Today I took two trains, one bus, and a ferry from Paris to Belle-Île-en-Mer, an island off the coast of Brittany. I left my hotel in Paris at 8:00 a.m. and arrived in Belle-Île-en-Mer at 3 p.m. Here is the tale of my journey, and my first day on the island.
Belle-Île-en-Mer means “Beautiful Island in the Sea,” but today was not so beautiful…rain was coming down sideways. (I have to admit, it added to the drama of the adventure.) A train from Paris Montparnasse to Auray, then another from Auray to Quiberon, and a bus from Quiberon to the port, got me to the ferry that would cross the ocean to the island.
Families with kids and dogs and kites and nets and surfboards and bicycles queued up for the ferry.
This dog had Rastafarian dreadlocks. Go figure.
When everyone and their possessions finally got loaded in, the boat set off for the 45 minute trip to the island.
On the ferry I sat across from two families traveling together with 5 kids between them. I watched in disbelief (and hunger…it was 2:00 and I was starving) as one of the mothers kept reaching into a seemingly bottomless bag of food, and proceeded to consume most of it. I wondered if she’d ever stop. She started with a huge baguette filled with ham, went on to a container of cut up melon, then another container of salad with vegetables, and finally opened a box of pastries. It was incredible. No, I didn’t take a photo of her…I do have some sense of propriety…but the bag you can see on the floor, bottom left, holds the food.
The wind was so strong, it tossed the boat up and down and back and forth, calling to mind movies like “The Perfect Storm” and “Titanic.” Even so, families stood on the front deck of the ferry as the boat lurched, hanging on to the railing while the wind and rain whipped across their faces. I know, because I was out there taking photographs of them.
As we got closer to the island, a sailboat passed by so quickly that, if you blinked, you’d miss it.
Through the fog, on the right, is the thousand year old Citadelle, or military fortress, of Belle-Île. It was once occupied by Sebastien Vauban (1633-1707) who was a skilled fortress engineer under Louis the XIV. It is now a hotel and museum, and it is where I am staying.
As we anchored at the harbor, the crowds scurried down the stairs to embark, and scattered in every direction. I went directly to the tourist office across the street from the dock, to get information on the artists’ studios on the island. While I was there, I asked what the best way would be to get to the Citadelle, and the young girl said, “Just walk up the hill and across the bridge.”
First, I needed to buy a long-sleeve shirt (I’d packed hot weather clothes, not blustery day clothes) and some appropriate shoes (I had flip flops.) Exhibit A, below, shows mission accomplished.
A lovely husband and wife, who spoke absolutely no English, owned the shop. I thought I should just verify the walking-up-the-hill instructions and, when I asked, the husband grabbed his car keys and led me outside to his car…where he drove up steep winding roads to the fortress above the village. I can’t imagine having to walk up that hill with my luggage in tow. Note to self: Don’t get directions from the tourist office.
Feeling as if I was walking into a fairy tale, I crossed the bridge and walked under the arch into the Citadelle. I made my way through various gates and arches until I reached the hotel part of the fort. It really is like staying in a castle.
My room looks out onto the sea. There’s no TV here, so the only sound is that of the waves crashing onto the rocks, and the seagulls. The views from my window revived my tired eyes.
After I unpacked and changed into dry clothes, I went back out into the rain to explore the rest of the citadelle. The museum was full of artifacts from Belle-Île’s past. I particularly liked the souvenir compass, and the little photo album.
The top of the fort looked down over the storybook village at the harbor.
By this time it was pouring rain, and time to regroup for dinner. I still hadn’t eaten all day so I went for an early dinner (by French standards) at 8:00. The restaurant was in a separate part of the fortress, so I braced myself to head back into the rain.
The interior of the restaurant was elegant in a castle-y sort of way. After overhearing more than my fill of rude American tourists in Paris, I was pleasantly surprised to hear only French voices here. I sat at a table by the window, overlooking the garden, and ate the most amazing meal.
First, the amuse-bouche, a tiny glass with cold fish salad, and a bite-sized piece of tuna wrapped in spinach fettuccine with roasted tomatoes.
Next, a gorgeous salad of fruits and vegetables on top of goat cheese and a savory biscuit. Raspberries, strawberries, apricots, tomatoes, carrots, and greens were piled on top of the cheese, surrounded by warm pieces of cauliflower, carrot, and fava bean tempura, and edible flowers. Trés, trés jolie, and delicious, too.
My main course was grilled filet of sole topped with dill, and roasted vegetables. The fish was boned for me at the table.
Dessert was a trio of sweets that involved chocolate, hazelnuts, ice-cream, fruit, and pastry. Need I say more?
At about 9:15, I looked out the window and there was blue sky. Things are looking up.
Outside, the sun was setting over the island, and I was filled with anticipation for tomorrow.
Back in my room, I opened the window and sat on my massive chaise to upload pictures.
All of a sudden I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, a seagull sitting right on my windowsill. I shooed him away before he came inside.
A few minutes later I went to look out the window, and there he was on the ledge below…defiantly waiting to try again.
Better luck next time, buddy…it was soon time for me to close the window and go to sleep.
Was it worth the seven hour journey to get to Belle-Île-en-Mer? Oui, bien sûr!