The Glénan Islands Archipelago
The Glénan islands: a peaceful part of Brittany
“Tradition even tells us that the nine Glénan islets were once one large island: the natives would have witnessed its slow destruction by the sea.” Élisée Reclus¹
A must-see off the coast of southern Finistère, the Glénan Archipelago is a magical spectacle. A peaceful haven shining in the sun in the middle of the ocean. The Glénan islands stretch nearly 20 kilometers off the coast of Concarneau. The main islands are Bananec, Cigogne, Le Drennec, Giautec, Guiriden, Loc’h, Penfret, Quignénec and Saint Nicolas. Arranged in a circle, they create a kind of mini sea called La Chambre. The water often turns the turquoise color of a tropical lagoon in the summer, and even the beaches have a taste of the exotic. Surrounded by transparent, turquoise water, the white sand of the beaches evokes the coastlines of the southern seas. It owes its white color to the high concentration of maerl, calcified deposits of fine gravel and algae debris.
It is the place to go if you love sailing in southern Finistère or scuba diving. There are schools for both on the Fort Cigogne and Saint-Nicolas islands. A little slice of paradise out at sea, somewhere truly exotic just a short distance from southern Finistère.
A classified site in Finistère
In 2004, the islands were classified a Natura 2000 site because they are home to many natural habitats and plant and bird species that are endangered in Europe. In 2007, the original Natura 2000 site was extended into the sea so that the sea birds and mammals could also be protected, as well as the incredible richness of the seabed surrounding the islands. Today, the Glénan Archipelago Natura 2000 site covers nearly 500 km2 of marine and island species, from the Fouesnant coast to about 15 kilometers south of the islands. The islands are home to about 140 species of birds, including 71 Natura 2000 species that are protected in Europe. Some live there all year round. Other migratory species only stay for part of the year.
All of them find a safe haven in the Glénan Archipelago to eat, rest or breed. The islands are also known for the Glenan narcissus, a plant once found throughout the archipelago that was identified in 1803. This subspecies has continued to decline with the loss of local agriculture. It grows in short grass, and as ranching has been abandoned, scrubby moors have appeared instead. In 1924, the species had all but disappeared. In 1974, at the initiative of the Bretagne Vivante Society for the study and protection of nature in Brittany, a part of Saint-Nicolas island was classified as a nature reserve and access was cut off by a fence. The archipelago is fractured into small pieces today, so much so that its surface area is difficult to calculate. Nautical charts of the site are unable to map all of the reefs. During the equinox tides, you can cross La Chambre on foot. It becomes a great place to gather shellfish such as abalone and clams.
There are ferries between the Glénan islands and Port-la-Forêt daily, run by the Les Vedettes de l’Odet company. Get on board the Glenn, Rivage, Capitaine Némo or Aigrette for a dreamlike day in the archipelago. Kérantérec Campsite has a variety of ticket offers available at reception.
¹ Élisée Reclus, full name Jacques Élisée Reclus, was born in Sainte-Foy-la-Grande (Gironde) on March 15, 1830 and died in Thourout, Belgium on July 4, 1905. He was a famous libertarian geographer.