Travel2013

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - TRAVEL 2013 -

DO YOU know where the world ends? Ac­cord­ing to the French, it ends some­where near Rus­cu­munoc, a lit­tle fish­ing vil­lage in Brit­tany. Just fol­low the road up the hill, the lo­cals tell me, then straight, then to the left.

As I drive up the nar­row pot­holed road, the ra­dio that has been blast­ing Bre­ton Celtic mu­sic goes com­pletely quiet. Af­ter a kilo­me­tre or so, the road sud­denly ends.

I park my small rental car and walk up an over­grown path to the crest of a hill. There the ground sud­denly drops in a dra­matic cliff to­ward the At­lantic Ocean, and France is no more. A sign points to the west: New York 5 080km, it says.

To my left, at the base of the cliff, is a small sandy beach. It’s so post­card pretty I scramble down for a sun­tan­ning break at the “end of the world”. There’s no one in sight.

I’ve wanted to go to the west­ern­most French depart­ment of Fin­istère (from the Latin fi­nis ter­rae, or the end of the earth) since the day I first heard about it a few years ago. I wanted to see this edge of Brit­tany, the land that time for­got, and take a break from the rush of mod­ern life. I wanted to see the wild, empty beaches, the tiny roads and vil­lages.

But what lured me most to Fin­istère and to Brit­tany were the light­houses, promis­ing re­mote beauty, re­lax­ing soli­tude – and sweep­ing views. There are 148 light­houses in Brit­tany, one of them dat­ing back to the time of Louis XIV. Some are perched on rocky islets lashed by waves; oth­ers sit safely on the coast, look­ing out to sea. Once, their lights guided sailors to safety. To­day, 80 are work­ing, but many oth­ers are just ma­jes­tic ghosts of the past.

To get a good view of Brit­tany’s stun­ning coast, I de­cide to climb to the top of the 19th-cen­tury Eck­mühl (named for a Napoleonic gen­eral) light­house. Af­ter climb­ing its 307 steps, my mus­cles are sore and my legs rub­bery, but I emerge into the vast panorama of the At­lantic, the wind bring­ing up the smell of salt and al­gae and wet sand.

The vil­lage of Pen­marc’h spreads out be­low, with its small white houses set against green pas­tures. If the name Pen­marc’h doesn’t sound French to you, that’s be­cause it isn’t. The word means “head of a horse” in the lo­cal Bre­ton, a Celtic lan­guage brought to this re­gion in the Mid­dle Ages by Bri­tons mi­grat­ing to the con­ti­nent. The name comes from a lo­cal leg­end about a king whose head was turned into that of a horse.

The light­house of Saint-Mathieu, a clas­sic white-and-red tower, is gen­tler on my knees: it’s only 163 steps up. The semi-mod­ern light­house, built in 1835, is part of a crum­bling 16th-cen­tury abbey, pic­turesquely set at the edge of the ocean and built on the site of an even older, sixth-cen­tury monastery.

Saint-Mathieu is a calm, quiet place, yet its his­tory is far from peace­ful. Tak­ing a short walk along the coast, I stum­ble upon a re­minder of Brit­tany’s tur­bu­lent past. Hid­den in a car­pet of wild grasses are Ger­man bunkers: con­crete in­stal­la­tions built dur­ing World War II to guard the coast against the Al­lies dur­ing the Ger­man oc­cu­pa­tion of France.

This area was once the site of rag­ing bat­tles, in­clud­ing the Bat­tle of Brest, which lasted from Au­gust to the end of Septem­ber 1944 and was one of the most vi­o­lent of the war. It may not have the famed D-Day sites of Nor­mandy, but I find ex­plor­ing the war me­men­tos of Brit­tany more com­pelling. Here, I can sit at the edge of the ocean and re­flect on the past with no crowds of tourists to in­ter­rupt my thoughts.

For me there’s noth­ing bet­ter in Brit­tany than walk­ing. Count­less trails run along the cliffs, start­ing at

PIC­TURESQUE: Cap Frèhel, with its sturdy good place to en­joy a pic­nic of farm-fresh s cheese while watch­ing the waves.

ISO­LATED: At the west­ern-most point of France, is the Pointe du Raz, a nar­row penin­sula with a sharp and high rocky ridge.

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