1st August 2007
Still in Brittany, Port-Louis is named after Louis X111. It was previously called Blavet, the name of the river on which it stands. It still has a citadel built between 1591 and 1636 and ramparts built between 1649 and 1653. The town is on a promontory on the river and is surrounded on three sides by water. As we sailed in that Tuesday morning after our long journey from Camaret we felt we would like it and we were right! We were met by the Capitainerie sporting a huge moustache and after a good sleep we began exploring our new surroundings. There is a market every Tuesday evening and the place was busy with stalls in the streets and all the shops open. These Breton markets are really something. Neither of us are really ’shoppers’ but look forward to seeing what the next town offers as we move on.
Port-Louis is in the region of Lorient and the city of Lorient is just a few kilometres away on the other side of the river. There are ferries connecting the various small towns and marinas. We duly made our journey upriver to the city and were pleasantly surprised. As Brest, Lorient was devastated during the war and has been almost completely rebuilt. There are wide tree-lined esplanades and a marina right in the heart of town. The 37th annual Interceltic Festival was starting on the Friday and looked good fun.
We didn’t know before we arrived in Brittany that the Celts arrived here in 460 AD from Britain, driven out by the Angles and Saxons. There is still a great affinity with other Celtic people in Scotland, Wales and Cornwall and Bretons have never thought of themselves as wholly French. Indeed, the National Holiday we saw celebrated in Treguier was somewhat muted. The people were having a good time, but there weren’t many French flags flying!
We were expecting our friends Ian and Gill to join us on their boat Fe2 (a steel sloop pronounced Feetoo) and thought they would arrive from La Roche Bernard on the Sunday so we bought tickets for a concert by the Dubliners on the Saturday night. This made a bit of a logistic problem as the Dubliners were not due on stage till 11 pm and the last ferry back to Port Louis left before then. However, there were ferries every half hour to Locmiquelic, the next town along, up until 2 am during the festival so we decided to cycle to the ferry landing and leave the bikes there to ride back. This we did and had a wonderful time singing the old songs and caught the ferry at 1 am. Great eh? Just a twenty minute ride back to Port-Louis and we’d be tucked up in bed. When we checked the bikes, however, Pat had only a rear light working. Her front light’s bracket had snapped off. Mike’s front light was working but his batteries had run out on the rear one. No worries, just keep our usual order, Mike in front and Pat behind, and we’d scoot home. Of course Pat couldn’t resist overtaking him on a fast bit and then we saw the blue light and the local Gendarmerie made their presence known. The van screeched to a stop, three officers jumped out and we were subject to a torrent of French which Mike tried to interrupt by saying “Excusez”. A shake of the finger and a continued stream of French until Mike meekly said “Anglais”. The gendarme then calmed down (slightly) and told us it was an offence not to show a ‘fire’ and that we could only carry on with our journey if we stayed on the pavement and rode slowly. Suitably chastened, we did as directed except when the pavement ran out and we snuck back on the road! They must have had a quiet Saturday night if three of them were riding round looking for elderly foreigners riding bikes without lights!
Never mind, we got home safely and the next morning met up with Ian and Gill who had managed to arrive on the Saturday evening after all. It was great to see them both and as they hadn’t been to Port Louis and Lorient before we spent a lovely few days together. On the Sunday morning we went up to Lorient for the Grand Parade of marching bands from all over Brittany together with bands from Scotland and Wales and even the Flint Male Voice Choir. There were many examples of the different styles of Breton costumes with whole families parading and dancing as they walked along. A wonderful sight and sound.
We spent the next few days exploring on bikes and by ferry and really liked the area, especially Port Louis. The marina in Lorient would have been more central but with the festival it was very busy and we appreciated the peace and quiet of our little hideaway. We also had our first attempt at collecting mussels (moules) from the beach. We had watched the locals one day so bought little rakes and went along with a bucket at low tide. We were moderately successful but couldn’t gather enough for our tea. We weren’t sure if they were OK to eat so Mike used them for bait. They seemed all right. He still hasn’t caught another fish!
A couple of days after the bicycle incident Mike went across the river on Poco with two jerrycans for diesel and you can guess, Monsieur Gendarme swooped again! This time in a big black RIB boat. The river is very busy and you get quite a wash from big fast boats so they may have thought that Mike was in danger of drowning. Either that or they thought he had stolen Poco! Anyway they let him carry on when Mike explained that he was only going for diesel.
At last the time came to leave Port Louis and we sailed in company with Fe2 on 8th August to try and get to Belle Ile again. We managed to take some photos of each other on the way and had a comfortable sail but as we neared Belle Ile there were lots of boats leaving the little port, Le Palais. When we entered the pretty little harbour we were met by the capitainerie who told us they were full. The only other harbour on the island, Sauzon, is too shallow for us so we decided to go on further to a smaller island, Houat, where there are beautiful beaches and safe anchorages. We were somehow never meant to visit Belle Ile, but everyone says it is well named, a beautiful island.
We reached Ile Houat and anchored off Treach er Goured, a beach which looked like the Caribbean. There were a lot of boats in the bay and everyone was going ashore in their dinghies to sample the delights of the island. We had a barbecue on the beach that evening and explored the village and the port the next day. We were reminded of Sark as there were bicycles and tractors aplenty but we saw a few vans as well.
Well, we had to part company with Ian and Gill eventually so took our leave on Thursday 9th August and sailed to Pornichet, a seaside resort near La Baule. It had been great to see them and also to have a conversation in English again!
At first glance Pornichet looked like one of the Spanish Costa resorts and we thought we would only stay for a couple of days and move on but we ended up staying for a fortnight, partly because of bad weather, but also because Pornichet is a lovely little resort, ideal for families. The bay from Pornichet to Le Pouliguen stretches for over 7k and there is a safe golden beach all of the way. The hotels and apartment buildings are interspersed with beautiful late 1800’s houses and there are only a very few bars and restaurants. There is one cycle and one car lane each way along the front which has a calming affect on the whole promenade. Behind the front are many beautiful houses and quiet streets. It is obviously very popular with French families and there are children’s entertainers and play areas along the beach.
On the Saturday we rode our bikes the 10k to St-Nazaire and visited one of the best attractions we have seen so far. It is called Le Paquebot Escal’ Atlantic and is housed in one of the German submarine bays from the war . It is a ‘virtual tour’ of an ocean liner en route to the Far East and the settings and special effects are first class. You really think you are on a ship and visit various parts such as the corridors and cabins, the music room, the promenade deck, the hold, the engine room, the dining room, the bridge and the cinema.
That evening we attended a concert by the Cordes D’Argent (Silver Strings) Orchestra from Saint Petersburg. They were students from the National Conservatoire and played a variety of classical and Russian folk music on balalaikas, domras (oval shaped), flute and piccolo, classical and Russian accordions and a variety of percussion instruments. They were absolutely marvellous, and received standing ovations from the audience.
We made some new friends at Pornichet too. Mike and Irene from Birmingham on their motor cruiser Mitime. Mike is a retired company director and they spend their summers on the Brittany coast. They have been coming here for many years and love the place. We do to. We have a few sets of boules on board and we played a foursome with Mike and Irene before they left for La Roche-Bernard on Friday 17th. It is about 28 miles away and Mike reckoned it would take them about 2˝ hours. It would take us at least 6 hours!! Oh, for a motor boat! We weren’t sure of the exact rules for boules or petanque, as it’s also known. Every web site gives you different rules. We will have to ask some French people before we leave the country!
We also collected some more moules and actually ate them. Delicious! We left them in a net overboard overnight which seemed to get rid of all the muck in them, then just cooked them for 7 or 8 minutes with onion, garlic and herbs in white wine and yoghurt. Celebrity chefs eat your hearts out! I’ve had to put a photo on the picture page but I promise this will be the last one of moules and frites!
After Mike and Irene left we cycled along the bay to Le Pouliguen which is another resort. It used to be an important port for the export of salt as there are salt marshes inland from the coast here. However, the river here constantly silts up and the trade has decreased over the years. It is now mostly a pleasure marina and resort but has a lovely atmosphere. Again there are beautiful old houses alongside the quay and a ‘double-decker’ merry-go-round.
On the 23rd August, after more days of strong winds, we finally left Pornichet (and Brittany) and sailed to the Ile d’Yeu, about 30 miles down the coast, and what a lovely surprise it was. As a lot of you know, Pat used to have a Citroen 2CV and has always regretted selling it. Well, all the 2CV’s must have died and gone to Ile d’Yeu heaven! There were dozens of them, together with Dyane’s, Ami’s, Mehari’s, vans of all shapes and sizes, and even a rusty old DS and one perfect Traction! There were also old Renault 4’s, and lots of other obscure old cars. We think they were nearly all hire cars as most people were arriving as foot passengers on the ferries. You could also hire bikes. There were half a dozen hire places in Port Joinville, the main town, and there were ordinary bikes, ‘sit up and beg’ bikes, tandems, together with all kinds of trailers, carrying everything from children to sheets of plywood! We only saw a couple of lorries all the time we were on the island!
Ile d’Yeu is only 23 kilometres square and we were able to cycle around the coast in about 6 hours. It’s greatest claim to fame is that Marshal Petain, of Vichy infamy, is buried in the local cemetery. He was sentenced to death for treason in 1945 but the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and he spent the remaining 6 years of his life in solitary confinement in the Citadel here. He was 95 years old when he died.
There is another, older citadel, the Vieux-château, on the ‘wild coast’ which was built in the 14th century. It is really atmospheric and you can still see the remains of the bakery, the kitchen, the forge and the main hall. It supposedly inspired Herge to write the Adventures of Tintin story L’ile Noire (The Black Island).
We spent a very pleasant few days on the island and then, you’ve guessed it, the Force 6 winds came again. We were only delayed a couple of days this time so, at 1015 on 30th August we left and sailed 60 miles to Port des Minimes, a large marina at La Rochelle, the capital of Charente-Maritime départment. La Rochelle is a large seaport with a population of over 70,000 so is a bit different to the last few places we have been. Looking forward to exploring it. See you next month.
A footnote to the ‘Brest Incident’ last month. Checking the map since, Pat could have caught that No 27 bus almost all the way back to the marina!!!