It happens every summer. Once July rolls around, everyone starts sporting their red, white, and blue gear in anticipation of Independence Day. But, for you, the beginning of summer is the time to head abroad. Especially this year. You aren’t feeling very patriotic these days. Right now, the French Tricolour—blue, white, and red—flag looks a whole lot friendlier.
So for the holiday this year, you’re trading New England for Brittany. Actually, it’s more like you’re trading Nantucket for Belle-Île-en-Mer. The Beautiful Island in the Sea is considered one of the most, well, beautiful islands in all of France. Brittany’s largest island lies about nine miles off the Quiberon Peninsula on the region’s southern coast. On the island, rugged cliffs and rock stacks line its own southwest coast. Quaint villages and picturesque harbors are along the northeast shore. Tranquil beaches, to which most people bike, lie in between them. It’s no wonder so many artists flock here.
Given its location, it’s not surprising that Belle-Île was developed as a naval base by the Veneti (seafaring Celtic people from Brittany). A priory and a citadel followed. Despite the fortifications, incessant pirate attacks forced the monks to hand over the island to the monarchy in the early 18th century. The British later captured the island during the Seven Years’ War. It was ultimately exchanged for Menorca as part of the Peace of Paris. It’s been quiet on the island ever since.
It’s impossible to miss the Vauban Citadel as the ferry approaches the main town of Le Palais. The waterfront fort is massive and star-shaped. Both Le Palais and Sauzon, farther up the coast, are pretty fishing villages with colorful houses. But you’re heading south to Bangor, a commune on the windy southwest coast. This is the location of the Goulphar Lighthouse, one of the most powerful lighthouses in Europe. It’s home to prehistoric menhirs, ancient burial grounds, and little chapels. It’s where Claude Monet, the founder of French Impressionism, painted the wild coast. It’s also where a grand hotel is perched above the cliffs.
Castel Clara has a spectacular setting overlooking Port Goulphar. The stylish hotel’s long white buildings with slate roofs were built in the 1970s. It became one of President François Mitterrand’s favorite escapes while in office. It’s easy to see why. The 63 rooms have balconies or terraces, large bay windows, and colors that harmonize with the natural beauty just beyond their walls. Your two-story duplex suite even features Vera Bradley-like accents. Your mother would approve.
This time of year, you won’t be spending much time inside, though. The salt air is drawing you out. There’s a saltwater pool overlooking the bay. Thalassotherapy (seawater) treatments are the focus of the Clara Spa. All meals feature seafood. Oysters sit alongside crêpes, smoked salmon, and homemade cakes at Café Clara’s breakfast buffet. Elegant Le 180° serves an all-lobster menu with panoramic views. While La Terrasse, a seasonal spot by the pool, is the perfect spot for a pre-dinner glass of Champagne. Yes, real Champagne. If only you were feeling this bubbly about your own country right now.