Are the Glénan Islands the most beautiful in Europe?

Are the Glénan Islands the most beautiful in Europe?

Could you hazard a guess as to where in the world this beach is?



You may be surprised to hear it’s part of Brittany: the Glénan Islands, in northern France. The shot was taken on St Nicolas, in the Glénan Archipelago which lies around ten nautical miles off the west coast of Finistère, the craggy corner of the country that reaches out into the Atlantic Ocean.


Over the summer we were invited by Brittany Tourism and Les Vedettes de l’Odet to take a boat day trip to discover more about the Glénan islands. After driving to the port of Bénodet from our base at Siblu Domaine de Kerlann, we set sail on one of the Vedettes’ small ferries, which run a few times a day over the Summer. Bénodet was a quaint, quiet port strewn with sailing boats; as we voyaged further into the Atlantic, the briny wind seemed to whisk away the grey morning clouds of the mainland, and by the afternoon we were left with a sky worthy of a Caribbean summer.




Les Vedettes ded l'Odet



Guiriden island

The most photographed part of the archipelago is Guiriden (above), a narrow stretch of water that’s completely submerged at high tide, but when visible looks like a long swathe of vanilla ice-cream set atop an aquamarine pool. The destination for our three-hour stopover, however, was St Nicolas Island, the Archipelago’s capital and the only island with a port.





There are only 100 or so people living on the Glénan Archipelago, so most of the people to be seen on St Nicolas are day trippers. There are two small restaurant/cafés, with a smattering of beachside apartments for those who want to stay longer.


One of Saint Nicolas’s two café restaurants


The islands are too far from the mainland to benefit from mains electricity or water. Electricity for the entire Archipelago is generated solar panels, and  Saint Nicolas’ wind turbine (above). Rain water is gathered and purified, for drinking water and showers. Despite the rudimentary facilities, the Archipelago bustles with visitors, around St Nicolas’s port area and in the waters themselves, where students at the world-renowned Glénans Nautical Centre sail, canoe, kayak, widsurf and kitesurf their way around the islands.



The islands are well-established; people have been living on them since the 1800s (although remains of settlers from Neolithic times have been found), and the sailing school was set up all the way back in 1947. Because of the potentially heavy footfall there’s a strong commitment to conservation, with certains parts of the islands being off-limits to visitors. Everyone’s encouraged to take home their litter with them (there are very few bins). The conservation effort’s for good reason: the islands are home to the rare, yellow narcissi des Glénan, as well as rare birds like cormorants and terns. In the shallow waters it’s possible to see cuttlefish, seahorses and a calcified red seaweed called marl, which gives the water a mottled effect in some places.


Once we’d arrived a St Nicolas island, our fellow day-trippers thronged to the beach and, despite the blustery weather, stripped down to bikinis and bathers and headed into the shallow blue. With only 2-3 hours before the ferry journey home, people made the most of the sunshine, taking out picnics of bread, camembert and wine; or scrambling up the rocks to get a better view of the glistening sea.






Les Vedettes de l’Odet’s guided tour then took us round the rest of the Archipelago, with a running commentary in English and French. Along the way we passed the Corentin, a reconstructed Breton sailing ship used for tours over some weekends in the Summer; and a fortress, originally built in the 18th Century to protect the islands from Cornish pirates, and later used as the archipelago’s prison.



the Corentin sailing ship

The children became a little frisky on the journey back. The sail to St Nicolas had been direct, and an hour long; on the way home we stopped to let passengers off at Concarneau, Loctudy, Pors-la-Forêt and Beg Meil, so it was around half an hour longer. Even so I’d recommend this trip to anyone visiting this part of Brittany, with or without children. In just that short time on the boat, it felt as though we’d been transported to a different continent, where all there was to do was relax and enjoy the Ocean’s treasures.



What to take with you

  • swimwear and a towel. Even on a cool day, the Atlantic sunshine warms up the shallow sea around the islands.
  • a beach tent or parasol. It can get windy.
  • suncream. Even if it’s overcast on the mainland, the weather can change dramatically when you reach the islands. The Atlantic sunshine is fearsome and strong.
  • binoculars. There are many wild birds and marine animals to see. It’s sometimes even possible to spot wild dolphins swimming alongside the ferry.
  • snorkelling gear.
  • a picnic and snacks. The eateries on St Nicolas island are always full, with long queues. It took us at least fifteen minutes to reach the counter when we wanted to buy some frites. If you want a sit-down meal at the restaurant, you’ll need to book ahead.

And finally: make sure you don’t leave it till the last minute to visit the loo. There are only a couple on the island (and they’re not particularly nice). Be prepared for a long wait.

Pin for later:


A guided tour of the Glénan Archipelago with Les Vedettes de l’Odet, including a stop at Saint Nicolas island, is €44 per adult, €22 for children aged 4-12, and €7 for children under 4.

If you’d like to read more about the Glénan Archipelago, check out this post by Travel Loving Family.

This trip was arranged in collaboration with Brittany Tourism, and we were guests of Les Vedettes de l’Odet. We’d like to thank them both for what was possibly our favourite day during our stay in the region.  Save


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  1. October 3, 2016 / 8:23 am

    What a stunning place! We had a couple of holidays in Brittany when my son was younger but I didn’t know about this little treasure. The colour of the sea is just gorgeous.

    • October 7, 2016 / 12:32 pm

      We hadn’t heard about it either. A well-kept secret!

  2. October 3, 2016 / 10:17 am

    Beautiful photos! #MondayEscapes

    • October 7, 2016 / 12:32 pm

      Thank you!

    • October 7, 2016 / 12:34 pm

      Well it wasn’t Caribbean warm! But warmer than you’d think, considering we were way out in the Atlantic.

  3. October 3, 2016 / 12:16 pm

    It looks absolutely beautiful and I love that it’s not too far away for a bit of good sunshine. That beach looks so nice, like you could spend ages pottering about! #mondayescapes

    • October 7, 2016 / 12:35 pm

      It really was idyllic. A nice litle find!

  4. October 3, 2016 / 12:53 pm

    Those beaches are stunning! I was actually going to say Scotland, although it could also be the Caribbean!#mondayescapes

    • October 7, 2016 / 12:36 pm

      Ah yes, I suspect some of the Scottish Isles are this beautiful too. I need to visit!

  5. October 3, 2016 / 1:55 pm

    This looks just wonderful, Nell. That blue! I love finding the lesser explored parts of the world so these would suit me perfectly.

    • October 7, 2016 / 12:38 pm

      I’m sure you’d love it there, Clare. It’s really unspoilt.

  6. October 3, 2016 / 7:44 pm

    So beautiful!! It’s funny, I just finished a book that takes place on these islands and it totally made me want to go there. It’s a crime series from Luc Bannalec. Thanks for sharing your beautiful pictures! Now I want to see these islands even more!

    • October 7, 2016 / 12:47 pm

      Ooh I’m going to order it right now! I didn’t know there was a novel set on these islands. Thanks for the heads-up!

  7. October 3, 2016 / 8:39 pm

    O-M-G! I don’t believe this is in Europe! I’ve DEFINITELY pinned this for later! STUNNNNNING! #MondayEscapes

    • October 7, 2016 / 12:58 pm

      I know! We were blown away too.

  8. October 3, 2016 / 9:54 pm

    I genuinely can’t believe this is in France. The photos are stunning. I’m not surprised you had such a wonderful time. #MondayEscapes

    • October 7, 2016 / 12:58 pm

      Thanks – it was fairly easy to get good shots, as it was so incredibly beautiful!

  9. October 4, 2016 / 3:43 am

    Wow, for a day trip it really does look like you were transported to another country. So serene. Love that vanilla ice cream island:). #mondayescapes

    • October 7, 2016 / 12:59 pm

      It was a whole world away from the mainland!

  10. October 4, 2016 / 4:34 am

    This place looks truly amazing! I am from the Caribbean and the water looks straight from one of the islands there. Glad I discovered this place thru your blog post.

    • October 7, 2016 / 12:59 pm

      Thanks – you should visit one day to see first-hand how it compares with your homeland!

  11. October 4, 2016 / 12:22 pm

    Such a beautiful place. I would love to visit! #MondayEscapes

    • October 7, 2016 / 1:00 pm

      It’s definitely worth going there.

  12. Nick
    October 5, 2016 / 1:29 pm

    We went…and it rained (we wanted to get an earlier boat back, but it wasn’t possible, so we got very wet and very cold)! There is almost no shelter on the island…so if there’s any threat of bad weather, be prepared. Having said that, the island was still very beautiful, just wish we’d been luckier with the weather.

    • October 7, 2016 / 1:04 pm

      Oh no, what a shame! Yes, I suppose if it was raining hard it would have been a different day altogether.

  13. October 5, 2016 / 2:39 pm

    What a beautiful place and somewhere I’m ashamed to say I’ve never heard about. I expect it is a very quiet place once the ferry leaves again. Great tips about things to bring, especially food. I’m not sure mine would last the 15 minute wait to order on top of the cooking time! #MondayEscapes

    • October 7, 2016 / 1:06 pm

      I’d never heard of it either! And yes, we were very ready for the chips when they finally arrived….

  14. October 6, 2016 / 5:45 pm

    Beautiful! I spent some time on the Brittany coast this summer, but I didn’t know about the Saint-Nicolas island. If I had, I probably would have made a day trip out of it. The water looks so lovely there!

    • October 7, 2016 / 1:27 pm

      It was so crystal clear!

  15. October 6, 2016 / 6:55 pm

    I’m ashamed to say that this is the first I’ve heard of these beautiful islands. They are truly stunning and in some ways remind me of the northern Scotland – Skye and the like. They are so close to home they are now firmly on our must visit list!
    Potty Adventures

    • October 7, 2016 / 1:28 pm

      It was fairly easy to visit them. A must-see!

  16. October 18, 2016 / 10:11 pm

    I had NO idea these beaches were in Brittany! It’s funny because I was talking to someone else about Brittany today – I’m going to take that as a ‘sign’ we should visit! #MondayEscapes

    • October 19, 2016 / 11:14 am

      It’s a gorgeous place. I’m aching to go back!

    • March 30, 2017 / 9:49 pm

      They really are. You should go!

  17. June 12, 2017 / 6:36 pm

    Look at that sand! It reminds me of when we visited St Marguerite Island during our stay in Cannes. Beautiful!

    • June 13, 2017 / 2:53 pm

      The sand was impossibly white….

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