The name of the westernmost part of France, Finistère translates to the “end of the earth;” so does the region’s Breton name, Penn ar Bed. To set foot in Finistère—the department that includes the port city of Brest, dozens of small villages dotting the rugged coastline and a series of islands in the Celtic Sea—is to understand the gravity of these translations. No place in the region conveys “end of the earth” quite like the furthest of those islands, Ouessant (Ushant in Breton), which embodies the windswept spirit of Brittany. It’s remote and charming and its defining attraction—several stunning lighthouses, of which one is a museum—alludes to the magic one finds there.
This isn’t like Belle-Île-en-Mer, a Breton island of splendor some 200 kilometers southeast. Ouessant is tinier (no car needed, rent a bicycle or hike instead) and even more wild, with few trees and a blanket of fragrant, low-lying vegetation. Serenity sails in on the breeze. In fact, one must pay attention to weather patterns before planning a trip (our experience saw sunlight in the morning with midday rain and some clarity toward the late afternoon). For the adventurous, Ouessant is accessible by ferry from the historic mainland town of Le Conquet (a worthy stop itself, with a crêperie—Louise de Bretagne—among the best in France) that’s six hours by car from Paris. The island also maintains a small airport for those looking for easier entry. Regardless of how you get there, our suggestions below tap into the island’s entrancing energy.
Le Roc’h Ar Mor Hotel
There are only a few hotels on Ouessant and the cliffside Le Roc’h Ar Mor is arguably the finest. Some of the 15 minimal rooms look out onto the island’s natural beauty, and others onto the garden. The venue also has a bar and restaurant. Altogether, the reserved element aligns with the island’s ethos. Regardless of whether you stay at this hotel or any of the others, book well in advance to stay on the island itself, especially during peak season.
Museum of Lighthouses and Beacons
The Musée des Phares et Balises (otherwise known as the Museum of Lighthouses and Beacons) occupies several floors beside the island’s mightiest of towers, the Créac’h lighthouse. Within, guests learn the global history of lighthouses and acquaint themselves with stunning technological inventions throughout the ages. While on the grounds, stop by Finis Terræ, the exterior cafe and shop. It’s an ideal segue into the surrounding lands which offer vantage points of several stunning lighthouses, rising from the sea, as well as ruins and the occasional goat.
Plage de Corz
Most of Ouessant’s coast carves inward like steep, rocky fjords. Plage de Corz, not far from the central town of Lampaul, makes for the best beach to visit, whether one hopes to walk, swim (be prepared for cold water) or to observe the passing boats.
Ty Korn Pub + Restaurant
From its curved exterior to the charming nautical flourishes within, Ty Korn isn’t an average pub or restaurant. As expected, seafood is the star of the menu, with mussels being a local specialty. Pair them with a cider from Brittany for the full experience.
A shopping hub for items proudly made in Ouessant, La Voilerie sells more than just souvenirs, as it focuses on local crafts, clothing and design items to cherish. A new destination on the island, it’s a quaint stop in the heart of Lampaul.
Another option for both dining and accommodation, Le Fromveur rises up in the center of Lampaul, right near La Voilerie. It’s a brasserie first and foremost, finding an ideal balance between the cuisine of Brittany and broader French cooking.
Yes, Île Molène is another island but its proximity to Ouessant, accessibility via ferry and the fact that it’s comprised of one, small picturesque town make it a must-see destination. While there, seek out a local sausage, which has likely been smoked with seaweed.
Hero image by David Graver