Of all the coastal areas to drive in France, Brittany in the northwest is one of the most satisfying, but with a coastline 750 miles long a day trip is not sufficient if you want to see it all. If taking your own car from the UK, it makes sense to travel from Portsmouth to St Malo, as you will then be perfectly positioned to start your coastal drive in Brittany itself. The French word for Brittany is Bretagne, and it has a distinctive culture and history that is aligned with the Celtic communities of Cornwall, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Scotland and Wales.
As Brittany is very close to the UK, the climate is similar. It is wetter than many other parts of France, though along the coast, showers are more rare than in inland areas. Roads are generally good and motorways (autoroutes) are much less crowded than in the UK. If you are departing from main highways to see some of the sights at the coast, expect single-lane or single-track roads.
As with many parts of Europe, there are specific rules that drivers have to obey. You must carry a high visibility jacket and a warning triangle in case of a breakdown and fit headlamp beam converters. If your registration plates do not include the GB Euro symbol, you must display a GB sticker. Uniquely in France, drivers must also carry a breathalyser certified by the French authorities – it must display the letters NF on the packaging.
Throughout Brittany, accommodation is varied and plentiful, and you can stay in good quality Bretagne hotels or opt for cheaper guesthouses if you are prepared to forgo some of the luxury features of a hotel stay.
Undoubtedly worth a visit either on arrival or before you return home, St Malo is a fortified city with an interesting history that includes monastic settlements and notorious pirates. As well as walking along the ramparts, there are beautiful and impressive historical buildings, including the château of St Malo, part of which is in use as a museum. Here you will find Europe’s largest concentration of restaurants, with oysters a specialty. These are fished for from the charming port of Cancale, ten miles east of the city.
Key coastal highlights
If you are keen on visiting beaches, you will not be disappointed as there are many wonderful coves and sandy inlets from which to choose. The top five favourite spots are Dinard, St-Guirec at Ploumanac’h and L’Aber-Wrac’h on the north-west coast, Morgat on the west coast at the end of the Crozon peninsula, and the enormous stretch of sparkling sand at Quiberon on the peninsular south coast. Some of these beaches are quite distant from the main roads, and holidaymakers who like to visit them tend to book a hotel in France for a longer stay.
Finally, you must be sure to pause to look at the megalithic stones of Morbihan, and to look out for the special places along the Emerald Coast, named for the springtime colour of the sea. In contrast, the Pink Granite Coast has spectacular rocks and an extraordinary rocky landscape with many inlets, islands and peninsulas.