The road to Lost-Marc’h is lined with blue hydrangeas. In this wild Atlantic setting, the tame shrub normally associated with suburban front gardens has taken on a vivid new life, tumbling over stone walls and winding its way into the hedgerows.
To our left, heather-clad cliffs plunge towards secret coves, which tempt us to pull over at every lay-by. We keep driving west, passing through tiny hamlets where the dour, granite walls of the sturdy slate-roofed cottages are leavened by front doors and shutters painted in vibrant cornflower blue.
The villages seem deserted, but handwritten signs propped against garden gates advertising “moules frites” suggest otherwise. The road gets narrower until it peters out in a small car park surrounded by heathland. There’s a handful of camper vans and outside one a Dutch family is clambering into wetsuits. We follow them along a sandy track, emerging onto an exhilarating sweep of sand, pounded by Atlantic breakers and colonised by a handful of surfers. It feels like being let in on a secret.
Beaches like this – vast, bracing, beautiful – are what Brittany does best and some of the finest examples are on the Crozon peninsula, a narrow finger of land poking into the Atlantic in the far west of France. Spend a week here and your definition of “personal space” starts to expand dramatically. Within a couple of days, you’ll find yourself muttering darkly if someone dares to put up their windbreaker within 100m of you.
Moment of peace … the Eurocamp at Domaine de Ker Ys
Brittany is not exactly uncharted territory for the British, who cross the Channel in their thousands every summer to exchange the unpredictable British weather for the, well, equally unpredictable Breton weather. But it’s probably fair to say that very few make it to the Crozon peninsula, despite it being only 50 miles from the port at Roscoff (and 140 miles from Saint-Malo). This may be due to the low-key nature of the tourist infrastructure – there are no big hotels or famous attractions – and also because long tracts of the northern shore are owned by the French navy and off-limits to tourists.
The French, however, are well-acquainted with Crozon’s craggy charms and accommodation tends to be booked up way ahead in summer, particularly in the two main tourist hubs, the cheerful seaside town of Morgat, which sits on a crescent of soft sand in a sheltered bay, and the fishing village of Camaret-sur-Mer, known for its seafood restaurants.
Through Eurocamp, we booked a two-bedroom mobile home at the Domaine de Ker Ys, a small holiday park overlooking the enormous Pentrez plage. It lacks some of the bells and whistles of Eurocamp’s bigger sites (no children’s club, disco or on-site restaurant), but the outdoor pool with waterslide and the sandy beach keep our seven-year-old happy.
Seaside colour … the high street at Camaret-sur-Mer. Photograph: Alamy
Our Eurocamp courier, Chris, is a useful source of information on the best markets and festivals. The Bretons are fond of a municipal shindig and in the summer you can’t drive anywhere without seeing a poster advertising a hog roast, artisan market, free concert or a “fest-noz”, the local version of a ceilidh (occasionally featuring bagpipes… don’t say you weren’t warned).
Our visit coincides with the Festival du Bout du Monde, which takes place every year on the first weekend of August. We book day tickets, envisaging a family friendly affair with folk music and face-painting. As we are kettled through the gates with thousands of French teenagers off their faces, it dawns on us that we’ve made a mistake. “Why has that man got bubbles coming out of his mouth, Mummy?” is the cue for us to beat a retreat to the campsite, which is hosting an all-you-can-eat crêpe night. We watch in awe as a whippet-thin Frenchman returns to the pancake counter a heroic nine times.
One morning, we join a boat trip out of Morgat to explore the peninsula’s caves. The harbour, blue as the Mediterranean and calm as a millpond, is a hive of activity, with paddle-boarders punting back and forth and flotillas of children on tiny dinghies trailing behind their instructor’s boat.
Between a rock and a hard place … the Chapelle Notre-Dame de Rocamadour. Photograph: Getty Images
The next day, we head for Trez Bellec, where a patchwork of fields slopes down to an endless strand of hard-packed sand, the sort of beach that makes you think you can do cartwheels. We spend a couple of hours jumping the waves and watching sail-buggies skittering across the sand (book a lesson at the Centre Nautique de Telgruc-sur-Mer) before walking to Le Cargo, a café/bar in a converted shipping container, serving local ciders and ales and platters of charcuterie, cheese, oysters and smoked trout.
On our last night, we drive into Camaret-sur-Mer. The air is filled with the tang of garlic and the sound of chatter drifting up from the parade of harbour-front restaurants. We walk out along the “sillon”, the long shingle jetty which curves across the bay. At the end is the Chapelle Notre-Dame de Rocamadour.
Bounty hunters … one of the many hidden coves along the Brittany coastline. Photograph: Getty Images
From the sea wall, the Atlantic looks milky and calm and in the low evening sun the walls of the Chapelle Notre-Dame de Rocamadour, at the end of the jetty, glow soft and golden like buttery Breton shortbread. Inside, wooden boats and life belts hang from the ceiling beams, tokens of thanks from mariners who survived perilous Atlantic crossings.
In front of the church, the rusting hulks of fishing vessels are a rueful reminder of a time when sardine fishing, rather than tourism, was the main source of income here. We take pictures of the artfully decaying wrecks and follow our lengthening shadows back to the shore.
Way to go
A return crossing from Portsmouth to St Malo with Brittany Ferries costs from £453 for a car and three passengers, including an en suite cabin on the outward overnight journey (0330 159 7000; brittanyferries.com). A week at the Domaine de Ker Ys in a two-bedroom Classic mobile home costs from £541 with Eurocamp (01606 787125; eurocamp.co.uk). Prices based on departures in early July