Pointe St-Mathieu and Le Conquet
A stunning strategic lookout post
Overlooking an extremely important, strategic stretch of coast connecting the Atlantic to the bay of Brest, the Pointe St-Mathieu has not just dramatic views, but also a clutch of dramatic buildings. From the charming neighbouring port of Le Conquet, boats leave for the famed and feared island of Ushant.
Competing for cliff-edge attention
From the cliff-tops of the Pointe de St-Mathieu, the contrasting views are sensational: northwest towards the Molène archipelago, southeast to the mesmerizing headlands of the Crozon Peninsula. At the tip of the headland itself, towering buildings compete for your attention. Close to the cliff-edge stands the tall semaphore, regulating sea traffic, but you can climb the lighthouse behind it for even more sensational views.
Monks and memorials
Between the two, the bulky ruins of the medieval Abbaye de St-Mathieu are hugely impressive and a museum recalls the monastery’s rich past. On top of the solid, secondary tower beside the church entrance, monks used to keep a fire burning to warn away vessels however, shipwrecks still occurred. The abbey was entitled to a cut from the sale of salvage, helping to continue funding the fire. Standing out to one side, the Monument National aux Morts en Mer went up after the First World War to remember sailors who died serving their country then. The low 19th-century fort below has recently been turned into a moving cenotaph, recalling those who have died at sea for France through many conflicts.
A feisty port
Best known today as the port from which ferries sail for Ushant, Le Conquet is a charming place to linger, with pretty beaches north and south. Wander round its lanes and panels explain its history. One tells of the terror the villagers experienced in 1558, when a large English force came and destroyed the place. You can still see some lovely old houses in the centre, though, while inside the neo-Gothic church, homage is paid to the no-nonsense 17th-century Breton missionary, Michel le Nobletz, a defender of the poor who spent his last decade here. Now, a cluster of appealing bars and boutiques stand nearby.
Did you know?
The wild story goes that Breton sailors raced off to Egypt in the 9th century to capture the relics of St Matthew from Arab hands and bring them back to the abbey.