Read our guide to Cotes d’Armor Brittany and discover a dramatically beautiful coastline of legends, secret islands, beautiful beaches and fabulous food…
La vie on Granite rose
Someone once said that the great rocks that pepper the landscape of the Pink Granite Coast (Côte de granit rose) look as if giants have been stoning their enemies. Monumental boulders, cleft from the earth and shaped by the sea. These are one of the most astonishing and memorable features of this divine stretch of coast in the Côtes d’Armor department, Brittany.
Enormous rock formations are everywhere. From the beach to the cliff tops and even in residential gardens. Often homes are simply built around the rocks. Not just because they’re very heavy and hard to move, but also because they’re revered by the locals.
Thousands of years of being licked by the sea, blasted by wind and rained on, have left them shaped like animals or people. Many have names such as the witch, the tortoise and the corkscrew. When you see them for yourself, you can’t fail to appreciate the grandeur of these natural phenomena. And, make up some names of your own.
With hundreds of hamlets, seaside towns and pretty villages it’s hard to know where to go. If you have plenty of time, you can follow the GR34 coastal route. It runs all the way round the shoreline of Brittany. But if you’re restricted to a few days or weeks, here are some of the most unmissable parts of the Pink Granite Coast. Here you’re likely to fall in love with the ever changing sky, the delicious cuisine, endless beaches, luscious countryside, hotels of charm and character (www.hotelscharmebretagne.com) magical forests and friendly folk…
Ploumanac’h – Perros-Guirec
Perros-Guirec has some of the best rock formations on the Pink Granite Coast. You’ll find blush pink rocks, waves crashing gently, and a sleepy seaside village. From here you have a wonderful view of the sept isles, the seven islands, including one which looks like it has a snowy cap but is in fact inhabited by wild birds. It’s gets very popular in the summer months with pretty little restaurants and bars.
Don’t miss a look at the saint on the sand after whom the Bay of St Guirec is named. He was an Irish monk who landed here in the 6th century and you’ll see that his face is damaged. It used to be a custom for Breton girls to visit him and stick a pin in his nose. Apparently this helped them get a husband – but eventually the poor saint lost his nose. Climb out to Ploumanac’h lighthouse for wonderful views over the sea. Though if you have mobility issues it probably won’t suit as the path is rocky and uneven.
Top tip: Head a few miles inland to visit the Vallee des Saints. Many visitors miss this but it’s well worth seeking out. Huge granite statues of saints are spread across a hilltop. It’s an ongoing project with the aim to have 1000 saints in total and you can watch the carvers working on their sculptures. It’s massively impressive.
Where to stay:
Hotel Ti Al Lannec in Trebeuden, a tranquil coastal town. Nothing beats staying in this old granite mansion on top of a hill with a private pathway down to the beach. It has lovey sea views, elegant but cosy sitting rooms, a fabulous spa area, pool with stunning views, and a terrific restaurant. The rooms are individually designed. It’s boutique but authentic and utterly charming. The views from the rooms are to die for. The staff are fabulous. This is old school glamour but with a deft personal touch that’s rare. The staff know all the guests names, there so much attention to detail here. It’s a family run hotel with the charming Isabelle her sister Marie plus mum and dad at the helm. They make you feel really welcome, relaxed and utterly spoiled.
There is nothing ordinary about this hotel, it’s one to fall in love with.
Paimpol and the Ile de Brehat
Pretty Paimpol was once a major departure point for fishermen working in Icelandic waters. Famous French writer Pierre Loti set his novel Pêcheur d’Islande here but today the former fishing port is all about leisure and boats. There are plenty of restaurants and bars but despite its growing popularity it still feels tranquil and sleepy.
Take the road south from Paimpol to discover the Beauport Abbey. The romantic 13th century ruins are set in beautiful countryside where you can sit in an orchard and simply enjoy the moment – or a picnic.
From Paimpol you can take a 10 minute boat ride to the Ile de Brehat, known as paradise island for good reason. Actually a series of islets set around two small car free islands which at low tide are joined by an 18th century built bridge. Take a 10 minute boat ride from the Pointe de l’Arcouest to discover pink rocks, mimosa, oleander, myrtle and figs growing in the open. It hardly rains here apparently! There are pretty villas, a church and chapel and restaurants joined by a labyrinth of paths.
Where to stay
Ker Moor Hotel in Saint-Quay-Portieux is built around a 19th century house with an astonishing onion-shaped domed roof. It’s a landmark in the area. Right on the GR34, it has a private path down to the sea with unique panoramic views over the Saint Brieuc Bay in Paimpol. From the hotel it’s a short walk to a sandy beach (there are five in the town). There’s a popular free to use sea water pool on the beach. There are also two ports – one of which is northern Brittany’s biggest deep-water harbour. The hotel rooms are light and sunny. The people who work there are lovely – the sort that make your holiday feel really special. The hotel team know where all the best restaurants are (ask them where to go for oysters) and will make you feel very welcomed.
Hotel Les Agapanthes in the small coastal town of Ploubazanec is run by a Parisian couple. They gave up city life, unable to resist the lure of the area where they took their holidays. The little town has a charming port and isn’t remotely touristy. In nearby Pors-Even you’ll find a quaint little village with a cute little seafood restaurant which serves the freshest oysters and best moules frites you’re ever likely to taste.
Dinan, one of the prettiest towns of the Cotes d’Armor
Dinan is a must-see, utterly gorgeous with its cobbled hills, pretty port and glorious architecture. It’s so special – it deserves an article all on its own: The best things to do in Dinan
The bay of Saint-Brieuc and Cap Frehel
The tides at Saint-Brieuc go out an astonishing 7km, leaving the beach teeming with shellfish. Not surprisingly restaurants here are well known for their sea food, especially coquilles Saint-Jacques, one of the specialities of the bay. Port du Légué at the entry of the bay is home to grand ship owners houses. From here you can take a boat ride. Or, simply enjoy the view from the cliffs and watch the wildlife, there are more than 112 species here at Brittany’s biggest nature reserve.
Cap Frehel, about 50 minutes’ drive from Saint Brieuc and just 30 minutes from Saint Malo, is a wild, dramatic and unspoiled area. Imposing cliffs offer stunning views over the sea. It’s no surprise to discover that French visitors rate this one of the top places to visit in Brittany. Covered in colourful heathland, smothered in wildflowers and fauna, Cap Frehel lighthouse is one of the most powerful in France.
The 14th century Fort La Latte, also known as the Chateau de Roche Goyon, is one of Brittany’s most famous castles. It’s very “Game of Thrones”. Dramatically perched on the edge of the cliffs with sheer drops. It’s a bit of a hike to get to it. And, the steps leading into some of the viewing rooms aren’t good for those with mobility issues, however the views are stunning and well worth the effort. Some eagle-eyed oldies may recognise the castle from the Film The Vikings (1958) starring Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis.
Information: www.dinan-capfrehel.com; www.hotelscharmebretagne.com
Where to stay:
Hotel Edgar Saint Brieuc is in a former ship captains house in the inner town of Saint-Brieuc, about 4km from the sea. It’s a busy town with plenty of shops and some fine old houses and streets. At 5, rue Fardel you’ll see the Hotel des Ducs de Bretagne. This is where King James II of England hid after he lost his throne to William of Orange in 1688. The boutique 25 room Hotel Edgar makes a good base for exploring the area. And it has a fabulous restaurant. I’d go here for the amazing food alone.
Chef Sebastien David is from Le Bristol in Paris and his divine menu will have guests coming from miles around once word gets out. The menu is regional with pride of place going to local, fresh and seasonal products. The verbena ice cream was genius, the best ice cream I’ve ever had – and I’ve had a lot. The rooms are big and roomy with luxurious bathrooms. The hotel has undergone a room by room renovation with Farrow and Ball paints and stunning wallpaper by Arté of Belgium but keeping its original charm and bucket loads of comfort.