The river is best known for the underwater sandbar at its entrance, which moves with the wind and currents but disappears at high tide. A semaphore, operated by the only female operator in France, indicates when boats can pass – not during high winds or at low tide; it is occasionally possible to visit.
Now sporting both a marina and a boat graveyard, the town of Étel was one of France’s main centres for tuna fishing from 1930s to 1960s; there were 250 boats, 1000 fishermen and 12 canneries. The Musée des Thonniers charts the history of the industry as well as remembering some of the river’s tragedies including a storm in 1930 when 10 boats went down and 72 souls perished; the museum attracts many visitors at Christmas who come to see its maritime nativity scenes.
Oysters have been farmed along the river since the 1890s and now there are about 75 farmers who produce around 3,000 tonnes per year; ask at the tourist about visiting a farm or find a riverside restaurant for a leisurely tasting.
North of Belz is the tiny islet of Saint-Cado, a former sardine port, which is reached from the mainland by a short stone bridge. Its pretty whitewashed houses conceal a 12th-century chapel on the site of a 6th-century structure founded by Cado, a Welsh prince. Between the mainland and the islet, a former oyster farmer’s cottage sits alone on a rock in the middle of the river – you’ll see it on many a postcard.
Life’s a beach
In the south, 5 miles of sandy beaches stretch from the mouth of the river towards Quiberon. In the far west, Kerminihy beach tolerates nude sunbathing while Kerhillio is a magnet for families thanks to its safe bathing and summer lifeguards; whatever your taste there’s plenty of parking. The beaches are backed by 700 acres of protected dunes.