Michael Smith

At the end of the summer I spent a week at my brother-in-law's family home on the Ctes d'Armor, an enchanting stretch of the Brittany coast. Imagine the lush, dramatic green and the rustic stony villages of Wales, but with Mediterranean sun, emerald sea, and pink sandstone that glistens and sparkles in the glorious rosy sunsets we seemed to get every night, pink stone that sweetens the stunning, rugged beauty of the coast and the rustic solidity of the small villages and fishing towns, giving the area the feel of a rose-tinted version of Britain's celtic fringe. I mentioned this sense of Britishness to my brother-in-law and I realised I wasn't the first to have thought this: In France they say we're Britain's Cote D'Azur. The longer I was there, the more it made sense to imagine Brittany as an outlying part of the British Isles that just happened to join on to France.

One evening we caught some local folk music, a tangible link to Brittany's celtic roots, with its pipes and fiddles sounding every bit like it was straight out of a Dublin pub, only well oiled by lots of that rich, savoury cider that somehow tastes perfect in this climate and this place, and moules frites to die for, made in a huge tent, and devoured by hungry locals sitting down on long benches, eating and drinking as the sun set dramatically over the bay.

A walk along these cliffs is a magical experience up close, the heather is an explosion of neon colours, rolling down to sandy coves with no one in them. The lighthouse of Cap Frhel makes for a romantic combination of natural and manmade beauty, and the surrounding headland has blossomed into a spontaneous expression of D.I.Y folk art, where hundreds and hundreds of people have made little towers from the pink pebbles lying all around. It's a strangely moving sight, these hundreds of tiny pink sandstone towers, as you gaze out at the magnificent blue distance, and on a clear day, Jersey, where my brother-in-law tells me that in the dead of night you can make out the car headlights driving along the country roads.

We were staying a stone's throw inland, in the village of Plurien. My brother-in-law chuckled as he told me that tourists never visit Plurien, because its name means 'nothing left'. I didn't see it like that it's a sleepy little spot with bags of charm, an eccentric-looking medieval church full of gorgeous naive wooden sculptures, and a village pub I still can't think about without smiling. The bar was always packed with locals, and a boozy conviviality prevailed, steered by the brusque landlady who also ran the butchers next door. I ended up walking the family spaniel round the village every day, and soon got into the habit of stopping by the side window of the pub; the lady gave me a knowing smile and poured a cheeky calvados she'd pass me out the window while the dog watered the weeds, before we ambled home past the beautiful Welsh looking rugged stone houses and posters advertising tractor fairs, feeling far away from London, far away from Paris, and far away from all my usual concerns.

Pictured: Ploumanac'h in Ctes d'Armor, Brittany, with thanks to Mark Poppleton

Add a comment

All comments are moderated. Published comments will show your name but not your email. We may use your email to contact you regarding your comment.