Escape to the île d’Arz, Gulf of Morbihan, Brittany

Come and spend a day, a week, a month on the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Morbihan, and escape to the île d’Arz. ‘Mor bihan’ means ‘little sea’ in the local Breton language, and there are around 40 isles and islets scattered in this magical body of water. L’île d’Arz is only four km long and 3km wide, but is still one of the larger isles in the gulf. Cars are limited, and the only way there is by boat, but what a magnificent experience you’ll have on the way!

Boat tour of the Gulf of Morbihan

How did i get there?

There are a number of ports around the Gulf of Morbihan from which you can take a boat directly to the island. We decided to take a boat tour which left from the quai Port-Blanc in Baden, and took us on a windswept, hour and half long cruise of the shimmering waters of the Gulf.

Gulf of Morbihan

Most of the tiny islands in the Gulf are uninhabited. There are neolithic menhirs (Related post – the megalithic stones of Carnac) and isolated beaches to visit, and plenty of water activities to keep you busy.

Arriving at the île d’Arz

All about the island

From the tiny port we hired bikes for the day, as it really is the best way to explore the island. The highest point is only 13 metres, so it’s fairly easy riding! The complete circuit of the île d’Arz for either walking or riding is around 16 km and there are plenty of beaches to stop at for a quick swim.

Map of île d’Arz

A little bit of history

Because of its proximity to large ports such as Nantes or Lorient, the île d’Arz has a long history of its men choosing to the sailing life. This is why the île d’Arz is also known as “Captains Island”. The men joined sailing ships as privateers or enlisted in the Navy. Others made their living transporting goods on the sea like grain, wine, sardines or salt. Les marins et les capitaines (the sailors and the captains) were usually away for long periods of time.

A well known vista of the village

In the face of their long absences at sea, the women left behind became known as “guardians of the isle”. They worked hard to make a profit from the island’s agriculture, such as harvesting the salt, and cultivating seaweed and oysters. Most families had a small plot of land in which to supplement the often meagre income of the sailors.

There is a lovely museum in the village with original artefacts and stories about the île d’Arz and the Gulf of Morbihan. And if you prefer to see the museum from your couch, you can watch this youtube video (you’ll love the music!) .

Winding your way down the coastal paths, watching the dancing blue and green water of the Gulf, one of the highlights of the island is the Moulin de Berno. This 16th century flour mill has been restored by enthusiastic volunteers in recent years and amazingly, is still in working order.

By the middle of the 18th century, there were twelve small farms on the island producing grain. Each village had its own bread oven. So the flour mill was greatly in use.

Moulin de Berno

A little further on, following the sandy bike path, the wrecked hull of a fishing boat lays abandoned on the shore. My children enjoyed playing pirates, with cries of ‘ahoy, matey’ and “I’m going to make you walk the plank”.

Fishing boat wreck

The priory and the church of the Nativity of Notre Dame on the island are over a thousand years old. The priory now serves as the local Mairie and the island school.

L’église de la nativité́ Notre-Dame

What if I’m hungry?

We visited the île d’Arz on a very hot summer’s day, so this enormous tree provided a perfect spot for our picnic lunch, as well as climbing opportunites. My kids are always happy to find a good tree to climb!

There are some cafes and restaurants in the centre of the island if you’d prefer to eat inside, and a small SPAR supermarket is located there.

Shady tree near the moulin de Berno

Beauty on theisland

There are some sights or smells which for me, evoke summer in France. A sweet, orange melon (rockmelon or cantaloupe), is one. A profusion of flowering hydrangeas (hortensia) is another.

As we made our way back onto the narrow roads which meander through the village, there was an abundance of pastel coloured hortensia, overflowing in front of time-weathered cottages and ancient stone walls.

All the way at the end of the island, the opposite end from the port, is Pointe de Liouse. Here you will find the remains of a neolithic dolmen, an arrangement of large stones which was used as a burial chamber and previously covered in earth to form a mound. This is clearly evidence that our prehistoric ancestors also enjoyed the pleasures of the île d’Arz and the Gulf of Morbihan!

It is also close to the plage de Brouel, a very family friendly beach with lots of shady trees where we enjoyed an afternoon of splashing in the water.

This small island in the Gulf de Morbihan has a tiny population of around 260 in the winter, but come summertime, it swells to 2500 visitors. According to the local mairie, 70% of the houses are maisons secondaire, or secondary houses, which means they have mostly been passed down to the next generations or sold to wealthier buyers and now serve as a holiday home or a weekend home for families.

There are a few hotels and gîtes available, as well as a campsite. The small supermarket has the essentials like bread, milk, and cheese. And fresh melons if you’re lucky.

So the next time you find yourself in Brittany, or in Paris in the summer looking for ideas, the île d’Arz is perfect for a weekend or a day trip. As is much of the Gulf of Morbihan! Let me know below if you’ve already been to this gorgeous place.

All photos remain the property of Madame Melissande.

useful links

We took a boat tour with Izenah Croisieres. Have a look at their website for all the different tours and trips they offer.

This link to the official île d’Arz website will give you up to date information about the island.

The official Brittany tourism website has heaps of information to help you in planning your next trip!

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