Coming from England, Brittany doesn’t represent such a huge cultural shock. This part of France has always valued its celtic roots rather than the French influence, which is felt in the local language, music, and architecture. Stone is one of the main elements in this region, be it as natural sculptures along the shore or as construction material for the houses. The national drink of Brittany is cider and a variety of salty and sweet crêpes would be a normal choice for dinner. We especially enjoyed the natural friendliness of the local people, always happy to chat and ready to help.
On a grey and rainy day, number 275 of our trip, we disembarked from the ferry from Portsmouth in Saint-Malo, in the Eastern part of Brittany. Our plan was to re-start hiking in Roscoff, about 200 km further West, so we had to take another train to get there. A bit weak and tired from the voyage, we first enjoyed a delicious French breakfast before doing more travelling that day.
To get into the Brittany spirit, we had a dinner of Crêpes and Cider at the bay of Roscoff. It was still early when we left the restaurant and as we felt a bit guilty for not having hiked for many days, we walked until the official starting point of our hike (where the ferry from Plymouth would have landed, if it had been working in January). From there, we did the first three kilometers of the GR34, the track which is part of the E9 in France.
On day 276, we followed the Breton coast until the small fisherman’s village of Mogueriec. On the way, we had our first encounter with the friendly locals, but we were even more impressed with the rough beauty of the rock formations lining the coast. The coastal path (sentier côtier) on which we walked, literally follows the complete coastline, with all its bays and rivers. In Mogueriec, we also discovered one of many starting points for the Way of St. James.
During the next three days, we hiked 71 kilometers between Mogueriec and Landéda. We saw lots of impressive rock sculptures, skilful surfers who were enjoying the strong waves, and even a brave swimmer who did her rounds in a natural seawater pool. Sun, rain and clouds were changing rapidly and more than once we were presented with a beautiful rainbow. The houses we passed were often made of field stones and had bright blue windows. On one evening, we treated ourselves to a nice dinner with locally farmed oysters, which were delicious and as fresh as could be.
We had the chance to see where our dinner from the previous evening came from, on our walk to Saint Pabu on day 280: There was one oyster farm after another at the shore of the estuary, where the tides, water temperature, and mixture of salty and fresh water create perfect conditions for the molluscs. Our path followed the river Benoît for eight kilometers on its left bank, before we finally reached the first bridge to cross it and walked another seven kilometers along the opposite bank until our destination. Fifteen kilometers walk to advance two kilometers in straight line! Something had to be done about this.
But first, we spent a rest day in a family B&B in Saint Pabu; partly because the place was so cosy, but also because it was José’s turn to be ill and a day in the warm bed would get him back on his feet again. Moiken spent part of the day writing and discovering what the village had to offer. It came down to one grocery store, but at least we got fresh baguette and some tasty spreads for dinner.
The following day, José was indeed feeling better and we hiked 22 km along the beach and sandy dunes until Landunvez, where we had rented a house for the night. As a special courtesy of the landlord, fresh baguette and pre-prepared crêpes were waiting for us. Together with some goodies from the nearby bakery, we had everything we needed to restore our energies.
After the experience of walking at or rather around the Benoît river, we decided to take advantage of shortcuts to the GR34 more often. We had our chance on days 283 and 284, when the GR34F led us inland via Saint Renan instead of following the coast until Brest, saving about 15 kilometers. On this way, we had a reunion with an old acquaintance of our hiking days in England – the mud! But it was only a small part, which was quickly forgotten on the mostly dry path. Before we arrived in Brest, the largest city of the Breton region of Finistère, we had to walk next to a huge Marine base for almost half an hour. A wonderful rainbow greeted us above the historic castle and we were looking forward to spend our rest day in Brest.
As usual, we used all conveniences of a big city and did our laundry, bought some gifts to send to friends, got a haircut and shave (only José, obviously), and went out for some local beers and a good dinner. We also had time to think about the upcoming part of our hike and decided that it wouldn’t make sense to follow the French coastline on the GR34, but we should rather take a shorter route to Spain. And which route could be shorter than the one that thousands of pilgrims take to reach Santiago de Compostela – the St. James’ Way, le Chemin de St. Jacques, el Camino de Santiago! It wasn’t an easy decision to change “our” E9 for another way, but it would save about 1000 km (almost two months) of hiking.