At the heart of the Glénan islands with Lulu
Set off for a nature trip on the Isle of Saint Nicolas
You don’t have to go to the ends of the earth to discover paradise islands bathed in turquoise waters and fringed with white sandy beaches… all you have to do is get on board with Lulu, the passionate and experienced guide. Board your boat at Fouesnant, and enjoy a trip on the sea to the Glénan archipelago. On the menu are stories of pirates, a submerged valley, plants that are unique to this spot, and tuneful birdsong!
Welcome to the Breton tropics
We leave the little dock of Beg Meil aboard a boat from the ‘vedettes de l’Odet’ shuttle service under clear blue skies, and head for the isle of Saint-Nicolas des Glénan. It’s actually a large island covering 14 hectares, and is “the only one that’s open to the public” says Lulu, also known as Lucienne Moisan. As we make the crossing, the magic of the ocean casts its spell, and we enter the ‘chambre’ of the Glénan islands under a bright sun. This is a blue lagoon that really puts the Maldives into the shade. Lulu tells us “these are the clearest waters in Brittany,” and in fact many people say that the place name Glénan comes from the word ‘glen’, meaning ‘clear’ in the Breton language.
An island that’s all about nature
Once we get to the quay, Lulu spends a bit of time telling us about life here on the island, much of which centres on the comings and goings of students at the diving centre and sailing school here, as well as the many yachts that take advantage of the anchorage points around the island, “though always far from the aquatic plant habitats that make the deep-water environment of the archipelago so rich”. Here, respect for the world of nature is anchored in people’s minds and guides their behaviour. “Everyone has to pick up their rubbish, and it is forbidden to pick the flowers,” reminds Lulu as she takes us towards the only trail on the island. The trail is entirely built from wood so as to protect the dunes from the impact of visitors… one of a range of initiatives vital to the preservation of this little corner of paradise!
A flower that exists nowhere else in the world
As we continue with our walk, Lulu teaches us how to recognise the maritime Armeria plants and their pink pompons, the bluebells with their violet heads and the rock samphire and other chamomile plants, going on to introduce us to the springtime star of the area: the Glénan Narcissus. The island is the only place in the world where this delicate flower grows, and the central area of the island has become its only natural reserve. “On this 1.5 hectare site, about 286,460 stems of this narcissus flower were painstakingly counted in 2015, compared with 150,000 in 2010.”
The most beautiful view of the island!
A few steps from the pathway we see an outcrop of dazzling white sand, extending all the way over to the small isle of Bannanec. The scene is made all the more enchanting by the gently lapping azure-blue waves. Lulu tells us that the fine texture and sparkling white colour of the sand is down to algae – red in colour (!) - called maërl. “At the end of this tombolo landform are a number of oystercatchers and Kentish plovers that are nesting in the sand right now. This is why we don’t go there during the spring, so that we don’t crush their eggs.” In any case, it’s even prettier here - and thanks to Lulu’s keen eye, we can watch them without disturbing them!
A trip back in time
“So are there any treasures on this island?” ask curious kids. “Certainly,” is the answer. ”For a long time, the archipelago was a landing spot for pirates and corsairs.” The Cigogne fort built in 1755 is testament to this facet of the area’s history, as it was built to drive away these looters. We make a brief stop in front of a “very, very old” tomb, and it is also an opportunity to go far back in time to when the archipelago looked very different. “20,000 years ago, you could walk on foot to the Glénan islands. Later on the sea overwhelmed the valley, and woolly mammoths gave way to the basking sharks that regularly visit these waters.”
There’s just an hour left before we set sail again, on the lookout this time for any rogue shark fins. Lulu suggests that we make the most of the time we have left by wandering around freely. We have already promised ourselves that we will be back, perhaps to stay one or two nights, as we are told that the sunsets here are just like the archipelago: a stunning sight!
Text: Julie Danet
- The nature reserve was created in 1974 to protect the indigenous species that is of outstanding botanical interest: the Glénan Narcissus, which can be seen in flower on the isle of Saint Nicolas in early springtime
- The Natura 2000 site of the Glénan archipelago was classified in 2004. The site now covers almost 500 km² of maritime and island space stretching 15 km to the south of the islands, the aim being to preserve its outstanding biological diversity (fauna, flora, natural habitats)
- Trips to the Glénans take half a day (spring) or a whole day (summer)
- Booking for the trip is compulsory and can be made through the Fouesnant Les Glénans Tourist Office, by email: email@example.com, or over the phone: +33 2 98 51 18 88
- Don’t forget to bring binoculars, strong closed-toe shoes and warm clothing