Want to brave the elements in Brittany? Take the lighthouse trail, where you will find something for everyone. From cute to imposing, tiny to huge, the western peninsula awaits you with a breath of healthy sea air.
Brittany is France’s lighthouse county, home to the most iconic examples all along its rugged coastline.
The double-sided lighthouse
Let’s start our tour with La Croix Lighthouse in northern Brittany. Located at the mouth of the Trieux river, it is around 20 minutes north of Guingamp. Recognisable by its white-painted tower on its Eastern side, the upper part was destroyed by the German army at the end of the Second World War. La Croix lighthouse is adjacent to, and works in a synchronised manner with, Bodic Lighthouse.
The most unusual
Bodic Lighthouse is a stone’s throw from the La Croix Lighthouse, and is more than 48 metres tall. Built in 1947, it took the place of a 19th century lighthouse, which was destroyed during World War II. Its architecture is a surprising combination of two styles: a structure resembling a rocket in lift-off position and one using traditional materials. This lighthouse is worth a visit, for its new take on traditional Breton architecture alone.
The best located
Pontusval Lighthouse is located right in the middle of one of northern Brittany’s prettiest coastal paths. The lighthouse towers above storm-weathered rocks, between the splendid Brignogan Bay and the old fishing village of Ménéham, and has been listed as a historic monument since 2011. It is somewhat surprising to find this unassuming yet charming structure on this otherwise deserted coastline.
The local celebrity
Ar Men Lighthouse, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is by far the best known in all of Brittany. Its very isolated offshore location means that it is at the mercy of the rough waves of the Atlantic. Standing off the Île de Sein island at the tip of Finistère, Ar Men (meaning ‘stone’ in Breton), is an emblem of the region. It is difficult to get to and best admired from a boat, but certainly a sight worthy of a picture postcard!
The most imposing
Standing tall at over 70 metres above sea level, Cap Fréhel Lighthouse keeps watch over Saint-Brieuc Bay. Listed as a historic monument in 2011, it is open to the public from April to November. On fine days, it is the vantage point for an absolutely stunning view of the whole headland. When you climb to the top you feel like you are at land’s end, with the surrounding cliffs plunging straight into the sea.
The most historic
Located just next to the ruins of a Benedictine abbey, Saint-Mathieu Lighthouse is in an exceptional setting. This lighthouse near Plougonvelin has a tower that dates to 1835. The complex bears witness to the full weight of history, through this lonely patch of Finistère. Incidentally, fans of sea-centric TV programmes will have spotted this lighthouse in the background of the introduction to French TV series, ‘Thalassa’.
At 82,5 metres tall, Île Vierge Lighthouse is the tallest in Europe, and the world’s tallest ashlar lighthouse. Get ready for a taxing visit! Climbing the 365 steps is certainly strenuous, but your efforts will be amply rewarded by the view. Note that you can also reach Île Vierge by boat, or on foot at low tide. Mind you don’t get your feet wet though!
The most powerful
Eckmühl Lighthouse near Pont-l’Abbé is the most powerful in Brittany. Financed by and named after a wealthy Breton family, from the top it gives you a view beyond compare over the whole Pays Bigouden area. Beware of the strong winds! This tower, built to watch over one of France’s most dangerous waterways, is one of the most visited monuments in Finistère.
Firmly on Île de Groix on the La Croix headland, Brittany’s smallest lighthouse, Pointe de la Croix, stands facing the sea. Just four metres high, it directs ships at the northeastern point of the island. Though it is the pride of Groix, this lighthouse does not offer visits, as they would be over all too quickly. It is stiIl the ideal reason to explore the La Croix headland during a walk on this beautiful Breton island.
The most indulgent
Among all these lighthouses (phares in French), the Breton traditional dessert, Far Breton, is the most mouth-watering! Similar to clafoutis, and known as ‘farz forn’ in Breton, it comes in several tempting varieties. The prune variety still holds its own as the best known. The main ingredients are eggs, milk, flour and sugar. Together they make a tray bake that started as an affordable treat and subsequently became a famous regional culinary cult.
Here are our top ten lighthouses in Brittany:
• La Croix Lighthouse (Côtes d'Armor)
• Bodic Lighthouse (Côtes d'Armor)
• Pontusval Lighthouse (Finistère)
• Ar Men Lighthouse (Finistère)
• Cap Fréhel Lighthouse (Côtes d'Armor)
• Saint-Mathieu Lighthouse (Finistère)
• Île Vierge Lighthouse (Finistère)
• Eckmühl Lighthouse (Finistère)
• Pointe de la Croix Lighthouse (Morbihan)
• Far Breton (Brittany)