This French island off the coast of Brittany inspired some of Monet’s famous coastal landscapes. It’s no surprise that tourists return time and again.
Belle Île residents always say that when you leave the island, you’re going back to France. When I first heard the expression, I assumed I had misunderstood—or that my French was just terrible. I happened to have stumbled upon the lesser-known French island of Belle Île En Mer when I was looking for a hotel in Brittany. My family has always preferred vacations to places that are a bit remote, and so we decided that Belle Île en Mer, translated in English as “the beautiful island in the sea,” would be perfect for our annual trip. The island is not close to Paris or any of the country’s major airports, but the six-hour car ride to the port town of Quiberon, followed by a 30-minute ferry, is well worth it.
We arrived to Quiberon just in time to make the last ferry, at dusk. Just as my sleepless body was about to dissolve into a catatonic stupor, Belle Île came into view: white cottages on a jagged coastline, sailboats rocking by their moorings, and two twinkling harbor lights beckoning the ferry to port.
It wasn't until after spending four days discovering Belle Île that I understood that local saying. I could understand why the locals saw it as its own simple, almost mystical nation.
During high season, ferries run almost every hour from Quiberon to Le Palais. Many of the hotels close in the winter months so the shoulder seasons or summer are the best time to visit.
Transportation on the Island:
Either bring your own car (book a space for it on the ferry) or rent a small one from Castel Clara. Taxis are expensive and the drivers can be a bit reckless.
Brush Up on Your French:
Since mostly French, Belgian, and German tourists frequent the island, English is seldom spoken. Most of the hotel staff speaks a fair amount of English but you won’t find any signs or menus in town that have the English translation.