What to do
View overlooking the town of Auray
Town of Auray:
Visit the ancient quarter of St-Goustan, with its delightful fifteenth- and sixteenth-century houses. The bend in the River Loch, an early defended site, was a natural setting for a town – and, with its easy access to the gulf, it soon became one of the busiest ports of Brittany. Today, as you look at it from the Promenade du Loch on the opposite bank, with the small seventeenth-century stone bridge still spanning the river, it's not difficult to imagine it in its heyday. In 1776, Benjamin Franklin landed here on his way to seek the help of Louis XVI in the American War of Independence. Little shops, galleries. 24 minutes from Kan ar Voualc'h.
Town of Carnac:
The alignments at Carnac – rows of 2000 or so menhirs, or standing stones, stretching for over 4km to the north of the village – constitute the most important prehistoric site in Europe, long predating Knossos, the Pyramids, Stonehenge or the great Egyptian temples of the same name at Karnak. 27 minutes from Kan ar Voualc'h.
Chateau de Suscinio:
This was the favorite residence of the Dukes of Brittany in the 13th to 15th centuries, an astonishing castle lying between sea and salt marshes in Sarzeau. In the Middle Ages it was in the heart of an immense forest (today disappeared), the preferred ducal pastime being hunting. It was built in the 13th century, becoming in the 15th the great castle it is today. In 1973 work made it possible to discover the ruins of a 14th century chapel and paving. Special events are programmed at the castle, ranging from exhibitions to historical performances to dance festivals to operas. Castle open all year round except the 24th, 25th and 31st December and 1st January. 02 97 41 91 91. One hour away from Kan ar Voualc'h.
A dolmen in Erdeven
Town of Erdeven:
Erdeven offers rich cultural heritage, with its megalithic monuments, standing stones, dolmens, cromlechs and also calvary crosses, holy wells, Narbon Windmill, Kercadio Manor house, Keravéon Castel and Park... You can also enjoy all the pleasures of the sea-shore: white sandy beaches for family bathing or for sport (on Kerminihy beach naturism is allowed!), over 700 acres of natural sand dunes, now a conservation area, ideal waters for surfing and boardsailing, skin-diving, safe bathing beaches, sea fishing...
The easiest thing is to go to the tiny Office of Tourism in town. 16 minutes from Kan ar Voualc'h.
La Ferme du Monde:
Located in a 25-hectare park, 400 animals from five continents are bred and live in semi-liberty here. Visitors can stroll, take a little train to cover the close to 5 kilometers of shady, wooded walks to discover lamas, dromedaries, camels, goats, sheep, donkeys, watussis. Better yet, the kiddy farm means the little ones can pet goats, sheep and even Vietnamese pigs. There is a big play area with swings, slides, and mini-golf available for free. Free introduction to pony riding in the afternoon. Pedal cart available for use in a part of the park, picnic areas, snack bar, shop. Open 1 April to 11 Novembre. 02 99 93 70 70. An hour and a half from Kan ar Voualc'h.
There is a surprisingly large quantity of golf courses in the area. My best friend's husband, an avid golfer, says that the Baden golf course is the best one (42 minutes from Kan ar Voualc'h).
Bungee jumping for kids at Hennebont on the 14th of July
Town of Hennebont:
18 minutes from Kan ar Voualc'h.
Kayaking and Canoeing in Hennebont:
33 minutes from Kan ar Voualc'h.
Haras (Horse stud) in Hennebont:
21 minutes from Kan ar Voualc'h.
Hennebont is situated about ten miles from the mouth of the River Blavet, which divides it into two parts: the Ville Close, the medieval walled town, and the 17th century Ville Neuve on the left bank and the oldest site: the Vieille Ville on the right. The old walled town (Ville Close) still has traces of its medieval ramparts dating from the 13th to 15th centuries as well as a large fortified 15th century gatehouse complete with double-doors with drawbridge slots, known as the Porte du Broërec.
The Blavet is a paradise for anglers or even for those who just want a walk along its towpath. The signposted rambler's footpaths are the ideal way to enjoy the beauty of the surrounding landscape.
The National Stud is a wonderful place to discover horses in Brittany, ranging from beautiful thoroughbred stallions to post horses and Breton carthorses. There are also areas devoted to the saddler, blacksmith and farrier trades. The equestrian club gives excellent riding lessons.
The Parc botanique de Kerbihan (10 hectares), sometimes also called the Arboretum d'Hennebont, is a municipal arboretum and botanical garden located near the Rue Gérard Philipe. It is open daily without charge.
The park was created in the late 1800s and restored in the 1960s. Today it contains 130 types of trees from around the world and 400 varieties of shrubs. Of particular interest are its century-old conifers and bamboos, as well as its neoromantic garden, cascades, stream, and pond. 20 minutes from Kan ar Voualc'h.
This chateau, characteristic of early 18th residences, was built in 1710 by the architect Olivier Delourme. From 1872 architect Ernet Trilhe altered it, taking his inspiration from the Chateauxx of Blois and Fontainebleau. A magnificent landscaped English garden, containing remarkable vegetation from the four continents, leads to the chateau. Since 1986 the park also is home to one of Europe's largest sculpture gardens. A centre for contemporary art and cultural encounter centre receives exhibitions year round. A regional restoration workshop presents an exhibition on the study of works and restoration techniques. Open early April to late October. 02 97 60 42 66. One hour from Kan ar Voualc'h.
City of Lorient:
28 minutes from Kan ar Voualc'h.
Keroman Submarine Base in Lorient:
Festival Interceltique de Lorient:
Lorient has a major fishing port, Port de Pêche (Breton: Porzh Pesketa), at Keroman and the docks area at Kergroise handle large cargo and passenger ships.
Tourism plays an important part in the city's economy and there are several large yachting marinas around the bay. The annual Festival Interceltique de Lorient was founded in Lorient in 1971 and attracts large numbers of tourists to the area every summer (700 000 people came in 2009).
Lorient South Brittany Airport is situated just west of the city at Lann Bihoue, and it has direct flights to several destinations, such as to Paris and Lyon. Airline links with Ireland exist in summer. 44 minutes from Kan ar Voualc'h.
Lorient was the location of a German U-boat (submarine) base during World War II. Presently, the former U-boat base of Keroman is open to the public, and it can be visited year-round. During the tours, the submarine pens of block K3 can be seen. Its roof (3.40 to 7.0 metres (11.15 to 22.97 ft) of steel-reinforced concrete) can be visited, as well as a former anti-aircraft tower on top of the U-boat base. The tower affords an excellent view of the harbor and of the former headquarters of the Grossadmiral Karl Dönitz of the Kriegsmarine (Nazi German navy) across the bay at Larmor-Plage.
The Festival Interceltique de Lorient (fr) or Gouelioù Etrekeltiek An Oriant (br) was founded in Lorient in 1971. This annual gathering takes place in the heart of the city every August and features Celtic traditional, classical, folk, jazz and rock musicians, singers, dancers, painters, sculptors, writers and other artists. From August 6th to 15th this year.
Sailing on the Golfe du Morbihan
Golfe du Morbihan:
Navix Boat Tours – Golfe du Morbihan – Belle-Ile-en-Mer – Ile aux Moines – Ile d'Arz
It comes as rather a surprise to discover that Vannes is on the sea. Its harbour is a channelled inlet of the ragged-edged Golfe de Morbihan – mor bihan means "little sea" in Breton – which lets in the tides through a narrow gap between the peninsulas of Rhuys and Locmariaquer. By popular tradition the islands scattered around this enclosure used to number the days of the year, though for centuries the waters have been rising and there are now fewer than one for each week. Of these, thirty are owned by film stars and the like, while two – the Île aux Moines and Île d'Arz – have regular populations and ferry services. The rest are the best, and a boat tour around them, or at least a trip out to Gavrinis near the mouth of the gulf, is lovely. As the boats thread their way through the baffling muddle of channels, you lose track of what is island and what is mainland; and everywhere there are megalithic ruins, stone circles disappearing beneath the water and solitary menhirs on small hillocks. Navix even provides lunch and dinner cruises. The ferry crossing point is about an hour from Kan ar Voualc'h, although the western edge of the Golfe can be reached in 40 minutes.
La Maison du Cidre:
La Maison du Cidre offers you a chance to visit an authentic setting to discover how cider is made: from the generations-old traditional methods country folk used to today's modern techniques. At the end of the visit is a chance to taste the Maison's own cider or apple juice. You can also purchase their farmmade cider, apple juice, sparkling apple juice or Guillevic Royal Cider. Open from early April to early November. 02 97 26 47 40. 48 minutes from Kan ar Voualc'h.
Musée de la Résistance Bretonne:
Saint-Marcel, in the Lanvaux moors, sheltered the biggest pocket of Breton Resistance; on 18 June 1944 a combat took place here, memorable in the history of France and that of Brittany. This historical museum comprised of 1500 m2 of exhibition space, unique in Brittany, will help you discover the life and commitment of these Bretons during the second World War. Numerous collections are presented in six rooms, completed by audiovisual aterials and explanatory models. In July and August on weekedays, don't miss the guided tour in a period vehicle! 02 97 75 16 90. One hour from Kan ar Voualc'h.
Very early morning at the salt marsh
Natura 2000 Site Naturel de la Ria d'Etel:
The European Natura 2000 network is a grouping of natural land and marine sites which have been identified for their biological richness, their rareness and/or the vulnerability of the species living there. The Ria d'Etel site, comprised of 4,259 hectares, includes the municipalities of Belz, Erdeven, Etel, Kervignac, Landaul, Landévant, Locoal-Menden, Merlevenez, Nostang, Plouhinec, and … Ste Hélène.
Several types of environments characterize the Ria d'Etel site: salt marshes, mud flats, rocky sea beds, wet field, moors, ponds and isles and islands. The endangered and protected species inhabiting the site include the European otter which almost became extinct; among migrating fish, the Atlantic salmon and the sea lamprey; among freshwater fish, the sculpin and the Planer lamprey; and among vanishing plant species, the floating water plantain.
People who love birding should especially take their binoculars along for a drive out of the centre of Ste Hélène on the road heading to Nostang. The salt marshes on your right are a beautiful and rich place to stop and see all kinds of species in wheeling and diving.
The Ria is 8 minutes from Kan ar Voual'ch; the Nostang salt marshes are 4 minutes away.
Parc de Branféré:
With its bits of water linked by cascades, broad meadows, islands and vegetation, the park is a place of liberty for the many species living here: giraffes, zebras, oryxes, hipps, lemurs, gibbons, wolves, pandas… Exceptional show with bird specialists before the chateau. Also new in 2010, treetop fun called the Parcabout©, to get a look at the animals wandering freely from a viewpoint several metres over their heads. Open from about 6 February to 3 November. 02 97 42 94 66. One hour 14 minutes from Kan ar Voualc'h.
A pretty spot in Pont-Aven
Musée de Beaux-Arts de Pont-Aven:
The town of Pont-Aven is mainly known because of the group of artists who flocked round Émile Bernard and Paul Gauguin, and who were joined in 1888 by Paul Sérusier. They were collectively known as the "Pont-Aven School" (French: École de Pont-Aven, Breton: Skol Pont-Aven).
There are lots of little shops, galleries, places to eat, and of course the fine collection at the Musée de Beaux-Arts de Pont-Aven.
Pont-Aven is 50 minutes away from Kan ar Voualc'h.
Port Louis Citadel:
French National Marine Museum in Port Louis Citadel:
Museum of the French Company of the East Indies in Port Louis Citadel:
This heavily-fortified rectangular Citadel is a flagship example of military architecture, and has an extraordinary view of the harbour. The Port-Louis Citadel is now home to the National Maritime Museum, where you will find an excellent collection of model ships, weapons and other historic models. You can also visit the museum dedicated to the history of the Company of the East Indies.
Port Louis is 23 minutes away from Kan ar Voualc'h.
Piscine de la Mairie de Ploemeur in the Town of Ploemeur:
A good swimming center – a good family outing. And a terrific solution when it has been raining for two days and you must get the kids to burn off some energy. 35 minutes away from Kan ar Voualc'h.
Parrots at Pont-Scorff Zoo
It was in 1973 that Maguy and Pierre Thomas had the idea of creating a zoo here, which is today the Morbihan's most frequented centre for leisure activities, and the third busiest in Brittany, with 230,000 visitors annually. Over 120 different animal species happily inhabiting over 12 hectares of land are waiting to be discovered. Two and a half hours a day of shows with seals, penguins, parrots and reptiles, a restaurant area with a bar, a snack bar, a restaurant and pizzeria, a souvenir shop and picnic areas, and with English spoken to boot, this is a lovely day to look forward to.
Your visit also means you support wildlife. The zoo participates in over 28 European programmes to encourage reproduction of threatened species, including financing a programme to keep hippos on the Niger River. 02 97 32 60 86. 33 minutes from Kan ar Voualc'h.
Pointe de la Vieille Chappelle in Ste Hélène, after the kayaking is done
Ste Hélène – Ria d'Etel – Sea Kayaking:
You can take one- or two-person kayaks out by yourselves for an hour, two hours, or three hours to paddle around the lovely Ria; or you can be taken out by a guide for 1 ½ hour, 2 ½ hours or for the day. After making sure that even the beginners are comfortable with what they are doing, the guide will take you to St Cado (see below), take you by the ornithological reserve, take you by an oyster farm for a glass of white wine and little tour, and just generally give you a chance to discover the pleasures and beauties of the Ria. 8 minutes from Kan ar Voualc'h.
The Presqu'île de Quiberon, south of Carnac, is well worth visiting on its own merits; Quiberon is quite a lively port, and you can get boats out to the islands or walk the shores of this narrow peninsula. The ocean-facing shore, known as the Côte Sauvage, is a wild and highly unswimmable stretch, where the stormy seas look like flashing scenes of snowy mountain tops. The sheltered eastern side has safe and calm sandy beaches, and plenty of campsites. 43 minutes to the very end of the peninsula, from Kan ar Voualc'h.
One warning though: there is only one road leading to Quiberon and in summer there can be serious traffic jams.
Island cottage at St Cado
St Cado Fishing Village:
From the mainland, you walk across a little bridge to reach the island itself. Its main feature is a twelfth-century chapel that stands on the site of a Romanesque predecessor built by St Cado around the sixth century. Cado, who was a prince of "Glamorgant", returned in due course to his native Wales and was martyred, but Welsh pilgrims still make their way to this pretty little spot. As Cado is a patron saint of the deaf, it is said that hearing problems can be cured by lying on his stone "bed" inside the chapel. A little fountain behind the chapel only emerges from the sea at low tide.
Classified as one the most beautiful villages of France. Good place to buy oysters. 13 minutes from Kan ar Voualc'h.
Over 4 hectares of park with exotic birds, macaws, cockatoos and other colourful parrots and parakeets, kangaroos… In this exceptional site you can discover the Mexican garden, the Thai garden, the musical house, the water garden with its lotuses, the rose garden, the African garden with its banana trees over 7 meters high and the 1000 m2 of tropical houthouses with orchids and cacti.
At 15.30 is the gardener-magician's performance with his cycling roosters and trained parrots. Unique in France, don't miss the great Australian aviary with the rainbow-hued parakeets, and discover the lorikeets plundering the exotic flowers around the visitors. The latest novelty is the Jurassic plants and jointed dinosaurs.
Open from early April to late in October. 02 99 71 87 80. One hour and 22 minutes from Kan ar Voualc'h.
City of Vannes:
Thanks to its position at the head of the Golfe de Morbihan, VANNES, 20km east of Auray, is southern Brittany's major tourist town. Modern Vannes is such a large and thriving community that the small size of the old walled town at its core, Vieux Vannes, may well come as a surprise. Its focal point, the old gateway of the Porte St-Vincent, commands a busy little square at the northern end of the long canalized port that provides access to the gulf itself. Once inside the ramparts, the old centre of chaotic streets – crammed around the cathedral, and enclosed by gardens and a tiny stream – is largely pedestrianized. 37 minutes from Kan ar Voualc'h.
Walking and Trekking:
The following translates the description that goes to the map found on the above link. This walking tour works its way around the Ria d'Etel, and all waterfront owners have an obligation to leave a strip of land at the water's edge for walkers if their property falls within the zone set aside. For other walks and treks, please stop by a tourist office (in Hennebont, in Lorient, in Erdeven, etc….). One of the many accesses to the walking path can be found in Ste Hélène, at the little picnic area in Moustoir overlooking a tiny bay. Look for the little signposting indicating the path leading into the underbrush along the water's edge.
"The little island of St Cado, linked to land by a little road, offers a magnificent view of the Ria d'Etel and its small islands. Don't miss taking a walk to discover its Romanesque chapel with its 16C portal, as well as its calvary from 1832. Its little 18C fountain further down the slope is regularly submerged by the tides. To the left, Nichtarguer Island distinguishes itself with its tiny sole house.
Take the GR.341 that follows the road. Follow the signposting with its yellow and pink circles. After the beach, you go past an oyster farm and than a little fountain. Note the beautiful view of Lorois Bridge stretching over the river. When the tide comes up rough current form swirls in the water. The path goes under the bridge, but you can turn around and head up to enjoy the panoramic view.
A little later you will see the surprising altar to Our Lady of Lourdes which includes a multifide of ex-votos. Port Niscop is lively with pétanque games and fishing. Across, you will see the Vieux Passage Port in the little town of Plouhinec, then beyond you can make out the mouth of the Ria and the Etel dunes. Before taking the path back, you will cover a few dozen meters to appreciate the beauties of the Sach River before joining up again with the road.
Follow the blue signposting. Take the path that goes along the soccer field. Cross the D.781 (very busy). At Kerlutu, admire the dolmen and then cross the D.9 (also very busy). At St John's Cross, turn right until you get to the town, and then head for the coast…
The Pointe du Perche is ideal for studying the Ria and the orientation table helps you locate the various little islands. A second dolmen rises along the road, before you get back to St Cado.
You can also extend the walk until the Sac'h Mill, but count on an additional hour."
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Finding the village of Sainte-Hélène-sur-Mer
- Deborah Mends
- An American of Welsh-English extraction, I've lived in France for almost thirty years, splitting my time today between Paris, Brittany and the Middle East. I am the owner of Atelier Mends SAS, which offers innovative drawing instruction online. Based on certain Old Master techniques and the latest research on how the mind learns, complete beginners can learn to draw realistically and sensitively; more experienced students will learn to develop their artist eye. Visit my English-language website at http://www.howtodrawjourney.com/, or, if you're a French speaker, check out http://www.le-chemin-du-dessin.com/. Interested in taking a drawing course during your stay at Kan ar Voualc'h? I offer one-day sketching jaunts to Pont Aven and to Auray: http://www.howtodrawjourney.com/drawing-classes.html