INTRODUCING A GLORIOUS TEAM OF 15 WESTERN FRENCH ISLANDS !
Standing on France’s western coast, whether in Normandy, Brittany or south along the Atlantic, you will often notice islands, or sometimes just a single romantic isle, on the horizon. They call temptingly to you.
Some 15 of these splendid islands have gathered together to form the Association des Iles du Ponant (informally, the French western isles) to promote their varied charms. They start in the north with magical Chausey, the Norman Channel archipelago above the Bay of Mont St-Michel that escaped the English grasp! They end in the south with adorable Aix, beyond the Charente River’s estuary. In between, many of Brittany’s best-loved islands count among the Iles du Ponant.
A number of our islands are renowned for being on the wild side! Ouessant (Ushant in English) and neighbouring Molène, in particular, were long notorious for their vicious reefs at the southern entrance to the English Channel. Tremendous lighthouses were built to warn of these dangers – dramatic images of these phares are now famous across the world. Today, thanks to excellent ferry services, you can explore exhilarating islands like Ouessant and Molène virtually any day of the year.
One or two of our islands lie in much calmer waters. L’Ile aux Moines and Arz are gently rocked in the protective arms of the Gulf of Morbihan, a gorgeous inland sea along Brittany’s southern shore. A surprising number of the Iles du Ponant boast their own special microclimate, despite lying out to sea – Batz even has a remarkable palm garden. A few prove exotically colourful thanks to geological marvels, notably orange-tinged Bréhat and garnet-edged Groix, while the vibrant waters around the Glénan archipelago remind visitors of the South Seas.
HISTORIC TIMES ON THE ILES DU PONANT
Powerful myths swirl around some of our islands, such as Sein, with its legends of Celtic druidesses. Real, fiery historic events took place beside others, for example the 18th-century Battle of Quiberon Bay, when the British navy won a famous victory over the French fleet near beautiful, cliff-surrounded Belle-Ile and its enchanting, tiny neighbours, Houat and Hoëdic. It’s hard to believe that such idyllic places could once have been terrible bones of contention. As to Aix, it became Napoleon’s last port of call in France. More distant Yeu, with its delightful mix of Breton and Vendéen touches, guarded disgraced Marshall Pétain after the Second World War. In contrast, Sein’s men would collectively win the highest honours for their wartime heroism.
THE PRESENT-DAY ON THE ILES DU PONANT
All the Iles du Ponant are a joy to discover today, particularly on foot or by bike. Most offer plenty to do within a surprisingly small area, including cultural and sporting opportunities. One or two incite you to do very little but meditate over their mesmerizing maritime surrounds. Every single one of our islands provides that immeasurable pleasure – of making you feel blissfully detached from the frenetic ways of the continental world for a time, living at a different, French, island pace.
PREPARING YOUR TRIP TO THE ILES DU PONANT
Our islands can only be reached by boat (and by air in one or two cases). With a little forward planning, they are easy to visit. First come with us on this introductory armchair tour of France’s Iles du Ponant to learn about their rare character and beauty.
The Iles du Ponant Association acts on behalf of 15 French islands off the Channel and Atlantic coasts that share three precise characteristics. They have:
- a permanent population;
- the status of an official administrative local community (generally a commune, roughly equivalent to a British parish);
- no fixed link to the mainland, such as a bridge or submersible road.
The Association aims to offer support to active island communities. It was created in April 1971 and works towards the promotion and protection of its member-islands in accordance with its statutes:
‘…Article 2 – The Association strives to take all useful measures possible to combat the specific handicaps of the Iles du Ponant, be they general or specific. It aims to ensure the economic, social and cultural advancement of the islands’ inhabitants, at the same time as working towards these islands’ environmental protection…’
The Association includes three specific bodies made up of:
- representatives of the island communes, the councillors at canton (district) level, plus the members of both houses of the French Parliament for the relevant départements (roughly equivalent to British counties);
- representatives from the professional bodies concerned;
- partner community bodies.
The Association has an annual budget provided in part (25%) by the island communes, in part (25%) by the départements, and in part by the two regions of Brittany (40%) and the Pays de la Loire.
The Association fulfils many functions. These include:
- giving technical and administrative support to put together project dossiers for both the communes and other parties;
- promoting tourism on the islands, working in collaboration with their relevant tourist bodies;
- leading and coordinating initiatives to raise awareness of specific issues for the Iles du Ponant and to find appropriate solutions for the Iles du Ponant and their island life, both at national and European level.