Right at the tip of the rugged Breton peninsula, bite-sized Brest is the ideal destination if you want to get off the beaten track whilst absorbing a mega-dose of authentic French lifestyle. An important marine research centre and lively university town, Brest combines nautical jauntiness and savage natural beauty, with a certain avant garde trendiness (this pretty Brittany town was, after all, the backdrop for cult filmmaker Fassbinder’s 80’s art film Querelle). Add to that rugged, granite cliffs and isolated sandy coves; succulent seafood and traditional Celtic customs; charm-packed dining venues and a plethora of fun nightlife and you’re guaranteed that you won’t get bored in this upbeat Breton town.
Main City Paris
Surface 49.51 km
Density 2,870 /km²
If you’re a fan of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory or you’ve always wondered what black bee honey, or seaweed- flavoured chocolate tastes like, L’Histoire de Chocolate is the one-stop shop for you. Artisans of Brest have been making chocolate since the first shipment of cocoa arrived here in 1679, but award-winning chocolate-maker Jean-Yves Kermarrec and his team have taken the art of fabricating these sophisticated sweets one step further with specialities like the Littoral, a chocolate-covered caramel made with local seasalt, and a crunchy chocolate bar made with spices from the mediaeval town of Guerande, called Delices de Beniguet.
Far from the more touristy haunts of Brest’s old town, Quai Malbert’s port where the city’s old seadogs gather to watch the bustle of tatty vessels and gleaming yachts sail in-and-out, is an ideal spot to soak up the real atmosphere of this nautical town. Stroll down the quay to see the shipyards where boats have been built for centuries, catch a glimpse of white-sailed historical schooner La Recouvrance, then wander along to the Jardin de L’Academie de la Marine, a pine-studded park where you can get some great photos of the city’s port. Finish your stroll along this quay dedicated to French mariner Commandant Malbert, at Vinomania, a trendy wine bar where you can taste some of the best local tipples served with tangy goat’s cheese and olive nibbles.
In a city where the sea air and wonderful scenery incite al fresco activities, visitors tend to overlook Le Musée de La Marine. The title might sounds dull and dusty, but even if you’re not a fan of museums, Le Musée de La Marine, set inside Brest’s atmospheric mediaeval castle, will win you over with its enchanting collection of model ships, paintings and sculptures that give a fascinating insight into life in Brest through the centuries. Dedicated to the history of the local navy, the exhibition is accompanied by a lively audio guide that explains the main exhibits on show. Take a leisurely ramble along the castle ramparts afterwards and enjoy panoramic views over Brest town and the city’s colourful commercial port.