Château du Taureau Carantec Brittany

Great Brittany

Originally published in Crème de la Crème, January 2009

Pauline Auzou

When in France, push a bit further on than the Eiffel Tower and check out what Brittany has to offer.

Tucked into a bay on the north coast of Brittany, Carantec is a hidden jewel.  Situated on a slender peninsula, this small French town is home to a mere 3000 people for nine months of the year.  But in summer the population suddenly explodes to 15,000.  And it's easy to understand why this idyllic seaside town has become such a popular destination for tourists.


The gleaming fuchsias in the gardens give a bright and aromatic tone to your walk down to the sandy beach.  This area of Brittany can get the biggest tides in France with the sea heaving back hundreds of metres to reveal prime hunting ground for shellfish pickers.  Every afternoon you can see people foraging in the rockpools for crabs and shrimps, digging up clams or prising winkles from the rocks.  Pottering about the beach like this is a pleasant way to while away a lazy Sunday, but shellfish are a serious matter for the Carantecois.  Fifteen local oyster farms produce around 6500 tons of oysters every year and these rich harvests have become a feature of this stretch of coastline.

When it comes to cooking this seaside bounty, one man knows exactly what he's doing.  Patrick Jeffroy is a chef with two Michelin stars who serves deliciously refined meals in his hotel-restaurant, L'hôtel de Carantec.  With its 1930s architecture and extravagant view onto the beach, the hotel offers a blissful escape from the outside world.  And that's before you've sampled the actual food.  Entreés might include black pearl oysters served with a balsamic cider dressing or a marinated sardine cake with olive madeleines. You might follow that up with Breton lobster or a tender fillet of beef, but it's worth pacing yourself to squeeze in a dessert like the rich apricot and dark chocolate nougatine.

If you want to make a vague attempt to atone for your gluttony, a little path running in the heath along the coast makes for the perfect digestive promenade.  Overlooking the bay is the Château du Taureau, an old fort that invariably ends up on most postcards of the area.  Originally built in 1542 to protect the bay against the British invaders, it later became a strategic military position for Louis XIV soldiers and a jail for Breton aristocrats.  During the 19th century it was the holiday home of a rich heiress who used to throw sumptuous parties inside this castle in the middle of the rough sea.  After nearly a decade of refurbishment, the drawbridge was finally lowered for the public in 2006.  Today up to 25,000 visitors take the two-hour tour every year.

But Carantec has more to offer than belly busting lunches and historical strolls.  Watersports are one of the main attractions of this coastal town with kayaking, diving and sailing among the maritime activities on offer.  The nautical club has a wide range of sailing courses and if you feel sufficiently confident you can even rent your own boat.  Close to Le Clouët beach there's also a nine hole golf course that faces the opal sea.  It's such a scenic course that golfers must make a special effort not to get distracted by the view if they want to keep their handicap intact.

By the end of your trip, you’ll wish that you were one of those 3000 lucky souls that call Carantec home all year round.




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