Seeing Lighthouses in Brittany and Île d'Ouessant

Click for a map of links It's possible but it takes some doing. Most of the lights in the French lighthouse system are automated and uninhabited but there are still some that can be visited. I visited in May 2002 and photographed many lights from the outside, but none from the inside. BUT...I didn't have the benefit of this research.

Of the lights in Brittany, Roscoff, La Lande, Île Vierge, Creac'h, St-Mathieu, Île de Sein, and Eckmühl still have keepers. In Morbihan, Pen Men, and Goulphar are the only lights with keepers. Click here for a list of lights in France that can be visited.

Where to begin? First, you need to get there. On my 2002 trip, I started from the UK, so I caught the train to Portsmouth, and crossed the English Channel on one of the channel ferries to Cherbourg. The ferry takes nearly 6 hours under usual conditions (and it's totally at the mercy of the weather), so I ended up losing most of a day to crossing the Channel. You can take the Eurostar train thru the Chunnel and depart it at Calais. If you recall Jean Guichard's picture of La Jument,  the English Channel is the setting for some truly nasty weather. On the day that I travelled, there were very high seas, which cancelled the express ferry I had planned to take. So, the crossing that might have taken 2 hours took more like 6. I was hoping to see more during the longer crossing, but the weather sabotaged that idea rather completely. The dominant color during the entire crossing was sea green. Driving from Calais would have taken about as long, but with the added benefit of sightseeing along the way.

In Cherbourg, I rented a car and headed west. I had about a week to explore Normandy and Brittany. After losing most of a day to the ferry, I'll cross at Dover/Calais the next time, and drive the extra distance (about 350km from Calais to Caen). The car was the right thing to do since all of the lights are somewhat off the beaten path and not really reachable via public transportation. I guess you could pick a city as your base and use taxicabs, but the expense seems excessive. There's also bicycles, but not for me, thank you very much.

You should get Michelin map #308,  Finistère/Morbihan, 1cm:1.75km. It has enough detail to show the roads going to the lights as well as some detail of Île d'Ouessant. The older map, #230 France/Bretagne will also suffice. I found a really good map of Ouessant (1cm:250m) at the gare (train station) in Brest. It is published by the Institut Geographique National, http://www.ign.fr, map number 0317 OT. If you plan on visiting Normandy, then you should also have maps #511 and #512 (older maps #231 and #51). More on maps later.

The Mainland

There are many lighthouses in France. Michelin Map 308/230 shows where the Breton lights are located. You can drive to all of the ones on the mainland, and get close enough to get a decent picture with a simple camera. Click on the map above to explore the French lighthouse network.

I decided to use the city of Brest as a home base, which was a good move because it put me close to the train station as well as the office of Penn-ar-Bed. My plan was to see the local sights, then drive the car to Rennes and turn it in, finally catching the TGV train into Paris. The TGV trains reach speeds of 300kph, but they require special trackage, and so they only reach that speed over certain stretches of track. The rest of the time, they go no faster than the regular trains. For the Rennes-Paris train, the TGV trackage was east of Le Mans. The train from Brest can get you to a TGV train as well, which might be a less expensive proposition than keeping the rental car and putting mileage on it. Remember, gasoline is expensive in Europe. On the other hand, I was able to see more of the countryside by driving from Brest to Rennes AND I got to stop in Pont-Aven to visit Philip Plisson's gallery. 
Trezien, near Trezien Ille Vierge, near Lilia le Four, near Pospoder
Trézien,
near Trézien
I'lle Vierge, near Lilia le Four,
near Porspoder

I allotted a day to explore the area and lighthouses near Brest. Leaving Brest and travelling west on the D789 motorway, I stopped at Portzic and Phare du Petit Minou, then continuing west I turned north on road D28. From this road, I was able to reach Phare de Trézien, le Four, and Phare de i'lle Vierge. From the time stamps on the files, it looks like I was able to do this in the space of about 3 hours. Le Four and I'lle Vierge are located at sea. Le Four is inaccessible other than by boat or helicopter and I'lle Vierge can be reached subject to tidal conditions. Trézien is on dry land and you can drive right up to it.

Île d'Ouessant

Link to the official site of the Island of Île d'Ouessant Ouessant is an island located to the west of Brittany. It can be reached by ferry, chartered boat, helicopter, and airplane (Cessna sized). Easiest is the ferry, operated by Penn-ar-Bed,  which runs twice daily (once to, once from). During April and May there are sometimes 2 sailings and more sailings are added during the summer months. The ferry leaves from Brest or Le Conquet. The fare from Brest is 30 Euros round trip. Reservations advised. Crossing time is about 2.5-hours. The boat to the mainland leaves at 4:30pm. That gives you about 6-hours if you're thinking about seeing it in one day.

The island measures about 5km x 8km. Among the transport options  there is a bus that leaves from the ferry landing (NE end) for town, and you can rent bicycles at the ferry landing. You'll need cash for this. I believe that there's also a car rental, but you must arrange for it in advance. The town of Lampaul (center) is about 3km from the ferry. The island is a bit hilly (65m at its highest point) and I don't recommend cycling unless you are already in good shape. I wasn't and it nearly killed me. I was sore for several days afterwards. Hire a cab. It's too far to walk unless you're planning to spend the night. Added bonus attractions on Ouessant are the other lights there, and the French Lighthouse Museum (NW end, behind Creac'h). The museum is worth seeing even if everything there is in French. Nearby, you can get out on the rocks to see the Nividic lighthouse (NW end), and the others (le Stiff, Creac'h) are on dry land. The vistas over water are spectacular.

The Bicycle that nearly killed me. Nividic was never intended to be occupied. It has always been automated. The two towers shown on each side of the lighthouse are pylons that supplied electricity and supplies (via an aerial cable!) to the lighthouse. Le Stiff Créac'h
That damn bicycle! Le Phare de Nividic Le Stiff Phare
du Créac'h

You can see the Kéréon lighthouse from the Penn-ar-bed ferry. Further, once you are there, you can see La Jument quite clearly from the shore (~1.2mi SW off Porz Doun). I'm told that you can also see Kéréon from the island (~1.75mi SE off Porz ar Lan), but I didn't spot it when I was there. Ouessant is too distant to let you see these lights from the mainland. Forget about lighthouse tours; all are automated now. You can also see the Phare du Portzic, Phare de Petit Minou, Phare de Saint Mathieu, and Phare de Kermorvan from the ferry if you sail from Brest. The water-borne location gives you a particularly good vantage point.

The lights located at sea are all automated now and can't be visited. If you're really intent on seeing these lights up close, you'll need to charter a boat or a helicopter. Here's a link to one group's voyage to the lighthouses located at sea. If you don't read French, try using Google's translation service to view the URL in your language.

La Jument, taken from the SW end of Ouessant. Le Petit Minou, taken from the ferry. Kéréon, off the SE coast of Ouessant
La Jument Phare de Le Petit Minou, taken from the ferry. Kéréon, taken from the ferry.

Musée des Phares et Balises Portzic, taken from the ferry. Saint-Mathieu, taken from the ferry. Kermorvan, at Le Conquet.
Le Musée des Phares et Balises Phare du Portzic,
taken from the ferry.
Phare de Saint Mathieu,
taken from the ferry.
Phare de Kermorvan, taken from the ferry at Le Conquet.

More about Maps

Michellin has a plethora of maps available. There are several series (ranges) of them. The older 200- and 50-series maps are now out of print and no longer available. Both have the same scale, the difference is the 50-series covers less land area than the 200-series, BUT the 50-series is less cumbersome to handle.
Local 300-series (1cm:1.75km) Regional 500-series (1cm:2km) 200-series (1cm:2km) 50-series (1cm:2km)
308 Finistère, Morbihan (Brittany)
309 Côtes-d'Armor, Ille-et-Vilaine
303 Calvados, Manche
304 Eure, Seine-Maritime
301 Pas-de-Calais, Somme
517 Bretagne
512 Normandie
511 Nord (Flandres, Artois, Picardie)
230 Bretagne
231 Normandie
236 Nord (Flandres, Artois, Picardie)
58 Brest, Quimper, St. Brieuc
59 St. Brieuc, St. Malo, Rennes
54 Cherbourg, Caen, Rouen
52 Le Havre, Dieppe, Amiens
51 Calais/Lille/Bruxelles
Omnimap (online) has a comprehensive supply of the 300 and 500 series maps. Omnimap link

All pictures taken with an Olympus C700 2.1-megapixel camera. The initial resolution was 1200 x 1600 pixels.
Text and photographs © 2002-2004 by Rick Chinn. All rights reserved.


Information on lights that are still inhabited derived from:

Official Website of the Island of Ouessant (French)
Les Phares d'Ouessant (French)
Getting around on Ouessant (French)
Getting around on Ouessant (English)
List of Lighthouses that can be visited
2005 return to Brittany and Ouessant.
Return to Rick's Lighthouse page
Return to Rick's homepage
Photo page of the keepers leaving Kéréon
Kéréon automation press release (English, pdf, 46kb)
History of Kéréon (English, pdf, 37kb)
Description of the interior of Kéréon (English, pdf, 24kb)
La Route des Phares & Balises
About the Olympus C700 digicam
Philip Plisson's website
About Jean Guichard
The history of La Jument


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