Nestled off the coast of southern Brittany in France, Belle-Île-en-Mer doesn’t get the sort of constant coverage in luxury travel magazines that the Cote d’Azur or Biarritz does. Yet the island– Brittany’s largest and arguably its most alluring– is a place of rare natural beauty, fascinating history, and unique cultural traditions. For seekers of inspiring, authentic getaways far from the madding crowds, the island represents a genuine potential treasure. It’s no wonder it literally means “beautiful island on the sea” and has attracted and inspired so many famous figures, including French theatre actress and producer Sarah Bernhardt and impressionist master Claude Monet. From superb beaches and villages to art history and gourmet discoveries, here are just a few reasons why you should consider a trip to Belle Île for your next high-end adventure in France. We reserve many more secrets, exclusive addresses and experiences for our clients, so don’t hesitate to get in touch with us to start crafting a bespoke adventure on the island.
Why France’s Belle-Île-en-Mer is an Untapped Luxury-Travel Treasure
Breathtaking landscapes and painting-worthy perspectives
Belle Île is a natural wonder and ideal getaway for anyone seeking rugged maritime landscapes– picture craggy, steep cliffsides, crashing waves, pristine sandy beaches, and teeming flocks of wild birds. Situated nine miles off the coast in the Atlantic ocean, just a boat ride away from the lagoon-like magic of the Gulf of Morbihan- the island boasts an unusually warm, Mediterranean-style climate.
It gets over 2,000 hours of sunshine a year– almost as much as Toulouse does! So sunbathing, swimming in the waves, enjoying lunch and sightseeing aboard a privately manned sailboat, and taking advantage of the island’s more than 60 pristine beaches is certainly in order. Charming, private coves are also a very attractive feature.
There are so many ways to take advantage of the island’s remarkable natural resources and beauty. You might embark on an unforgettable hike on the famous Pointe de Poulains, a wild, distant edge of the island dominated by a traditional lighthouse worthy of a painting. It was here that the legendary Sarah Bernhardt purchased a former military base and converted it into two luxurious family villas– no doubt seduced by the fantastic panoramic views afforded by the spot. On a clear day, you can see as far as Lorient and the whole Bay of Quibéron…
In addition to beaches, coves, nature trails, and wild bird-watching (all highly recommended) a walk around the island should also acquaint you with some of its iconic lighthouses. These include the Goulphar lighthouse, which can only be visited with a private guide. We’ll reveal some of Belle Île’s other remarkable lighthouses when you embark on your own trip…
Another way to explore the island from an oceanic perspective is to hop aboard a private sailboat or yacht and float around Belle Île’s perimeters, taking in its notable coastal views, and perhaps heading further out to explore the Morbihan Gulf and Quibéron Bay. It’s also in close reach of other beautiful Breton islands such as the Ile d’Houat and the Ile d’Hoedic. Enjoy a private lunch of fresh oysters, shellfish, white wine and delicious local desserts, and see the region from the perspective of a native seafarer! All you’ll have to do is sit back, relax, and perhaps ensure your camera’s battery is fully charged. You won’t want to miss out on the memories…
Historical Discoveries & Art Tours
Another reason to visit one of France’s most underrated islands? It has a rich and fascinating history, making it an ideal destination whether it’s the history of art or military dramas of old that interest you most.
Here are just a couple of ideas for how to explore the island’s unique cultural and historic heritage– and rest assured that we have many more ideas waiting for you.
18th Century Tour
Some of the most impressive sights on the island, including the towering, star-shaped former fortress known as the Vauban Citadelle, were constructed during the 18th century. This was a turbulent and lively time in the history of the island. In 1761, English troops occupied the island, only leaving in 1763 in exchange for the island of Menorca. Most of the population abandoned the island during this time, and it was subsequently offered to a group of French Canadian refugees called the Acadians. They settled there from 1766, and many of the current residents among the population of just over 5,000 people are descendants of the Acadians. Embark on a private tour to learn about this remarkable and rich facet of the island’s history, including a tour of the mysterious Citadelle.
WWII History Tour
One little-known fact about the island is that it was a site of German occupation during World War II, when Nazi forces took over the island. With a historian serving as a private guide, tour the major sites related to this dark history of occupation and war, and learn about how (and why) American Allied troops contemplated creating landing beaches here.
Seeking Monet & Matisse
The dramatic cliffs, temperate climate, green hillsides, boat-filled ports, and pastel-colored facades of Belle Ile’s towns mesmerised two of France’s most famous painters. With an art history professor serving as your private art guide, visit some of the island’s landscapes and natural sites that appeared in paintings from Claude Monet and Henri Matisse. In 1886, Monet painted a series of 39 astounding works as he toured the island, working to capture its ever-changing, mesmerizing light at different points in the day. Matisse, meanwhile, was drawn to the island’s curiously Mediterranean beauty, capturing its colours and textures in a post-impressionist style around 1897.
Charming Villages & Ports
Belle Ile is dotted with numerous charming villages, all of which are worth exploring. The two that are most popular for stays, dining and exploration are Sauzon, a traditional fishing village with a picturesque marina, and Le Palais, home to the famous citadelle mentioned above. Both are relaxed, relatively quiet places that can feel incredibly private, especially in low season when you’ll mostly be among natives. And even in the summer, you won’t find swarmed beaches and restaurants as you would in the south of France– ideal when you’re avoiding large crowds.
In Sauzon, wander around the postcard-perfect marina and admire its many rustic fishing boats and sailboats, then take in the warm colours of sunset over the sea before enjoying a gastronomic meal at a top-notch seafood restaurant. If you’re lucky, you may get to taste some of the island’s finest lobster and langoustines– perhaps the freshest you’ll have ever sampled!
In Le Palais, take a private guided tour of the citadelle, and perhaps enjoy a sea-view suite at the luxury hotel within its walls, imagining what it might have been like to occupy its interiors during the 18th century.
The hotel also houses a historical museum and a renowned restaurant, La Table du Gouverneur, where you can taste some of the island’s finest cuisine. Fresh seafood platters, dishes featuring local specialties such as Belle-Ile honey, seaweed, rosemary, and Bréton goat’s cheese, and mouthwatering desserts make up the unique menu here.
Local Culture & Watery Wellbeing
If you’re after a high-end holiday that combines relaxation with discovery, Belle-Ile offers an ideal balance between the two.
Your private whirl around the island might start with a cultural adventure that allows you to glimpse local customs and talents, followed by a laid-back afternoon of watery wellbeing.
Start with a visit to a local beekeeper, who will show you the secrets of his or her apiary and allow you to taste the magnificent honey produced by Belle Île’s very own black bees.
If you have a true sweet tooth, continue with a tour of some of the island’s finest traditional bakeries, biscuit makers, and distilleries, sampling delicious specialties such as salted butter caramel, crumbly sablé biscuits infused with more delicious Bréton butter, and Belle-Ile whiskies.
For an afternoon of calm and physical restoration, head to the Cote Sauvage (Wild Coast), which in addition to being one of the island’s most coveted spots for nature hikers is also home to a luxury thalassotherapy spa centre. Take a few hours to soak in the marine mineral-infused waters and feel your stress melt away. You can stay at a luxury hotel at the same site, whose rooms and decks afford some truly spectacular views over the green hills, rugged cliffs, and deep blue waters beyond.
Book a Private Tour of Belle Ile en Mer
Intrigued? We’ve named just a few of the natural and cultural delights that await you on a luxury getaway to Brittany’s largest island…
Get in touch with us to craft a private tour there, and we’ll unlock some of Belle Ile’s best-kept secrets– ones we only reveal to our VIP clients.