`

Travel: Hidden gems in untapped region of France that’s ripe for exploring

The Golfe du Morbihan.
The Golfe du Morbihan.

There are still surprisingly hidden gems just a short ferry trip to France away which, as yet, remain relatively undiscovered.

One hot tip is the Golfe of Morbihan, a sheltered haven of the Atlantic made up of 42 small islands off the coast of southern Brittany, which is ripe for exploring.

Cycling in Vannes.

Cycling in Vannes.

So, where better for our base than a hotel built to look like a passenger ship that has dropped anchor and docked at a port, complete with decks, walkways, sea view cabins, chimneys and a large glass façade.

The enchantment continues inside the Miramar La Cigale as guests pad around the thalasso and spa hotel in slippers and white bathrobes, soaking up the calming tranquility of the sophisticated, yet pleasingly unstuffy, five-star surroundings.

The mussel shell-shaped lights, mother of pearl coloured walls and port hole-shaped mirrors bring the outside in. Even the natural thalasso treatments offered in the cocoon of therapy cabins use water drawn from the ocean outside. The seaside towns of Brittany have been home to thalassotherapy since the 18th century, where the seawater, sea products and shore climate are believed to work magic on the pores of the skin.

You can while away hours in the panoramic pool on the ‘top deck’ of the hotel, encased in walls and a ceiling of glass which opens up in the summer. Or, for a change of view, there is the warming hammam or Ocean Spa, with its seven stages of gooseneck shower, whirlpool loungers and massaging jets to ease away tensions.

Half timbered houses in the town of Vannes.

Half timbered houses in the town of Vannes.

There is so much to enjoy outside that at some point you have to tear yourself away! The beautiful sweep of beach in front of the hotel is a beachcomber’s heaven and perfect for collecting shell treasures. While horse riding and sailing are close at hand, with a marina on your doorstep with plenty of restaurants and shops to choose from.

A car journey of only 40 minutes away leads to the town of Vannes, with its charming cobbled streets lined by half-timbered, leaning houses reminiscent of Shakespeares’ Stratford-upon-Avon. It’s the ideal place to potter and soak up the atmosphere, as well as the starting point for off-shore island trips.

We took a short ferry hop across to the island of Arz, where you can follow the coastline path on foot to the homes of the deep-sea fishermen who set up home there and are responsible for the island’s nickname ‘the captain’s island’.

Today’s captains are the young trainees who visit to learn how to sail. Just be warned, if you visit out of season there is not a lot to greet you – though, at the time of our visit in mid-February, there was a sense that a gear change was about to happen. In late July or early August, a gathering of old sailing boats with sea shanties and a fireworks display is said to be a magical experience at the island’s Moulin de Berno traditional tide mill. Some of the nearby islands are said to be owned by the rich and famous – and what better place for an island hideaway to escape the modern world?

On any boat trip, you cannot fail to be taken back in time with views of the traditional oyster beds which mark out the region’s famous culinary delight.

To head back further in history, a longer trek along the coast will take you to Carnac’s spectacular display of around 3,000 ancient standing stones, which date from 4000BC and remain a megalithic mystery.

It also remains a mystery as to why more British visitors have not yet discovered this region. There is so much to explore that a short break only gives a taste of what it has to offer, and it’s clear to see why trail walkers and cyclists stay for a longer visit. Though once you have found the gateway to the Golfe du Morbihan, its enchanting scenery and natural, unspoiled coastline are sure to draw you back for more adventures.

How to get there:

Brittany Ferries operates the longer routes from Portsmouth, Poole and Plymouth direct to Brittany and Normandy. Travel overnight by luxury cruise-ferry in the comfort of your own cabin with en-suite facilities or be whisked across the channel in as little as three hours.

Our more direct route from Portsmouth to St Malo meant a drive of less than two hours to the region on arrival in France. The large overnight cabins were an enjoyable addition to the short break experience. Fares start from £85 each way for a car plus two passengers. To book see www.brittanyferries.com or call 0330 159 7000 – and keep an eye on http://brittanyferries.com/offers for special offers.

Miramar La Cigale:

All year round, Miramar La Cigale offers one-week Thalasso stays, weekends, short spa relaxation programmes and day treatments.

The five-star hotel has 113 rooms and suites, two restaurants – offering traditional and health food – and boasts a cosy bar and heated pool with panoramic view.

For Thalasso treatments, choose the package and programmes best suited to your needs and enjoy the benefits of a marine cure: Shaping up, Toning, Health, Slimming, Young Mother, Thalasso & Spa, Beauty, Anti-stress, Teen or treatment a la carte. Short weekend stays and relaxation getaways are offered, as well as the Rituals and day treatment programmes, beauty treatments and massages of the world.

Contact details: Port du Crouesty - Route du Petit Mont - 56640 Arzon, France http://www.miramar-lacigale.com / +33 (0)2 97 53 49 13.

To plan a visit contact the Golfe du Morbihan Vannes Tourisme office at Quai Tabarly 56039 Vannes on +33 (0)2 97 47 24 34 and tourisme@golfedumorbihan.bzh or see http://www.golfedumorbihan.bzh for more details.