Port of Call: Brittany’s Brest
The end can sometimes be a good place to start. This is perhaps not least true in the case of Brest. Situated in the westernmost part of the Bretagne (Brittany) region, the city is located in a landscape that is known under the name Finis Terre in Latin. “The end of the world” – that was how the Romans chose to describe the area.
If you disembark from a cruise ship in Brest, you might choose to see it the other way around. And why not? You will find a number of reasons why this is a splendid place to start exploring the Bretagne region – or France itself.
Before you venture out to explore, however, you might want to grab a bite. A regional specialty that is definitely worth trying is crêpes. The classic version, available almost everywhere, is called “La compléte” and contains ham, cheese and egg. There are many other fillings to choose from. Seafood could also be said to be a Bretagne specialty. The Atlantic Ocean is generous both to the locals and their guests.
Even though food is no small matter here, you might find that both Brest and Bretagne have a strong regional culture that goes even deeper than the cuisine. People from the older generation still speak the local language of Brittany, for example. A Celtic language, Breton is also taught in some schools.
One should perhaps not be surprised that this region of the world has developed a strong identity of its own. Over the years, Brittany have been occupied by Celts, Romans, Saxons, Franks and Normans – all of which have brought their influences to the region. In 1532, the Duchy of Brittany became a part of the French Kingdom.
Situated on two hills, Brest has always been linked to the sea. While this has no doubt boosted the regional economy throughout history, the same link has at times also been a drawback for the city’s inhabitants. During the Second World War, for example, this was an important base for German U-boats. The city was ruined in what has become known as the Battle for Brest in 1944, when allied forces wanted to gain control of the port. Nowadays an important harbor, the city boasts the second French military port after Toulon.
This is also the home of several important research centers, many of which focus on the sea. In fact, some sources claim that 60 percent of the French maritime research is based in Brest.
Cruise ships dock close to the city center, making it possible for passengers to walk to many of the city’s attractions. It might be worth noting, however, that much of Brest is hilly.
- If you’re interested in photography, the Centre Atlantique de la Photographie is something that you should not miss. The center features exhibitions by contemporary photographers, many of which are based in the surrounding region.
- At the “La Passerelle” Art Centre, you will find a wide range of contemporary art on exhibition.
- Rue de Saint-Malo is unique: It is a street that was not hit by the bombs that destroyed almost every other building in Brest during the Second World War. Rue de Saint-Malo is situated close to the Penfeld River, which splits Brest in two parts.
- The Musée national de la Marine (the Maritime Museum) – situated in the Castle of Brest – promises “17 centuries of eventful history.” The museum puts focus not only on local maritime matters but also on national maritime history. The Castle of Brest is quite naturally a monument in itself. It still plays the role as a military fortress and is thus the oldest castle in the world to be still in use.
- Just across the river Penfeld, from the Castle of Brest, is the Tanguy Tower. While it remains unclear who actually constructed this mediaeval fortification, it is believed that it was built during the Breton War of Succession in the mid-14th century. The most probable reason to erect the tower seems to have been the possibility to control crossings between the two banks of the Penfeld River.
- Situated close to the Castle (on 24 Rue Traverse), the Museum of Fine Arts has a nice collection of European paintings on display.
- For a different take on the sea, visit the unique Océanopolis marine discovery park. Situated close to the port area, the Océanopolis features more than 10,000 fish and animals from all over the world.
A number of shore excursions can be available in and around Brest. Examples include:
- Tours of the city, by coach or private car. These tours will typically take in the most well-known sights of Brest (see above under Do Not Miss for examples).
- At Camaret-sur-Mer, visit the Vauban’s Tower, which is also known as the Tower of Camaret. The defensive tower was built in 1696, nowadays mainly serving the purpose as lookout point. Distance from Brest: 42 miles/67.8 kilometers.
- Concarneau is a charming town that features not only France’s third-largest fishing port for tuna, but also a fish market worthy of a visit. The landscape that you will encounter during the drive to and from Cancarneau is worth experiencing. Distance from Brest: 57 miles/92.2 kilometers
Paris, France’s capital, is some 367 miles/590 kilometers away. Several trains with destination Paris depart from Brest every day.
Avid Cruiser Posts, Photographs and Videos Featuring Brest.