25th September – St-Gilles-Croix-De-Vie from Les Sables d’Olonne
We needed to be back in Port la Forêt some time in the first week of October. Time was marching on and so we decided to take advantage of a weather window and start sailing north before our guests arrived! First stop, St-Gilles-Croix-De-Vie!
We left Les Sables D’Olonne at around midday, as soon as the tide allowed us to exit the channel! The wind was not that favourable being WNW 4/5 but at least there was wind to allow us to sail! It meant an upwind trip which is not the most comfortable point of sail and apparently “ladies don’t sail to windward” in strong winds!! It was lively but fast and it was only for 28 miles!
26th September – George and Melanie arrive!
Our good friends Melanie and George from Monxton had contacted us to see if they could meet up with us and sail too?! They arrived in the late afternoon, having found their way down to us from Cherbourg and after much chat and catch up with all the news from our village we had supper on board and then made a plan to set off in the morning for Belle-Île! They didn’t seem phased by the fact that we were heading north while they were on their way south through France!
George and Mel at home in Monxton
27th September – 7.30am, Passage to Belle-Île
We slipped our lines at 7.30am to motor out of the port. The sun was coming up as we left and our guests seemed very happy! With the wind behind, up went our trusty cruising chute whereupon Musetta took off! Conditions were perfect and we were soon making good speeds in beautiful weather and eating up the miles!
A very relaxing sail!
Having been sailing in glorious weather all day we arrived at Le Palais, Belle-Île just before the heavens opened! It was hairy getting in as I had to motor right up to the harbour wall for Alan to slip a line through a chain, hanging from the wall while George took a line through the loop on a buoy at our stern. The trick was not to crash into the wall but to get just close enough! We managed and were soon enjoying an aperitif to celebrate a great sail and not crashing into the harbour wall!
28th September ~ Farewell to Mel and George!
After a very short visit, Mel and George needed to pick up their schedule for their journey south and so caught the ferry across the harbour from Musetta to Quiberon on the mainland where they took a train or two back to St-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie to be reunited with their car and to continue their holiday!
George, relieved to find his car where he had left it in St-Gilles-Croix-De-Vie!
29th September ~ A tour of the island!
Belle-Île is the largest of Brittany’s islands and is a very attractive destination for tourists. It lies 15 kilometres off the Gulf of Morbihan and measures 20 kiometres long by 9 kilometres wide at it’s ‘fattest’ point. If you want to walk the coastal path, it is 71 kilometres all the way round! It has a temperate climate and amazing coastline, boasting no less than 60 beautiful beaches, we saw quite a few of them during the day!
For yachtsmen it is also a great place to cruise to with two lovely harbours and several places to anchor or pick up a buoy. However, it also get’s very crowded, hence we decided to visit after the holiday season was over! There was plenty of space for us then!
The most suitable way to explore was to hire a car in order to see as much of the island as possible in the one day we had free to look around!
Le Palais – The Harbour
We started from Le Palais where we were moored, which is the capital of the island and the main harbour on Belle-Île and from where the ferries to the mainland and the smaller islands of Houat and Hoedic leave.
Musetta moored in the ‘Wet Basin’ at Le Palais
Citadelle Vauban – Awesome!
Le Palais is dominated by the star-shaped Citadelle Vauban which has been built on a spur of granite high above the natural harbour. The Citadelle has been a monastery for the monks of Redon and later other monks from Quimperlé. Even later Louis X1V, wanting to protect the island from invaders sent for Vauban, an eminent military engineer, to draw up plans to strengthen the defences of the island which has given rise to the star shaped structure in place today. I had seen this before in St-Martin-de-Ré where Vauban had designed a similar star-shaped fortification.
The Star-shaped Citadelle Vauban which dominates the harbour!
The island was attacked several times during the 18th century and captured by the English in 1761, but at the Treaty of Paris in 1763, the island was returned to France in exchange for Menorca. During the second world war the Citadelle was occupied by the Germans. In 1960 it was sold and is now privately owned. It has been complely restored by André Larquetoux and his wife and is now an exclusive hotel and museum.
The Hotel Vauban, its grounds and views from the Citadelle
Heading northwest we came to the very pretty Port of Sauzon, the second largest town on Belle-Île. Ferries arrive and depart from here to Lorient. Sauzon was the first to open fish canneries back in 1843, however today although there is still lobster and langoustine fishing continuing, the town is mainly focused on tourism and in particular, welcoming the sailing fraternity!
The different areas of the harbour at Sauzon
There are visitor buoys outside the harbour wall and inside, for yachts up to 12 metres in length, the buoys are in pairs for fore and aft mooring. Further inside there are more visitor buoys for boats which are capable of ‘taking the ground’ – Not us!!
Pointe des Poulains
At the northern most point of the island is Pointe des Poulains which has a fairly small solar-powered lighthouse. It has a range of 23 miles and on a clear day it is possible to see as far as Île-de-Groix, Lorient and into the Quiberon bay. We parked the car and then walked to the lighthouse. It is very remote and here we could sea how the softer side of the island was starting to give way to the more rugged western side, especially so in the south west.
Coves and beaches at Poulains!
Even though the beaches are lovely, it is clear that the coast is becoming much more rugged with huge masses of rocks rising out of the waters!
Les Aiguilles de Port Coton
A fantastic sight! From where I took this photo there was a sheer drop down to the beach of hundreds of feet!
I had read about the visit here by the famous artist Claude Monet and of his depiction of Les Aiguilles de Port Coton and so we were keen to see the ‘sight’ in the flesh as it were! What an amazing sight it was, to see the jagged rock formations which give rise to their name ~ a little like The Needles off the Isle of Wight only much, much, much more dramatic! It was completely wild with the sea co-operating on our visit and showing us why this side of the island is known as La Côte Sauvage. Monet was apparently on a tour of Brittany and had planned to spend just two weeks on Belle-Île but was so transfixed by this coast that he stayed for 10 weeks and painted 39 canvasses!
Time to move on and tear ourselves away from these mesmerizing rock formations…
Locmaria ~ at the southern end of Belle-Île
Right at the south of Belle-Île is the picturesque town of Locmaria. Here there is a beautiful anchorage, inlet and beach. The town is lovely with pretty cottages and a beautiful church in the Romanesque style. It is the church of Notre Dame and is the oldest religious building on Belle-Île!
The heart of the village
Legend has it that Dutch pirates cut down a tree in front of the church to replace their broken mast and Notre Dame deformed the trunk to make it unusable. At that time the church was called Notre Dame du Bois Tors (Our lady of the twisted wood)!! I’m not sure if this is fact or fiction but it adds interest to the history of the church and the Dutch were invaders of the island?!
The beach and anchorage at Locmaria
La Belle Fontaine ~ Fresh Water Reservoir
We discovered this point of interest just a few kilometres south of Le Palais.
It is a reservoir of fresh water and can contain 860,000 litres of water. It is one of the only two like this in France! It was built in Belle-Île by Vauban and originally it was used to supply ships with fresh water. It is now listed as an historic monument.
La Belle Fontaine – Outside
The end of our tour!
All good things come to an end….
and this includes our tour of Belle-Île, one that we thoroughly enjoyed. There is much to interest visitors to Belle-Île and the island is both beautiful and dramatic at the same time. The Citadelle Vauban is an incredible sight, perched as it is high above the harbour at Le Palais but I think that my special place was Les Aiguilles de Port Coton, they were stunning!