In French, Belle Ile en Mer means “beautiful island in the sea”. Locals always underline the island deserves its name. It is the biggest island of Brittany, and the third-largest one on the French Atlantic Coast (after the Île de Ré and the Île d’Oléron). You will need at least a long weekend from Paris to enjoy your visit to Belle Ile en Mer, but longer is of course better. If you book a car or a tourist tour, you can see all the “interesting places” shown on a tourist map within a day.
However, that’s not how I wanted to explore Belle Ile en Mer when I went there in summer 2008. Visiting an island is one of the best things to do in Brittany and Belle Ile en Mer quickly became one of my favourite places in the region.
Most of the wild coast on Belle Ile en Mer is not accessible by bike and by car, so walking is the best way to enjoy fully the magnificent landscapes.
If you want to circle the entire island by foot, you need to allow three to four days (17km long, 9km large, 85km² with a path along the coast of 120km). I only had one day (and a limited budget), so I focused on a short circuit near Sauzon, the port where the boat dropped me.
How to get to Belle Ile en Mer
To go to Belle Ile en Mer, you need to catch a boat from a port in Brittany (Quiberon, Port Navalo or Vannes and Lorient during peak season). From Paris, there are direct trains to Vannes and Lorient.
If you leave from Vannes, the boat transfer to Belle Ile en Mer will take you on a cruise through the Gulf of Morbihan and its 365 islands.
We left Vannes at 8.15 am. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the usual interpretation commentary during the cruise because their amp was down. But I had done this kind of trip in the past, and I knew the area enough to guess what was around me. We passed Arradon, my usual holiday stop in the Golfe, and many other beautiful ports and islands (Ile aux Moines, Ile d’Arz…).
The entrance of the gulf marks the halfway point of the boat trip. That’s also where the boat stops (Port Navalo) to take additional passengers. With one coast facing the calm bay and the other facing the unchained ocean, the view is breathtaking.
After two hours on the boat, we finally arrived at Sauzon, the lovely and most famous port of Belle Ile.
Hiking Belle Ile en Mer: a Short Circuit Hike from Sauzon
As I didn’t want to book a car, I started my walk in Sauzon. There is a road going up on the right from the boat launching platform that will take you to the coastal path.
The views are stunning from the start.
To complete the loop, I hiked for 11 km in total. With a slow pace to take photos, enjoy the landscape and have lunch, it took me about four hours to go back to Sauzon.
The coastal trail takes you on a winding path with a magnificent rugged, wild coast on your right and untouched land as far as you can see on your left.
I reached the first small beach, Port Puns, after walking for 2km and Port Deuborh only 1.5km later. From there, there is only 2km left to reach the famous Pointe des Poulains, passing first the creek of Pen Höet.
I met no other tourists until I arrived at the Pointe des Poulains, one of the most popular attractions on the island. No doubt why it’s busy there: the landscape is breathtaking.
I was lucky to reach it at low tide so I could push 1km further to visit the Ile des Poulains and its lighthouse. Don’t miss the rocks next to the fort: they were my highlight of the Pointe des Poulains.
I was back on the coastal path for 2.5km when I reached the cove of Ster Vras, the last view of the circuit. But not the least.
The sailing boats parked in the cove surrounded by green and rocky cliffs left me wordless. Just a picture-perfect place for nature and sailing lovers.
The circuit ends on a bike road. It goes through the countryside for 2.5 km and finishes in Sauzon. I had three hours left to enjoy the town before embarking on the boat back to the mainland at 5 pm.
Where to stay at Belle Ile en Mer
For this visit, as I only had one day, I decided to stay near Sauzon and hike. It meant skipping the magnificent Port Coton with its “needles” and the Citadel Vauban at Le Palais, some must-sees of the island. But I’m convinced it’s worth staying one night on the island, and I will do that next time I visit. Since I saw Belle Ile en Mer listed as one of the best spots for diving in France, I’m obsessed with going back.
There are four towns on the island: Bangor, Le Palais, Locmaria and Sauzon. They offer plenty of accommodations in Belle Ile en Mer to suit all kinds of envies, from camping to luxurious hotels (check available accommodation here*).
I haven’t spent a night on Belle Ile en Mer yet. But if I could, my preference would go to this eco-friendly and original yurt (click here to check availability*). It looks like a perfect balance of comfort, calm and green; and an experience to remember!
Have you visited Belle Ile en Mer? Let me know what I missed in the comments!
Where is Belle Ile en Mer?
Belle Ile en Mer is a French island in the Atlantic, about 15km from the mainland. It is the biggest island of Brittany, France’s most western region.
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