If you have ever yearned for a stunningly beautiful, quiet place to read or write, eat well, lounge on the beach (if it’s summer) or walk (if it’s not) for as long as you can, reflect on whatever you need to reflect on, sit in cafes gazing at the view and experience one of the world’s most beautiful coastlines, where the abundant foliage creeps right up to the sand, I have found the place of your dreams.
Groix is not just for baby boomers and seniors. It is for anyone who wants a relaxed, laid back holiday for anywhere from a couple of days to a week — or maybe a lifetime.
It isn’t exactly a secret, but it is not overly crowded like most such places. Most of the French head south for the summer. The island of Groix (pronounced “gwah”) in Brittany is west of Paris, 14 kilometers from the west coast city of Lorient. I spent a week in Groix in early November. It was devoid of tourists and cool, but not too cold to enjoy the outdoors. Even in the summer, I am told that it’s not as crowded as most resort towns. The locals are extraordinarily friendly. You’d better say “Bon jour” when you see somebody.
The island is small, about eight kilometers long and three kilometers wide. There are no cities; there isn’t even one big town. There are five or six villages, several of which have more bars and restaurants than you (or even I) could visit in a week, two well stocked super markets, a number of interesting shops and book stores and activities that I will describe below. Another plus is that just about everything is less expensive than it is in Paris or in the South of France, many things by as much as 50%.
It’s easy. Take the SGV Train from Paris for around 100-150 euros round trip (depending on day, time and season) to Lorient. You depart from the Montparnasse Station, and on the high-speed train it takes about 3 1/2 hours. (Or you can fly in an hour for a higher price.)
When you get to Lorient, either walk or take a free bus or a taxi about a mile or so to the ferry. For 27 euros, round trip, the ferry takes you back and forth to Groix in about 45 minutes. Call the ferry company before you book your train ticket to assure that you don’t have to wait too long for the ferry, or book online.
It’s also easy to get to Lorient from Dover, and a number of other cities in England, France, Belgium and Germany by air.
When you get to Port Tudy, pick up a map and a brochure from the tourist office that tells you about activities, restaurants, etc. that are available on the island. You can’t miss the tourist office. Look up. It’s above the ferry ticket office.
There are several options to get around Groix. Remember, it’s only three kilometers wide and eight kilometers long (roughly two by five miles).
- Your own two feet provide one option for many excursions.
- You can rent bicycles in Port Tudy, an excellent choice for longer trips.
- And if it is raining or you’re just tired, taxis are available.
- There is also a bus that circumnavigates the island, but it doesn’t run very often.
Where To Stay:
I want to disclose up front that when I visited Groix, I stayed with a friend, so I have no personal experience staying at any of the hotels on the island, but I am told there are several hotels that are comfortable and reasonable in price. The main village is called Le Bourg (the market town), which has what I’m told is the best hotel, La Marine, 7 rue du General de Gaulle. Rooms with in suite bath vary from 60 to 98 euros per night depending on size, ocean view and season.
I have a feeling from the way it looks and the quality of its restaurant (see below) that Auberge du Pecheur would also be a fine place to stay, so you might check it out, but I can’t vouch for it right now. It’s in Tudy near where you get off the ferry. If you spend five minutes walking around the town, you can’t miss it.
Another hotel for about 10 euros cheaper near where the ferry arrives in Port Tudy is La Jette.
For a less expensive room with bath, try Goumon Elisabeth, 8 Rue de Gaulle, Le Bourg. It runs around 38 to 54 euros, depending on room and season. If you’re willing to share a bath, of course, your room is cheaper.
Where To Eat and Drink:
- I can highly recommend four restaurants where I ate. The best is the restaurant at La Marine Hotel. See the information about the hotel above. I suggest either the fish or the lamb — both excellent, but I ate there four times, and every dish I had was excellent, including the desserts. Their wine list is plentiful, including many inexpensive wines. Food only for dinner is 18 to 25 euros.
- Auberge du Pecheur in Tudy was also excellent. A local fish called Merlu with veggies and potatoes was one of the best meals I had.
- For a little less expensive meal try Les Alizes in Le Bourg next to the Marine Hotel. The moules (mussels) are especially good. The village is very small. Just walk around it (which takes all of about three minutes), and you’ll find it.
- Le Safran, also in Le Bourg, is a good creperie and pizzeria.
- I haven’t eaten there, but I have it from reliable sources that the best restaurant on the island is La Cinquante in Le Bourg, 22 Place d’eglise, just off General de Gaulle by the church. Meals there with one bottle of wine run about 40 euros per person.
There are lots of other restaurants, but I haven’t eaten in them. I suspect that most are quite good. If you have cooking facilities, the grocery stores provide another meal option.
There is no shortage of bars on the island. I’ll mention two, both in the village of Locmaria on the other side of the Island from Port Tudy, which means they are about two miles from Port Tudy and a mile or so from Le Bourg. The most well known (locals say it’s famous, whatever that means) is Le Bateau Ivre (The Drunken Boat)–friendly patrons and staff, comfortable seats inside and out and full of old artifacts. It is virtually on the beach and has a terrace with a great view beside the sand. Even if you don’t drink alcohol, it’s a must visit.
The other is nearby. Just follow the signs from Le Bateau Ivre. It’s Pops Tavern on Rue de Pokado, with a friendly bartender, good beer and more brands of cigarettes than I have ever seen in one place.
What To Do There:
As you might have gathered, eating and drinking is a favorite activity of locals and tourists alike–and people watching in the summer. Also in the summer–lounging on the many sand beaches is lovely. But there is plenty to do in Groix, despite its size and location. The most obvious is walking and viewing the gorgeous scenery. Some of the highlights in my book are Pen Men, Pointe des Chats (at low tide the rocks are covered with mussels), Port Lay, Port Saint Nicolas, Port Melite (walk among the rocks next to the sandy beach at low tide and find a bigger sandy beach) and Trou d’Enfer. There’s a walking trail that goes around the entire island, offering spectacular views most of the way. It’s safe and easy to walk.
The island was occupied by the German Army during World War II and was a base of defense for the submarine base in the harbor at Lorient. Numerous concrete bunkers and pads for big guns were built along the Groix coasts. Most are still there, grim reminders of that terrible time. The three old lighthouses on the island serve as more peaceful landmarks.
- Bike riding on the island is a favorite and not just for the transportation. You can rent bikes in Port Tudy.
- There is a horseback riding stable just outside Le Bourg.
- You can fish anywhere there is water.
- For you shoppers, there are small shops that sell just about everything in the villages. And I can’t forget to mention a marvelous bookstore and cafe in Le Bourg, L‘Ecumedes Jours. Denise can answer just about any question you have about Groix.
- Locmaria is an especially quaint village with great ocean views, perhaps better to take in before you go to Le Bateau Ivre. By the way, Le Bateau Ivre often has live music.
- If you’ve ever wondered how snails are grown to eat, you can tour a snail farm. It’s free. See the signs posted around Le Bourg.
- Check out the art gallery, L’Atelier in Le Bourg. It’s free too.
- Cruises around the island are available.
- I shouldn’t forget the Cinema, 3 Rue de Gripp.
- And the public market in Le Bourg on Saturdays.
- If you can visit in August, Ile de Groix has an international film festival in Port Lay.
Groix is one of those places that by the end of your visit you’re trying to figure out a way you could live there.