The Gulf of Morbihan is a veritable ‘little sea’ where legend says that in the 12,000 hectares opening into the Atlantic one can count 365 islands. A pearl amongst these is the Ile des Moines. The L’Orient, a commercial and fishing port (the second largest in France), is also a naval base. The German built submarine base is now abandoned. Boats run to Belle-Ile where Claude Monet spent 10 weeks in 1886 capturing its rugged scenery, followed by artists including Matisse, Cottet, Maufra and Gromaire. With 2,500 hours of sunshine a year and favourable wind conditions, the Bay of Quiberon is popular with yachtsmen and has a variety of marinas. La Trinité sur Mer in the heart of the bay is a perfect place from which to set out to explore the islands. Nearby, Crouesty is the largest pleasure port in Brittany with a succession of basins whilst Port-Haliguen has a smart marina.
Carnac, derived from the Celtic term for Cairn, famous for its amazing megalithic monuments (about 3,000 menhirs and many dolmens) has some 57 sites registered as historic monuments and a museum of prehistory. People are believed to have occupied the region approximately 2,500 years before Christ. Protected by the Presqu’ile de Quiberon, the beaches are sheltered with about 2053 hours of sunshine a year. Nearby are salt marshes and oyster beds. Auray on the banks of the river of the same name is an extremely pretty town with an old port, colombage houses and churches. It has a lively Monday market and a music festival.
Inland, Pontivy is named after the monk, Ivy, who built a bridge there. The impressive 15th Château des Rohan overlooks the river, a perfect example of military architecture at the end of the Middle Ages. The church of Saint Ivy changed its name to Notre-Dame de Joie when prayers to the virgin saw the end of a dysentery epidemic for which a pardon takes place every September. Here, too, is ‘Napoleonville’ conceived by Napoleon as a military base, contrasting starkly with the winding streets of the older town.
In the centre of Morbihan, Vannes, with its marina in the heart of the town, has great charm. The Cathedral is one of many historic buildings. Market days are Wednesdays and Saturdays. With impressive ramparts, fortified gates and the old market, there is also a splendid Aquarium, an exotic butterfly garden and a museum of mechanical toys. The small historical town of La Roche Bernard, discovered by a Viking chief called Bern-Hart in about 919, has small squares, narrow streets and fine stone houses rising up above the Vilaine. The Château des Basses Fosses houses a maritime museum. With its old harbour and new marina, there is also a sailing school. Morbihan is the ideal venue for lovers of seafood and water sports.