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Belle-Ile-en-Mer, the Atlantic Pearl

August 8 category:Escape
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Its distance from the mainland is his chance: no one has considered building a bridge there. Result, the largest Breton island retains its spectacular landscapes intact -falaises and countless beaches. A jewel!

Claim and deafening, the foghorn sounded in the marine sky and sweeps all three kilometers away, "Tôôôôôôt ..." Just a short step from the Palais, the ship of the Ocean Company notify its imminent entry into the port "capital" of Belle-Ile-en-Mer. Aboard the spotlight, trumpeting this five second mark the precise moment when, after forty-five minutes crossing, visitors finally come to a new continent. Here begins something else, a new world where everything is beauty, peace and harmony.

>>> Read also: our holidays in Brittany record

No sooner landed, choose his vehicle. Rent a Citroen Mehari, boho chic trend? Or a Vespa scooter, kind dolce vita? Unless you prefer an electric bike, very popular on the island as suitable for rolling terrain. Then, quickly, he must leave the palace and reach inland. For despite its singularity, due to its fortified nineteenth century, perfectly intact, the visit of this small town and its Vauban citadel perched overhanging do not capture the appeal of the largest Breton island.

But where to go? Between the wild coast, whose jagged cliffs defy the open sea, and the soft side facing the Morbihan and sheltered from the wind, the choice is difficult. Veins first to the port of Sauzon, including the famous Hotel du Phare, photographed a million times, has, since the invention of the postcard, become one of the symbols of the island.


Belle-Ile-en-Mer, the Atlantic Pearl



Belle-Ile-en-Mer has about sixty beaches. Here, that of Baluden on the wild coast.

Jean-Paul Guilloteau / L'Express




Now that we enjoyed grilled fish Chez Carole, must address and unfussy as continue our journey to the far north near, at the forefront of Foals, where, in a grandiose setting, the actress Sarah Bernhardt built his second home, far, far away from Paris and journalists. "A quarter century before the inauguration of the tourism office, in 1911, it was she who launched Belle-Ile, bringing to his court, his friends and lovers, which not hurt people, Serge tells Albagnac, former Mayor of the Palace and local historian. Sensitive to fate of Belle-Ile, it happened to him to give performances of theater, in Paris, to help fishermen victims of a bad season or finance the opening of a bakery. "

"I finally found an island that can compete with Corsica!"

Wherever you go, the fabled secret of this island, 20 km long and 9 wide, soon to be obvious. Immaculate, without any real scratch, Belle-Ile-en-Mer has a face almost unchanged since the nineteenth century. Thanks to be to the Coastal Conservancy and local planning rules, very strict. Of 86 square kilometers, nothing, nowhere, hits the eye, if not, perhaps, the building of camps by SNCF, a cube of only four floors built in the 1950s to base of a cliff Palace. Also, the chance of Belle-Ile is to be far enough away from Quiberon (15 km) for anyone having planned to build the bridge between it and the mainland.


Belle-Ile-en-Mer, the Atlantic Pearl



Vauban fortress, built under Louis XIV, before the Port Palace.

Jean-Paul Guilloteau / L'Express




To this is added a blessing miracle of nature: there are about sixty beaches - a hundred, even if one accounts for all small creeks - égrainées on the perimeter of the island like a necklace pearls. There's something for everyone! Surf lovers frequent the beach Giving, generous rolls, but parents of infants preferred the peaceful atmosphere of Port Kerel, low slope, therefore safe, and Herlin, in the shape of range. Baluden is one of the wildest while Grands Sables, home to the sailing club, is the largest. Port-Andro prides itself on yellow sand. Beach Dotchot tolerate naturism. That of Bugul has the romantic charm of small coves. And the beach Galley takes us back in time, reminding us that in 56 BC Julius Caesar boats landed here to take over the island then called Vindilis.

Depending on the wind direction, the best sheltered one chooses. And good news, even in the height of summer, the crowd is bearable. "This island is a diamond; it can not resist its attraction," said Genevieve Guicheney, President of Opera Festival of Belle-Ile-en-Mer, who makes his home after a long career in broadcasting in Paris . "When he came to sing at Belle-Ile, Corsican Scoffoni baritone Marc said, 'Ah, I finally found an island that can compete with mine" If even the Corsicans rave it must be some truth ...


Belle-Ile-en-Mer, the Atlantic Pearl



Without a real estate scratch, the island remains almost unchanged since the nineteenth century. Here, the tip of Foals.

Jean-Paul Guilloteau / L'Express




In any season, the show is waiting for you. "In winter, stormy days, the whole island rushes on the wild coast to see the elements be unleashed against the cliffs and the foam flying in the sky a hundred meters," said, amazed Arnaud de Wildenberg, a former photojournalist who, having traveled the world and covered wars for the Gamma agency, asked her to become housings fishing guide. He added thoughtfully: "But the best of the best is perhaps the month of September and his Indian summer, when the light is grazing, water, still warm, and tourists, gone."

Better than an island, an "autonomous republic"

But Belle-Ile is more than just a beautiful island. This is a separate country, rich in four towns (Le Palais, Sauzon, Bangor, Locmaria), and its 5,200 inhabitants in the year (a figure which rises to 40,000 in summer). Small enough to have kept its insular character but big enough not to feel cramped, this "autonomous region" has its own hospital, an airport, a bus service, a hundred shops, a golf course (14 holes), two municipal libraries, six GPs, four primary schools, two colleges (but not high school, forcing the students to enroll in boarding school in Vannes or Auray).


Belle-Ile-en-Mer, the Atlantic Pearl



At the end of the nineteenth century, Sarah Bernhardt built in Belle-Ile his second home (now a museum).

Jean-Paul Guilloteau / L'Express




Better yet, since 1985, the "republic" of Belle-Ile has its own anthem, signed Laurent Voulzy. This tube, Belle-Ile-en-Mer, Marie-Galante, has also spawned a pairing with the small sister island of Guadeloupe archipelago: the schoolboys of the two sides of the Atlantic to visit regularly.

Despite this prestigious sponsorship and unlike Ré Island, Belle Isle is not people. Since the disappearance of the former leader Jean-Luc Delarue, who had a house, the only celebrity on the horizon is the Chairman of the Supervisory Board of PSA, Louis Gallois, which everyone praises the discretion and simplicity . "Here, to integrate, it is recommended to remain humble," says Dominique Merchez, former Parisian communicating policy which, some years ago, changed its life by taking the Le Grand Large, with breathtaking views of the ocean . "Belle-Ile is not Ibiza; it has nothing to 'show off' '' On the contrary, people who choose to come here share values ​​like usability, solidarity, love of nature and. simple pleasures. "

Another feature is the Breton identity, despite the bilingual signs, is curiously absent. "Unlike other locations in Britain, the Belle-Ile hardly claim, or not at all, their" Breton-ness ", observes Thibaud Etorre himself Breton speaker, bagpiper and bombs, who held two Breton pubs at Nantes and Saint-Brieuc, before his life on the island in 2004 by launching the Morgat, a beer brewed on site. "Well located for the defense of Lorient and Nantes, Belle-Ile has long been a vast barracks, where French has supplanted brezhoneg."


Belle-Ile-en-Mer, the Atlantic Pearl



Lighthouse Sauzon and before the hotel of the same name, quaint.

Jean-Paul Guilloteau / L'Express




Then, during the golden age of the sardine - while the population exceeded 10,000 inhabitants and the island were 13 canneries, today all disappeared - the regional language was revived thanks to the fishermen from Douarnenez ( Finistère) established on site. "But with the development of tourism, the boom in second homes and installation of continental year, Breton has completely disappeared."

In recent years, craft enterprises produce locally whiskey (Kaerilis distillery), beer (Morgat), chocolate (Palantine), biscuits and confectionery (Although the Named), or deco upscale items like those of the fluid glassware, glass blowers cooperative that is carving out a reputation to Japan, one of its markets. The sores locavores, followers of local products also appreciate the "lambs of large", born, raised and slaughtered on the island, which has about fifty operators, higher than artisanal fishing.

The cultural offer is not left out: the Bangor Chamber Music Festival (the 2015 ends on July 24) succeeds the Opera Festival of Belle-Ile-en-Mer (31 July to 14 August ), not forgetting, at the Palace, the art house cinema and two well-stocked libraries: the Press House and Liber & Co. It proposes every Sunday readings of texts by Proust or Modiano. For Bénédicte and Jean-Pierre Liber originating in the Paris region, are convinced "We can not live without these authors." After three years, when reading the complete works of Proust is finished, we start at the first line.


Belle-Ile-en-Mer, the Atlantic Pearl



The coastal path that goes around the island, is marked 90 kilometers.

Jean-Paul Guilloteau / L'Express


In one generation, sociology evolved

We almost forget that Belle Ile ... live ethnic Bellilois. Drowned among the secondary residents (and 450 000 visitors per year), "invisible" almost, yet they are the best indicators of the real state - moral, social - of the island. "As in all the islands, there is now a kind of tension, or rather a distortion between the islanders and tourists, finds the glass Fabien Barbeau, manager of Fluid. Summer visitors bring culture, which is wealth. But living standards differences are stark. On one hand, Sauzon, the price per square meter has become unaffordable. On the other, nobody knows Belle-Ile 80 families live in mobile homes or caravans " adds manage Fluid, which organizes sales at bargain prices reserved for islanders out of the tourist season.


Belle-Ile-en-Mer, the Atlantic Pearl



Alan Le Chenadec, master glassmaker. The objects "made in Belle-Ile" of fluid glassware are deemed to Japan.

Jean-Paul Guilloteau / L'Express




In fact, in one generation, sociology has evolved. "In the past, decrypts Carole Dumont, the patron of Chez Carole, Sauzon, vacationers owned houses say 'family', they occupied 'family', in fact, generations of these people had -. And always - strong links to Belle-Ile Since the 2000s, a change occurred Taking advantage of numerous real estate transactions, new owners arrived In order to maximize their investment, some practicing seasonal rental ".... And that changes everything, she says. "These tenants remain little time and behave as mere consumers They do not care about the fate of the poorest Bellilois They come for the postcard, and forget to look people in. eyes. "

"There is no reason for the coming of start-up to Belle-Ile"

But is there a solution to the triumphant modernity and the passage of time? Only one, perhaps: to create jobs on the island for the future. Glassmakers companions Fluid cooperative, elite craftsmen trained in the workshops of the Danish island of Bornholm - a reference in the field - have created six jobs and continue to develop. Not far away, on an associative model, ressourcerie recycles two years of objects and clothing on the model ragpickers of Emmaus. Here, too, jobs are created, five in all, with this store that allows you to dress and equip themselves with quality secon-hand products.


Belle-Ile-en-Mer, the Atlantic Pearl



Chez Carole, Sauzon. Here, the cook and the owner.

Jean-Paul Guilloteau / L'Express




Even more encouraging is the example of Ultimate Fishing, European leader in the sale of fishing equipment lure. Belle-Ile created eight years ago, the company Yannick Cordier, that distributes products by Chronopost in twenty-four hours has since multiplied its turnover by four and employs 14 employees. "It is even possible to create jobs on the island that employees are loyal to the company because of their attachment to their living environment," says this entrepreneur born in eastern France, combines his passion for business and a certain philosophy of life, close to nature. "At a time of working remotely, there is no reason for the coming of start-up to Belle-Ile-en-Mer," he concludes, on the platform of Sauzon, before boarding his speedboat for getaway at sea.

Unfortunately for the visitor, it's time to run to the port and embark towards the continent. On the docks of the Palace, a final moment of grace awaits us. As the ship sets sail, the Bellilois friends back ashore greet us, according to local tradition, waving handkerchiefs, like the good old days of transatlantic. Poetry, pure ...

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