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Cabin-boy

Cycling trip around the northern half of Belle-Ile-en-Mer

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On Wednesday the 3rd August I went, with my brother-in-law, on a trip to Belle-Ile for the day with the aim of cycling around the northern half of the island to see as much of the landscape and as many of the villages as possible. We were already in Quiberon (or just around the bay to the east in Port Halliguan) for the week on holiday with my sister and her family so I booked the tickets two weeks in advance to be sure of a place, despite the risk of bad weather. The online booking system allows you to see how many car and passenger places are still available per crossing which helps to show how quickly the sailing is filling up and therefore how quickly you need to make a decision about booking. Strangely, although you can book cars (very expensive) and passengers directly online, you need to phone for a bike to guarantee they have space.

The ferry left at 8.15 so we got there 20 minutes before and waited at the top of the slipway. The ferry (Bangor) was already in and unloading from its first morning crossing from the island (all three vessels spend the night there it seems) from a side door onto the slipway. You can see this from the photos I took on the day and two days earlier while collecting my tickets from the port office. Given the angles involved, they often add extra corner ramps to help vehicles get on and off and when there is a swell (even within the harbour) it can be quite fun to watch – particularly when it’s a Parisian with his Porsche Cayenne Turbo with quad-exhausts!

Foot-passengers board through a separate ramp and then go up to the cabin. We put our bikes on before any cars as they were propped up against a large stern ramp (which is never used except perhaps when replacing its sister-ship on the crossing to Groix – but I have not tried that route so can’t be sure). We went up to the relatively spartan passenger cabin and then decided to sit outside on the lower area out of the inevitable wind and engine fumes. There is a top deck which is very exposed but has great views if you can keep your eyes open. There is no bar or café, just two vending machines, one for drinks (out of order) and another for snacks. The crossing takes just 45 minutes so it’s no real hardship. The ship had a full load of cars with a mezzanine deck being used and then two medium-sized trucks slotted into the front of the garage. However, there were no more than 50 foot passengers going over that morning. The crossing was reasonably calm with just a small swell running.

On arrival we left the vessel after all the cars etc, cycled round to the tourist office to pick up a map and then headed out of Le Palais (of which more later), around and over the inner harbour and then north to the small port of Sauzon. Apart from one big climb out of town it was relatively easy going despite a strengthening wind. Sauzon is a typical, small and unspoilt harbour/port with a lot of moorings and small cafes and restaurants (see photo) and very attractive. We stopped for a cup or tea/coffee and then continued up the hill (I did get off and push I’ll admit) towards the northern tip of the island to see the lighthouse at Les Poulains. By this time the wind was really blowing but the view was spectacular as usual (this was my second visit to the island in 12 years) and we tied up the bikes and walked out to the lighthouse which is now automatic and partly powered by solar panels on the roof of the accompanying visitors’ centre.

We then cycled south trying to hug the west coast to get the best dramatic views and arrived at the foot of another lighthouse (Le Grand Phare) for lunch in the shelter offered by some gorse bushes. We then went to look at the sea-stacks (called the Needles) to appreciate the full force of the Atlantic waves. We then cycled across the spine of the island (helped by the wind), through the village of Bangor, back to Le Palais for an hour’s rest before the ferry home at 4pm. Coming into town you pass through two outer walls of Vauban-era fortifications designed to protect the town from attack.

My brother-in-law plonked himself on bench with an ice-cream and a view of the harbour and declared he was unable (or unwilling) to move due to his thighs and backside being on fire. I took my ice-cream for a wander round town and to look in some of the (often rather tacky) souvenir shops. I also took a few shots of the inner-harbour area and the massive fort which overlooks the town (there is a museum inside but that will have to wait for another day). We then got our ferry home and it was around half-full of passengers, a few of whom were unwell due to the corkscrewing motion created by the wind and tidal currents. Once back in Quiberon we cycled the last mile or so back to our holiday house and the bike-computer told us we had covered 42km for the day, much of it into a strong headwind, so were pleased with our efforts. Surprisingly the next day my legs were not as stiff as I had expected, given experience of previous similar excursions, perhaps due to the regular stops and walks out to viewpoints etc. I will have to do the southern half of the island next time, but am led to believe that it is slightly easier due to more direct roads and better protection from the wind. Ed

Bangor loading cars.JPG

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Thanks Cabin Boy for the excellent photos and account.  Evocative of fond memories of two weeks on Belle Ile last summer.

We enjoyed a relaxed drive cross country (SW) several hours from St. Malo.  I imagine that the Quiberon peninsula could be slow at peak times, but the ferry was fun as CB describes.

The island lends itself to cycling, flattish apart from the steep sided valleys leading down to the ports and beaches on the north and east.  It totals perhaps 15 km x 8 km with enough beaches for a whole summer.  There are plenty of bike hire places in La Palais, enough to find an electric bike which my fiancé could manage with her bad knee, and set off slowly in deference to her expressions of 'reluctance'.  By afternoon she was gleefully disappearing up the road, headed for another beach.

 

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Yes, you need to allow 3 hours to drive from St Malo to Quiberon but it could be up to 4 or more in the summer as getting on and off the peninsular is often a nightmare. There are specific times which are not too busy but it's a fine art. There are other passenger-only ferries from La Trinité and Le Croisic which offer alternative options if you don't need your car. We passed a lot of people on electric bikes and I was pushing my ten-year-old mountain bike up a particularly steep hill when a young British couple sailed past me pedalling gently with battery assistance. I may decide to upgrade in a year or two when the price comes down. Ed

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On 16/08/2017 at 11:09, hf_uk said:

Fab report and pics.... and  - That is the cutest ferry in the world! 

Agreed, small but perfectly formed... familiar looking livery too! B|

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I remember seeng that boat when I visited Quiberon a couple of years ago.  If memory serves she does a pretty tight 90 degree turn just as she enters the harbour to get to the berth - and it seemed to me to be at a not-inconsiderable speed.  Is that right Ed?

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Indeed. She turns hard to port as she passes the breakwater then hard to starboard to line up with the slipway. She comes in quite fast, as you said, and uses the turns to wash off the speed before manoeuvring into position. It's the same when leaving as she picks up speed quite quickly - necessary in the middle of winter I imagine to get through the breakers. Ed 

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14 hours ago, Cabin-boy said:

Yes, you need to allow 3 hours to drive from St Malo to Quiberon but it could be up to 4 or more in the summer as getting on and off the peninsular is often a nightmare. There are specific times which are not too busy but it's a fine art. There are other passenger-only ferries from La Trinité and Le Croisic which offer alternative options if you don't need your car. We passed a lot of people on electric bikes and I was pushing my ten-year-old mountain bike up a particularly steep hill when a young British couple sailed past me pedalling gently with battery assistance. I may decide to upgrade in a year or two when the price comes down. Ed

Is it still easy to get to without a car (Should have mentioned this when I originally asked)?

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Yes, it's easy to get to from Quiberon all year round or Le Croisic and La Trinité in the summer months but you will need transport when you are there if you want to see the island. There are buses available or you can rent bikes and cars (including some classic 2CVs and Meharis etc). Ed

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Part 2.

This time I booked everything online (including my bicycle)  and printed one e-ticket for each leg for me and one for my bike too.  The ferry this morning is Bangor again and it seems much busier than last time, probably due to the better weather, so I suspect they will be using the mezzanine deck. There are also a dozen young priests onboard, presumably off for their holidays, so if we sink at least there will be plenty of people to read us all the last rights. Ed

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Good report , I do like cycling around that region the Vendee was good to cycle around but there’s always more to see in Brittany.

My Mum has 2 electric bikes a full size one and a Brompton the Brompton ebikes are about £3k hers was a nearly new second hand one she bought for £700 and my Dad fitted an aftermarket kit to convert it the battery goes in a bag that hangs on the front it works a treat for £150.

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4 hours ago, Cabin-boy said:

Part 2.

This time I booked everything online (including my bicycle)  and printed one e-ticket for each leg for me and one for my bike too.  The ferry this morning is Bangor again and it seems much busier than last time, probably due to the better weather, so I suspect they will be using the mezzanine deck. There are also a dozen young priests onboard, presumably off for their holidays, so if we sink at least there will be plenty of people to read us all the last rights. Ed

First time I've read all of this Ed, nicely done mate.

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2 hours ago, neilcvx said:

Good report , I do like cycling around that region the Vendee was good to cycle around but there’s always more to see in Brittany.

My Mum has 2 electric bikes a full size one and a Brompton the Brompton ebikes are about £3k hers was a nearly new second hand one she bought for £700 and my Dad fitted an aftermarket kit to convert it the battery goes in a bag that hangs on the front it works a treat for £150.

My missus bought two, a front basket type for her and a road bike for me. They were the last of those produced with a throttle for a max speed of 28 km/h. They've lived in the garage since delivery and never ridden, now looking for a new home. 

Me on bike is like a hippo on a high wire.

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2 hours ago, neilcvx said:

Good report , I do like cycling around that region the Vendee was good to cycle around but there’s always more to see in Brittany.

My Mum has 2 electric bikes a full size one and a Brompton the Brompton ebikes are about £3k hers was a nearly new second hand one she bought for £700 and my Dad fitted an aftermarket kit to convert it the battery goes in a bag that hangs on the front it works a treat for £150.

My missus bought two, a front basket type for her and a road bike for me. They were the last of those produced with a throttle for a max speed of 28 km/h. They've lived in the garage since delivery and never ridden, now looking for a new home. 

Me on bike is like a hippo on a high wire.

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My return trip is on the smaller ship, the Vindilis. Inside it's even more basic than the Bangor this morning and makes me wonder if BF benchmarked her when deciding to describe Barfleur as a cruise-ferry. 😉 Ed. 

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I think the term “cruise ferry” is really code for “not a Vissentini”.  So I suspect that even Red Kestrel would probably count! 😀

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