EXCEPTIONAL EATERIES | Belle-Île-en-Mer | Citadelle Vauban

One of the most unusual hotels I’ve stayed in was also the location of an incredible, exceptional restaurant – but before I tell you about the restaurant, I must first describe the journey to get to this unique location.

I took two trains, one bus, and a ferry from Paris to Belle-Île-en-Mer, an island off the coast of Brittany.

Belle-Île-en-Mer means “Beautiful Island in the Sea,” but today was not so beautiful…rain was coming down sideways – although I have to admit, it added to the drama of the adventure.

I took a train from Paris Montparnasse to Auray, then another train from Auray to Quiberon, a bus from Quiberon to the port, and finally, the ferry that would cross the ocean to the island – seven hours later.

Families with kids and dogs and kites and nets and surfboards and bicycles had queued up for the ferry.

When everyone and their possessions finally got loaded in, the boat set off for the voyage to the island.

On the ferry, I sat across from two families traveling together with five kids between them.  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. I was starving, not anticipating the length of this journey, so I watched her with a mixture of disbelief and envy.

(You can see her bottomless bag of provisions in the photo – on the floor, bottom left.)

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.

Suddenly, there it was – Belle-Île-en-Mer – not looking particularly beautiful, but exciting nonetheless.  Through the fog, on the right, is the thousand year old Citadelle, or military fortress, of Belle-Île.

It is now a hotel and museum, and it is where I would be staying.

As we anchored at the harbor, the crowds scurried down the stairs to embark, and scattered in every direction.

I made my way to the fortress, Citadelle Vauban, crossed the moat, and headed through the massive arched stone gate.

By this time it was pouring rain, and I was completely famished.  I made a beeline to my room to change clothes, and then headed for the restaurant.

The interior of the restaurant was elegant in a castle-y sort of way. After overhearing more than my fill of 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 one of the most amazing meals I’ve ever had.

First up was the chef’s amuse-bouche (literally translated from French as “mouth amuser”), a tiny glass of cold fish salad, and a bite-sized piece of tuna wrapped in spinach fettuccine with roasted tomatoes.

Next, served on a piece of slate, was 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 served with roasted vegetables.  The fish was boned for me at the table.

Dessert was a trio of sweets that included chocolate, hazelnuts, ice-cream, fruit, and pastry.  Need I say more?

As I finished the delectable desserts, I looked out the window and there was blue sky.

Things were looking up.

Outside, the sun was setting over the island, and I was filled with anticipation for tomorrow.

So. was it worth the odyssey to get to Belle-Île-en-Mer?

Oui, bien sûr!

Citadelle Vauban
Le Palais
Belle-Île-en-Mer, Brittany, France

BONUS DON’T MISS: Restaurant Le Goëland, Le Palais, Belle-Île-en-mer

Walk down the path from the Citadelle to this cozy pink pub/restaurant on the harbor.

In a welcoming, low-ceilinged room, the lively staff takes orders and converses with the guests.  The chef comes out to cook fresh fish in the fireplace that is in the center of the room.

Enormous loaves of the most delicious bread sit on a sideboard, waiting to be cut into thick slices and served in linen-lined baskets.

Make a reservation or get there early, because it’s always packed. It was so good, I ate there twice.

Restaurant Le Goëland
Le Palais
Belle-Île-en-mer, Brittany, France