Bréhat island, a preserved site of particular beauty
The Bréhat Archipelago (Enez Vriad in Britton’s language) boasts one of our planet’s most peculiar marine landscapes. Tidal changes in water level up to 40 feet are observed locally.
The landscape is thus ever-changing with a multitude of boulders, islets, reefs, sandbanks which rise up from the water and disappear within hours since the dawn of time. With high tidal ranges, one may have the impression that the sea has deserted the place as innumerable boulders stand out in this vast maritime area, stretching to the horizon. Added to that, powerful and strange patterns of light from the sky set the scenery ablaze, stirring in all the ingredients to delight amazing landscape enthusiasts.
While on a trip to Brehat, before heading off to the boarding dock by the sea, stop over at the tip of the Arcouest Point to discover and contemplate, as from a ship’s bridge, this immense maritime domain. You will then better grasp why this site is a particular favourite among artists. They find there rare and unbelievable lighting akin to those that can be found on mythical islands.
The archipelago a pleasant climate bathed by the Gulf Stream
The archipelago is warmed by the Gulf Stream and a relatively mild climate in this latitude prevails all year round. Below zero temperatures are rarely recorded, even in the very heart of winter. Some areas have the advantage of being protected from the dominant northwestern wind. The sheltered white sand beach of Guerzido in the south of Bréhat is indeed an enjoyable place to visit. The vegetation and an abundance of blossoming gardens are evidence of the mildness of the climate.
One can find there various species of tropical plants brought from fishing expeditions. At the bend of a path, chances are that you will come across mimosa, fennel and palm trees. The average temperature is 19°C in summer (July and August) and the yearly average temperature in Brehat is 13°C according to the Bretagne Environnement network.
Nature and environment management
The Bréhat archipelago is an exceptional site. Evidence of this was given by the first tourists who came there on holiday towards the mid-19th century. Despite the numerous second homes that have been built, it remains a very attractive natural site thanks to the efforts of the local authorities, with the support of the French Coastline Conservatory.
Today, the main objective of the local representatives of Brehat, in partnership with the actors on the ground, is to enable tourist frequentation while preserving the quality of the environment and the socio-economic fabric. Brehat thus remains an island that is only accessible by boat and where cars are banned except for some electric cars used by emergency services and a few tractors. Visitors must go on foot or rent a bike if they want to discover some of the small inlets situated off the traditional road that runs from the pier to the Paon lighthouse in the north of the island.
The Bréhat archipelago a special conservation area
The Brehat archipelago is classified as a special conservation zone within a vast area designated as a Natura 2000 site (approximately 40m x 20Km). The quality and quantity of the habitats present and the available species fully justify such a decision. For example, over 120 species of resident and migratory birds are present in the archipelago. The nearby Jaudy and Trieux estuaries are reproduction spots for the Atlantic salmon. Grey seals which can mainly be found on the seven neighbouring islets enjoy staying there due to the availability of food. Dolphins, including a number of bottlenose dolphins such as the Risso’s dolphin, also spend time there.
Moreover, the island’s authorities have been able to handle a number of sensitive issues such as waste sorting. A garbage collection policy has been implemented. Residents are encouraged to compost their waste and a waste collection centre has been built. Materials such as glass are regularly shipped by barge to the mainland where they are treated. Another problem has been tackled with the installation of a water treatment plant, which has brought some relief to a large part of the east of the island, particularly neighbouring mooring spots. The taking over and restoration of the Birlot tide mill, dating back to the 17th century, counts among the positive initiatives that add value to the local heritage.
Development of marine energies
Deep water marine current turbines operating in the La Horaine area, which is popular among local fishermen, enable the association of this innovative technology with that part of the Tregor Goelo region. A number of turbines located some forty metres under the sea will provide clean and sustainable energy, via the national provider, to some 5,000 households. The energy will be transported by means of an underwater cable that will run around the north of Bréhat to reach the neighbouring town of Ploubazlanec, in the Launay region.
The mayoress of this town is a fervid advocate of this project since day one. Neverthelesss today 10th of July 2012 production has not yet started. The first current turbine has been landed for technical adjustments. The cable including optic fibers has been unfolded until Launay. It seems that La Horaine could also become a test center for others companies like the EMEC in North Scotland which is the European center for testing wave and tidal devices which produce renewable energy.
Two campaigns of technical studies are currently being conducted by the company Wings Marines, created by the Spanish consortium Iberdrola and Eole RES to develop an offshore wind farm in the Bay of Saint-Brieuc. This wind farm will be able to provide its first kilowatts / hour by 2018, to operate at 100% in 2020. It will cover 80km ² and will include 100 wind turbines of 5 megawatts supplied by Areva Wind. The annual announced production would be approximately 7% of the power consumption of Brittany. The nearest turbine will be located 17Km from Cape Erquy. Brest is still well placed to serve as a port logistics project.
Management of fishing areas
It is also to be noted that fishing areas are managed by a committee based in Paimpol. The management of resources available in the Bay of Saint-Brieuc is a model in many ways. By abiding by very strict regulations, fishermen have contributed to appropriate management of the survival of scallops, which is an important component of the local economy.
Bréhat is a remarkable site for the practice of various water sports. Local climatic conditions enable apprentice sailors to learn to cope with the natural elements. The sea currents can reach about ten knots during high tidal variations, the rocks and reefs that are scattered throughout the stretch of water and a changing wind are among the challenges that they will have to face. Those interested can either get training or practise at one of the schools or clubs that operate in the archipelago, or enter the various nautical events that are held locally.
The Lilas Blancs regatta
Since over thirty years, the Lilas Blancs regatta is a yearly gathering opportunity in early September for some sixty participants off the coasts of Brehat. The regatta takes place over two days with a prologue on the Saturday and at least two legs the next day. Open to all types of inhabitable boats, it is viewed as the most important regatta of the Cotes d’Armor region. The regatta is organised by the Loguivy Canot Club, which is affiliated to the French Sailing Federation.
It was created in the 1970s by a joyous gang of sailing enthusiasts with a fishing background. At the time, they did not have any boat to race (!) and called for the support of Helene Viannay, who founded the Glenans Sailing School. She agreed to lend them a boat under the condition that they named the race after the Lilas Blancs, as a tribute to the old tuna boat on which Les Glénans school’s first trainees boarded for a three-week fishing expedition in 1947.
The Transarmoricaine is a 4-leg regatta open to sport catamarans such as the Formula 18 boats. The seaside resort of Erquy is the starting point and participants must sail at least some thirty miles through the Bay of Saint-Brieuc to reach Bréhat. The first leg most often takes place facing the dominant westward wind. The boats can reach twenty to twenty-five knots, which provides a spectacular view of the racing action. The second and third legs also take place across the stretch of water.
The Pluri’elles Challenge
The Pluri’elles Challenge is an all-women friendly regatta aboard cruisers. This unique concept organised by the Glenans Sailing School, whose aim is to further open up sailing to women, has been a real hit for the past six years. Each year in September, a bunch of novice, initiated and experienced female sailors discover or live again the joys of regatta sailing for a week-end on the stretch of water of the Bréhat archipelago.
The Vieux Grééments festival
The Vieux Grééments (Old Sailing Ships) festival takes place in August every two years in the context of the Marine Song Festival which takes place in the port of Paimpol. A regatta that takes place around Bréhat is an opportunity to watch about a hundred brightly coloured sailboats sailing among the pink boulders and skilfully tackling the wind and the currents. A real thrill for photo enthusiasts.
Îles en Phares
Îles en Phares is an orientation race held in the archipelago for kayak paddlers. Some sixty participants divided in groups of 3 take part in the tour. Besides the competitive aspect of the event, it remains an opportunity for kayak enthusiasts from Nantes, the Somme region and Brest to meet in a friendly atmosphere, as was the case during the latest edition. The event is organised by the Paimpol Loguivy Nautical Centre and ends up with a big party.
« Bréhatin » economic context
The economic development of Bréhat is closely linked to the exploitation of marine resources by man. The island has always been a feeder of workforce for maritime companies, for the navy and for great fishing expeditions. Additionally, agriculture and farming on a small scale have ensured a decent living for the islanders.
Tourism really started to take off in the late 19th century. In the early days, visitors mainly came from Paris and this led to the construction of beautiful residences. The island became a trendy destination, just like Saint-Malo or Dinard. However, this new activity did not help to contain the exodus of the natives.
Out of the 1,500 inhabitants in 1800, there are only some 430 permanent residents left. Most of the houses (75%) are occupied only a few weeks a year.
Tourism development of the island
Tourism is a very seasonal activity. There may be up to 4,500 visitors daily in July or August, but the figures drop very fast to become insignificant in winter. It however remains very pertinent to visit the island off season. The atmosphere is unique, with very beautiful lights, and several activities are still available between April and end September.
Activities offered to tourists intending to stay on the island, such as sailing, fishing, kayaking, diving or snorkelling, are centres of interest that are in line with a sustainable economic development.
Along the same line, it is worth noting that the « Petit Théâtre de Kerano » (Kerano meaning the house on the strand) offers walks, with a bit of storytelling thrown in, to discover in the most hidden away places of the island what makes the legendary attraction of Bréhat.
House rental opportunities are available for all budgets but hotel accommodation is limited during the high season.
A very rich maritime history
Various traces of human settlement dating back tens of thousands of years have been found in the Bréhat archipelago and on the neighbouring coasts.
Testifying to that is the prehistoric site of Goareva in Bréhat, which has been extensively excavated and studied.
However, the maritime history of Bréhat really started with the arrival of the first monks from England and Wales in the 5th and 6th centuries. Referring to the reproduction of a stone sculpture on exhibition at the nearby Maritime Abbey of Beauport, the type of craft used to cross the sea seems to be the same as the one still used nowadays in some islets to the north of Ireland, the curragh. Some may find it hard to imagine how these men ventured out on the Sea of Ireland, which is sometimes very choppy, on board these frail boats made of wood and animal skin. They must have been well motivated, with strength of character and an outstanding taste for adventure. One can ponder the reasons that led them to settle on tiny islets such as Ile Verte (Green Island), Lavret and Maudret Islands, where they erected monasteries.
These places, were they chosen for their isolation conducive to retirement and meditation, or were they the only dryland granted by the occupants of the region ?
Still, in the Middle Ages another island, Green Island, was again invested by monks who rebuilt a monastery on the ruins of the previous 6th century one, it was destroyed by the Normans in the 11th. They lived a subsistence economy in this tiny place of 400 meters long and 130 meters wide. The arable land was low, nevertheless the area teeming with fish and shellfish, the food was always plentiful and handy. Cruising nearby, you can still see the ruins of the walls of the old monastery that now houses the famous international Glénans sailing school.
Its location makes it a sentinel of the sea on the way between Saint-Malo and Brest. Bréhat experienced mixed fortunes over the centuries that followed. If the stories of famous corsairs still locally resonate during local festive evenings, one cannot ignore the local infrastructure works ordered by Louis XIV and made by Vauban, the bridge that still meets the two islands.
The story then merges with the history of the great fishing in Iceland.The port of Paimpol was the harbour for more than 80 armed fishing schooners, many of them slackened in the cove of the Corderie northwest of the island of Bréhat. The suffering of fishermen who frequented during decades these waters distant and inhospitable is very well reflected in the famous novel « Iceland Fisherman », written by Pierre Loti’s. The marine museum located in Paimpol fervently tells this sad saga in which many sailors working in inhumane conditions perished.