The Brittany coast has the largest concentration of lighthouses in the world, with a record in Finistère. From Ile Vierge to the Stiff lighthouse, via Pointe Saint-Mathieu or Petit Minou lighthouse, climb to the top of these sentinels of the sea and marvel at the extraordinary panoramas!
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.
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.
Click. Inspire. Go…
Receive the Brittany newsletter!
To receive 4 times a year a summary of the best things to do in Brittany by e-mail head this way.
3. 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.
This stone lighthouse has stood 26 metres tall at the entrance to Brest bay since the middle of the 19th century, at the end of a winding jetty. It occupies a unique position to secure the entrance to the bottleneck, a stretch of sea that links the bay to the Atlantic Ocean. Opposite is the Crozon peninsula and Camaret-sur-Mer; further west, Pointe Saint-Mathieu and its unmissable lighthouse. To get there, follow the coastal path, the famous GR®34. If you have sea legs, hop on-board the “Grand bleu” and discover Petit Minou from the sea. It’s a must-do!
Firmly planted on a rocky spur, at the end of the long Kermorvan peninsula, its solid square shape inspires confidence. Entirely automated, it guides ships through the Four channel. To get to it, go alongside the Fort de l’Ilette before crossing the bridge that links it to the coast. Your reward? A splendid view of Conquet harbour on the ria side, and to the west, the choppy Iroise Sea.
Open every day in July and August and weekends in September
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!
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.