsmouth, Poole and Plymouth direct to Brittany and Normandy. Travel overnight by luxury cruise-ferry in the comfort of your own cabin with en-suite facilities. Portsmouth to St Malo return fares start from £336 including an en-suite cabin on the outward overnight sailing. Book online at Brittany Ferries or call 0330 159 7000.