Cycle with sea view background.

Sun, Sea and Saddle Sore – 2 Wheels in Finistere

Looking for a cheap holiday? Looking for stress-free travel? Looking for sunshine and beaches? Only got a week to spare? Looking to keep your carbon footprint down? I can help you solve all these issues. Last summer I was trying to meet all these criteria - well to tell you the truth the 'carbon footprint' bit hadn’t really occurred to me but it seems a valid point now. So how could I achieve all these aims? Well it just so happens that we are fortunate in having the French coastal regions of Brittany and Finistere more or less on our doorstep. A short hop across the Channel from Portsmouth or Plymouth can land you directly in the heart of these beautiful regions and reduce the need for travelling great distances across Europe. In the summer the air is warm but not oppressively hot and the beaches are clean and rarely busy. Imagine Cornwall or Pembrokeshire, but up the temperatures and lose the crowds and you will be somewhere near the mark.

Cycle. So I decided to load up my mountain bike with panniers (heresy I know) and head down to Plymouth where I would simply roll-on and 6 hours later roll-off into Roscoff. The logistics of such a trip were simplicity itself. Booking a person and bike onto the ferry is both cheap and simple with no requirement to book any sort of accommodation on the ferry. It being summer I needed minimal kit – tent, sleeping bag, towel, shorts, t-shirts and a few other bits and bobs. This means that you can get away with a small set of panniers and small rucksack. Nevertheless getting used to having weight on the bike took a while and resulted in the odd impromptu wheelie at the terminal. As I was travelling in France I also decided not to book any campsites in advance – the French love all things cycling and I was fairly certain therefore that any campsite I rolled up to after a hard-day in the saddle would oblige me with a place – this proved true on every occasion.

Lighthouse. Rolling down the slip-way into the 'mouth' of the ferry was a great experience – I got a real feeling of adventure and travel – something that the cocoon of sitting inside a car simply does not allow for. Not that I was alone – there appeared to be about 20 other cyclists either heading out on holiday or heading home form one. The half-dozen French teenagers carrying body-boards and surfboards on their backs whilst trying to cycle were quite a sight. Anyway after a couple of beers and catching a movie I arrived in Roscoff and cranked my way up the first hill of the trip. My first day was to be a short one – mainly as I didn’t arrive until mid –afternoon and secondly as I was unsure as to how demanding the terrain would be. So after only 3 ½ hrs I rolled up into Huelgoat – a small village in the centre of the hilly interior of Brittany. Huelgoat has a beautiful lake with a campsite alongside it. One of its greatest draws though is the incredible rock scenery present in the woods and valleys surrounding the village. Glacial action and erosion have left a remarkable legacy of rock-gardens and massive boulders perched in unlikely positions. The giant, balancing 'Champignon' boulder was an extreme example of this. Several beers and a good kip later I was back on the bike for what turned out to be a long day. From Huelgoat I had a rough place to head South across the neck of Finistere to Quimper. This was duly achieved but I then decided to press on further to maximise my time on the coast – I eventually ended up in Pont L'Abbe on the West coast and indulged in more revellery after being accosted by a wedding party.

Sea View. From Pont L'Abbe I continued my journey along the coast northwards encountering quiet sweeping beaches, rugged cliffs and beautiful inland villages. The routine of a quick get away in the morning followed by coffee and croissants was soon established. This would be followed by a ride along to a beach for a swim then a baguette with cheese and sausage for lunch (healthy cycling fodder I know…), before ending the day with a ride to another campsite, a couple of beers and some further munchies. Sounds idyllic? Well, it was. Obviously some effort was expended during the cycling to and from beaches and campsites, but there were really only 2 or 3 long days during the week, and even these weren’t stressful as every minute in the saddle is your holiday. There is no waiting in traffic-jams or rushing from one place to the next. It makes a great change to the stress that can sometimes accompany holiday travel.

Highlights on the ride included the Pont de Raz, an amazing headland jutting out into the Atlantic and producing incredible tidal races. The beaches around Morgat to the South of Brest were excellent and the ferry trip into the port of Brest was excellent. As I journeyed further the North there were a number of changes in scenery and a move from towering cliffs and sheltered bays to estuaries and sand dunes. These too were beautiful and generally quiet, the area around the Aber Wrach being particularly special. I finished my ride with a stop-off in Roscoff. I was somewhat surprised by how nice Roscoff is – channel ports do not have a good reputation but Roscoff was pretty and had a good beach and campsite within a mile or so from the town centre.

A short hop back across the channel saw me arrive back in Plymouth more relaxed, fitter and with a great cyclists' tan (forearems and lower legs only). My tax-free expenditure was somewhat limited by what I could fit onto my panniers but that was the only downside to an otherwise amazing break.

I can’t recommend Brittany and Finistere highly enough as a venue for a cycle touring holiday. The climate and terrain allow for almost anyone to enjoy themselves on 2 wheels. The beaches, food, beer and cider also help. My advice as ever is just get out there. Such trips are easy to arrange and highly rewarding. Enjoy the summer!

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