© Emmanuel Berthier
On the lighthouse route The giants of Brest Terres Océanes

On the lighthouse route

The coastlines of Brittany have the greatest concentration of lighthouses in the world and Finistère chalks up the highest score. If you’re heading for the Brest Terres Océanes destination, you can explore these guardians of the sea with the help of a tourist booklet and app: “Sur la route des phares” (On the lighthouse route). From the Île Vierge to the unusually-named Stiff lighthouse, via the Pointe de Saint-Mathieu and the Trézien light, there are four lighthouses and a museum to visit. You can climb to the top and enjoy panoramic views as far as the eye can see!

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The Île Vierge lighthouse

A granite giant

Exactly 365 steps! It’s a bit of a climb up the spiral staircase, past walls covered in azure blue opaline, to the top of the Île Vierge lighthouse in Plouguerneau: it’s the tallest freestone lighthouse in the world. This Kersanton granite giant with its bright white light is worth the effort. The view from the 82.5 metre summit over the Abers area is impressive. When you arrive at the lighthouse by boat you can imagine you’re the relief lighthouse-keeper… although these days the light is completely automated.


Saint-Mathieu lighthouse

The sentry at the world’s end

Heading due west! You’ll see a strange sight when you get to Plougonvelin on the Pointe de Saint-Mathieu. This is where the Saint-Mathieu Lighthouse emerges from the ruins of a former abbey. At the top of the 163 steps a guide will tell you the story of this elegant lighthouse, built in 1835, and the role it plays. Its light shows sailors the passage through the Brest narrows. That’s no small matter when a storm is blowing. In calmer weather, the view that stretches from the Pointe du Raz to the island of Ushant (Ouessant in French) is quite something as well.


Trézien lighthouse

Guardian of the Four

What makes the Trézien lighthouse different is that it guides boats from inland at Plouarzel through the Four waterway. Built of granite from the Aber-Ildut and Lampaul-Plouarzel, this building stands 500 m from the shore. That’s not far from the Pointe du Corsen, where the waters of the Channel and the Atlantic meet and merge. There are 182 steps that lead to its corbelled walkway at a height of 37.2 metres. In the distance you can just make out the shapes of the Molène archipelago and Ushant.


The Stiff

The grand old man

The Stiff lighthouse on the Isle of Ushant was designed by the great military architect Vauban. It has two towers, one to carry its light, the other containing its staircase. It has been in service since 1700 and is the oldest lighthouse in Brittany that is still working. It perches on a cliff, overlooking the waves 90 m below, and has recently been renovated, so that its lamp now casts its dazzling beam out over the Iroise Sea. There is a fascinating museum tracing the history of the lighthouse. Don’t miss the exhibitions in the lighthouse-keepers’ houses, mounted by the Conservatoire for the Breton Black Bee: another of Ushant’s guardians!


Lighthouses and buoys

An illuminating exhibition

If you think marine signposting is complicated, head to the Ushant Museum of Lighthouses and Buoys where it’s all made as clear as crystal. The museum sits at the foot of the Créac’h lighthouse and houses its gigantic lens. Other exhibits include coal-powered lanterns, Fresnel lenses, electric arc-lamps. In total there are 800 objects going back over three centuries of technological developments. Models, photos and videos give an insight into the construction of some of these legendary sentinels and the lives of their keepers: a history that deserves respect.

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