The Emerald Coast is a place of natural beauty found in the north of Brittany, France. More than its stunning environment, this area offers a depth of cultural experience. Medieval castles, religious monuments, and sites of national history mark the land. The Emerald Coast is unique, yet retains classic French traditions and values. Celtic roots rise into the culture and the land, creating a harmonious balance between natural beauty and the landmarks that define it. Read ahead to find out what to do and where to go on the Emerald Coast.
Cap Fréhel: a gem of the Emerald Coast
Extending into the northern sea of France is the peninsula of Cap Fréhel. Its lighthouses dominate it – one is hundreds of years old, and one is modern. The older remains as a historical, local landmark while the other functions for contemporary use. Climb to top for stunning panoramic views. One side looks into the oceanic distance, blue and expansive. The other faces inland with a unique perspective of the rest of Brittany.
Looking towards the lighthouse is a particular image – a prominent tower surrounded by extensive barren landscape. The scenery is open and dramatic. Steep, dangerous cliff-faces line the headland. Walk through small footpaths navigating the way through heather and gorse. But be sure to get off the beaten track and stand on the impressive cliff edges, looking down into the secret caves beneath. You might come across cairns – piles of stones purposefully stacked by passers-by. Right to the Celtic history, the terrain is rough, and the people have learned to respect it. There are no attempts to build more, instead the land is left wild and natural. It is also home to native nesting seabirds, diving into the sea and resting on the rocks. Start here for multiple hiking routes inviting you to explore the rest of the Emerald Coast.
Walking through the coastal city of Saint-Malo is a dream – a beautiful, exceptional experience that sticks with you for a lifetime. Encased within old town walls, the hub of the center feels secret and safe. Explore the quiet, mysterious streets by simply wandering and see what captures your attention. From countless street performances to romantic bars, to street galleries and markets, there is so much to experience here. But the best part of Saint-Malo is its indefinable atmosphere. It creates itself through a blend of cobbled roads, constant street music, independent shops and stalls and happy people.
The best moment to be had is one of stillness in the energy of the evening. Sit in a central place and watch the activity – clap along to street performers, sip wine in an outside bar. This place is always buzzing – celebrating summer evenings and a lightness of life.
During the day, you can take a tour on one of Brittany’s classic white city trains. But be sure to take the time to wander slowly and soak up the feel of the place. Visit the cathedral then watch passers go by in a classic French café. The city holds recent history from being bombed during the war. But an older, medieval past lies in the city walls.
The official history of Saint-Malo is its connection to privateers, a small step away from the more exciting idea – of pirates. This city on the Emerald Coast has always been thrilling. It is not a concealed quiet place. Hidden and small, but it’s full to the brim of excitement and energy. Be sure to stand on the city walls and watch a spectacular sunset. Stay a while and notice the dimming light glitter on the sea of the Emerald Coast.
Fort La Latte
Straight out of a medieval fairytale; Fort-la-Latte is a real life place of legend. The castle is an impressive historical monument of the Emerald Coast, built in the 13th Century. Steeped in history, it is well worth the visit – hosting educations talks, entertainment, jesters, musicians, it is the perfect day out. You can witness experts displaying the impressive flights of birds of prey, or watch dressed up knights perform jousting routines. You can just wander independently, stand by the cannons that once protected the land, or climb to the crumbling watchtower. It is a fun place for all ages to explore.
The road to the castle is long, dry and dusty. It adds to the raw feel of the site. Although much of the fort regenerated over the years, a lot of parts are still original. You can still see and feel holes in the walls from ancient battles. Be sure to learn about the history of the place when you visit – it is intense and extensive. A military fort, home of the Lord and a political symbol of power, this castle was an important feature of Northern France.
Mont St Michel
Mont St Michel is possibly the most known and favorite feature of the Emerald Coast. It is a dramatically impressive landmark, a significant image of Brittany – and magical to experience. When the tide comes in, the island becomes stranded and the evening is reserved only for those who choose to stay there.
The footbridge over is long and open, but you are drawn in by the mount ahead of you. At some point, you will find it epically standing in front of you – compelling and overwhelming. Once you are there, the streets are small, cobbled and spiraling up to the abbey – which lies robust and dominant at the top of the mount. Rather than rushing up there, be sure to embrace these narrow pathways. They are the heart of the central city, shadowed by the enclosing higher buildings. Restaurants and cafes overlap each other, each with an individual stunning ocean view. Or, of the vast Emerald Coast spreading far into the distance.
Ramparts and stone staircases lead you to the top, to the scene of a medieval fairytale. It is majestic and to stand to face outwards from it is an exceptional moment. Instead of small glimpses of scenery between gaps in the buildings, the view becomes extensive. The abbey hosts old stone pillars and square courtyards saturated in history. Once a destination of pilgrimages, you can understand what drew people here. There is an enchantment to its beauty.
When you eventually leave, be sure to look back. In a particular light, the blue of the sky merges with the blue of the sea, and the horizon disappears – it makes the island look like a floating fortress.
This coastal town is popular with French holidaymakers, but often mistakenly bypassed by the ordinary tourist. The local atmosphere of Val-André remains active and genuine. Enjoy a coffee, or a Kronenbourg, in one of the central cafés and watch classic French images of the day to day life. Or, indulge in some local food, stroll down to the beach and watch the sunset on the long stretch of sand. Kite surfers come here in the evening and form silhouettes on the open waves.
These are the gems of the Emerald Coast – the vibrant and beautiful cities, towns, and landmarks that are worth a visit. Be sure to travel to them, by doing so you can embrace authentic France, and especially the historical, Celtic essence of Brittany. Naturally beautiful and culturally rich, be sure to journey the small and powerful piece of land that makes up the Emerald Coast.