Kiss of the Sea
Why it is not always a good idea to follow a rabbit, where the giant plateau disappears, and how to distinguish more than 50 shades
There is something in the bush: branches are rustling, leaves are shaking. Apart from it, the balcony overlooks a bike lane separating the hotel lawn with its green hedge from a sandy wasteland with patches of grass that runs all the way to the dark silhouettes of cliffs, slipping into the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. A tiny island with a lighthouse and some rocky objects protrudes from the mirror-like surface of the sea. The sun has just disappeared behind the horizon, and the ocean reflects the twilight sky.
Something is still moving in the bushes. Then, suddenly, a fluffy long-eared ball jumps out and darts toward the ocean, flushing its short white tale. A second pair of long ears is seen through the lower branches. Then its owner crawls out from under them and begins nibbling on the leaves. Tomorrow I should find out where rabbits live. It would not be a good idea to chase rodents at night. I’d better start the evening in a proper way by drinking my aperitif.
It’s easy to turn any dinner served in Brittany into a feast – just order the plateau, a three-layer seafood dish. It’s decadently delicious, photogenic and versatile. Whatever diet you follow, oysters, mussels, langoustines, shrimps, crabs and other seafood will fit in it just fine. And you do not need anything else (except, perhaps, some chilled sauvignon). Though we are frail-looking girls, and there are just the three of us, oysters are disappearing faster than you can say Jack Robinson. Then go crabs. An hour later, there are only a couple of tiny snails and a mussel shell left on the ice.
By looking at the trees lining up the highway that leads to Auray, we can see that sometimes this place experiences severe winds and storms. Great trunks and straight fluffy branches stick in different directions, as if cypresses lived through an explosion. Now they resemble heads with tousled hair licked smooth by the wind on one side. Those trees that could not withstand the pressure are leaning to one side, their roots tipping out of the ground. Their canopies have turned into rusty pine skeletons. What are these trees called?
Located in the Morbihan department in Brittany, the Quiberon Peninsula resembles such a tree growing in the water of the Atlantic Ocean. A narrow 15-kilometer long isthmus that looks like a tree trunk connects it to the mainland. Its major part resembles a canopy combed in the Briton style. Its eastern side washed by the Bay of Biscay is fluffy and elegant with sandy beaches, water sports training centers, certified lifeguards and playgrounds, and the western part, shielding the peninsula from harsh Atlantic waves, has rocky cliffs, prehistoric megaliths, foamy breaking waves, steep trails running to the rocky bays and daredevil surfers taming the waves of the Côte Sauvage (the Wild Coast).
Five rabbits are on morning watch, grazing on the hotel vegetation. Once you try to get closer, they dart toward the wasteland flashing their cute tiny tails. Longing for a mad tea party, I started looking for a rabbit town. And I found it: a wild, but perfectly organized place with holes, trails and long-eared lookouts guarding strategically important heights. Their warning system was flawless. As a result, I did not get one decent shot. Lit by the morning sun cliffs with the varnished clusters of mussels were, on the contrary, extremely photogenic and did not try to run away from me.
The air here is different. It is thick, fragrant, healthy. It is quite humid with plenty of iodine. The peninsula extends far out into the ocean, and promenaders strolling along its terraces, walking dogs, pushing prams and riding bikes must be feeling as if they are on the bow of a ship breaking ocean waves into salty splashes. Live, breathe and improve your health. To enhance the invigorating effect, visit Sofitel Quiberon Thalassa Sea & Spa or any other spa hotel.
Our French friends came after breakfast and ended our lazy contemplation. Every day we had to spread ourselves thin. Should we visit half-timbered houses in the old city of Vannes or see the Carnac stones? Should we go on a boat trip to the islands of the Gulf of Morbihan or explore the nearest Belle-Ile? We would return back closer to the sunset hour, tour the Wild Coast’s bays and take pictures of the stone the Arch of Port Blanc, depicted on all postcards, but still breathtaking. We had dinner at Le Bateau Ivre in the port of Portivy. It is one of the few places, where you can watch the sunset sitting at a table. At the time of low tide, fishing boats which are not moored to berths (actually, there are no berths here), but anchored, lie in the intertidal zone like beached whales. Soon the water will rise again, and by morning, fishermen will go to the sea.
The place is packed with people and we have to drink our aperitif at the fence of a nearby house. We were seated at our reserved-in-advance table only in a quarter of an hour. But the atmosphere of a French bistro at rush hour was worth the waiting. Here the waiter comes to our table with a huge meat platter with cold cuts explaining the difference between crepes (wheat pancakes with sweet sauce) and galettes (buckwheat flour pancakes served with salted butter, ham, cheese or salmon).
Nobody knew the name of those strange trees. Our discussions with Jean-Luc do not clarify the matter, “What is the name of those trees with tousled canopies lining up the road? – I do not know. Maybe pines? – But their needles are different and cones look like the cones of cypress trees. – Well, they must be cypress trees then... – Have you ever seen a cypress tree? – Yeah, you are right, they are not cypress trees.”
One week was not nearly enough. We have explored almost all the eleven Quiberon beaches riding our bikes. We got suntanned, enjoyed swimming to the fullest and mastered stand-up paddling. To start the training course, you need just half an hour, a wetsuit and a calm ocean. The progress shows when you start paddling along the coast keeping your balance and admiring the shades of the water and the sky. There are clearly more than 50 of them. Then you realize why the Breton word “glaz” is translated as both “blue” and “green.”
We spent our last evening with Jean-Luc at his friend Jeff’s, owner of the Perle de Quehan oyster farm located near the Gulf of Morbihan in Saint Philibert. We started our beach feast with just harvested oysters; the sun going down, the water sparkling; sea gulls hovering in the wind. The dish was called “Kiss of the Sea.” Jeff showed us lobsters in a huge aquarium and boxes with marine snails and seashells. “We can ship them to any corner of the world. We even have customers in Bangkok.” We picked a table outdoors. Canopies of the nameless trees dominate the darkening sky.
“Look here.” Jean-Luc is messing with his smartphone. “In French they are called ‘Cyprès de Lambert’.” But the Russian Internet translates the Latin name as “Monterey cypress.” This tree originating in California strives in Quiberon. It doesn’t really care whether the land is surrounded by the Pacific or Atlantic Ocean as long as there is plenty of sun, air, water and wind. We, actually, have the same preferences.
Vannes is the capital of the Morbihan department. You will need half a day to explore this Medieval town with half-timbered houses (they were built mostly in the 15th century), surrounded by a rampart, visit the castle with a flower garden and vintage laundries on the Marle River. For fine dining go to Roscanvec restaurant.
In Breton Morbihan means a “small sea”. When you sail toward Ile-aux-Moines, one of the bay’s many islands, you can witness the creation of the unique local landscapes, that take shape due to an everlasting struggle for the lost territory between the sea and the land. Before you depart, go for a swim in the ocean near a quiet beach.
Carnac is another Brittany’s resort, but it offers not just a relaxing beach holiday. There are pre-Celtic stones standing in its vicinity. Scientists estimate that these stone boulders were erected more than 5,000 years ago. Tours to the stones take off from the center of Carnac. Tourists, escorted by a guide, get to the destination by Segways.
- A TGV runs from Paris to Auray, the trip lasts 4.5 hours. Visit the website of the official distributor SNCF at voyages-sncf.com to book tickets.
- A suburban train runs to Quiberon allowing the travelers avoid traffic jams.
Теxt: Olga Savelieva
Published on: January 24, 2018