Belle Ile travel guide

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Visit Belle Ile (Brittany, France)

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Belle-Ile-en-Mer is the largest of the Brittany islands, and is found off the Morbihan coast opposite Quiberon.

Historically fishing and agriculture were the principal activities here on Belle-Ile, but tourism has now been popular here for more than 100 years since the island was discovered by such well known visitors as Claude Monet and tourism is now the principal activity for the island.

Exploring Belle-Ile-en-Mer

France This Way review: if you have good weather during your visit - the major challenge of organising a visit to Belle-Ile - the scenery, clear seas and lovely sandy beaches are really quite exceptional and you should allow at least two or three days to make the most of your visit to the island.

Surrounded by cliffs and beaches, the island is approximately 17 kilometres by 9 kilometres. It is a particularly attractive destination with some beautiful scenery and coastal views interspersed with pretty little towns and villages and port towns.

The coastal scenery on the west side of the island is more dramatic, but safe swimming is harder to find.

Coast of Belle-Ile-en-Mer

Principal towns

The two ports on the island - Le Palais and Sauzon - are on the north-east coast of Belle-Ile-en-Mer, slightly more protected from the ravages of the Atlantic Ocean than the south-west side, which is known as the Cote Sauvage ('wild coast').

After exploring the traditional port at Sauzon and the Vauban fortified citadelle and the defences at Le Palais, head south-east for the beach and town at Locmaria, which is one of the other two important settlements on the island, along with Bangor in the centre of Belle-Ile.

There are also more than 100 small villages and hamlets across the island which are typically small clusters of low whitewashed cottages.


Beaches on Belle-Ile-sur-Mer

The largest beach is found to the south-east corner of Belle-Ile-en-Mer at Plage des Grands Sables, with several smaller beaches along the north-east coast of the island. Although beaches can also be found along the cote sauvage to the south-west these are much less safe and great care should be used when entering the sea along this part of the island.

The beach at Donnant is the main one on the west side of the island, and the centre of activity for many visitors.

At the north-western point of Belle-Ile you can see the old lighthouse at Pointe des Poulains, and also a fort that was owned and renovated by Sarah Bernhardt (a very famous 19th century French actress).

Outdoor highlights and leisure activities

If you have the time to stay a while, there is a coastal path that runs all the way around the island - the whole walk takes about a week to complete but even if your time is limited you should follow a part of the walk along the the Cote Sauvage.

Alternatively there are several bike hire shops on the island and various suggested bike routes to follow: this is one of the best ways to explore Belle-Ile and very recommended.

Port Donnant, on the south-west coast, is a particular highlight, as is Port-Goulphar a little further to the south-east - both are in spectacular locations, with the coast of cliffs and rocks providing lovely coastal views across the turquoise seas.

harbour at Le Palais

The 'aiguilles' (rock needles) of Port-Coton, near the lighthouse, are also very picturesque and Monet painted them many times. They are the most photographed highlight on Belle-Ile and an unmissable highlight of your visit!

When you visit you will also be amazed by the varied plants on Belle-Ile. The island has a protected microclimate that actually enables mediterranean plants to grow very well, and Belle-Ile is significantly warmer than nearby mainland France.

Although the natural environment and the beaches are the principal attraction on Belle-Ile, the size of the island has allowed a substantial tourist infrastructure to develop and you will find many facilities such as a golf course, horse-riding, surfing and diving and sailing schools here as well as a good selection of hotels.

Note: French visitors will recognise Belle-Ile as being the location for 'Dolmen' - a major television production in 2005.

How to reach Belle-Ile-en-Mer

The island is reached by ferry from Quiberon which is a 45 minute boat trip away: there are about 10 trips a day between the mainland and the island in the summer, less outside high season.

On Belle-Ile, ferries arrive at Le Palais, a town on the east coast of the island where you will find all facilities such as hotels and bike hire. You should reserve your ferry in advance, especially if you are bringing a car with you.

See more islands of France. You can find more travel ideas in the Morbihan guide and the Brittany guide.

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Apart from the town itself, the main attraction here is the scenery and beaches along the coast of the Quiberon peninsula

Quiberon guide
Ile de Houat

Ile de Houat

We particularly recommend you walk the coast path around the small island of Ile-de-Houat

Ile de Houat guide
Carnac Plage

Carnac Plage

Sooner or later you might fatigue of the thousands of prehistoric monuments in head for the small resort and beach at Carnac Plage!

Carnac Plage guide


Carnac is famius worldwide because of the extensive number of prehistoric standing stones and dolmens nearby

Carnac guide
La Trinite sur Mer

La Trinite sur Mer

The quiet harbour town of La Trinité-sur-Mer is where you can discover a traditional Brittany harbour before tourism took hold...

La Trinite sur Mer guide
Port Navalo

Port Navalo

Port Navalo is a small traditional and unspoiled port near Arzon

Port Navalo guide

... or see ALL recommended places to visit in Morbihan

Address: Belle Ile, Brittany, France || GPS coordinates: latitude 47.333, longitude -3.183

Plan your visit to Belle Ile, Morbihan

Sightseeing & tourist attractions to visit nearby

  • Presqu'île de Quiberon: site of natural beauty (19 km)
  • Carnac: most beautiful village (29 km)
  • Megalithic site of Carnac: national monument (29 km)
  • Phare de Port-Navalo: site of natural beauty (31 km)
  • Saint-Philibert (Morbihan): site of natural beauty (32 km)
  • Megaliths of Locmariaquer: national monument (32 km)
  • Étang de Toulvern: site of natural beauty (35 km)
  • Presqu'île de Rhuys: site of natural beauty (37 km)
  • Golfe du Morbihan: site of natural beauty (41 km)
  • Massif Dunaire de Gavres-Quiberon: grand site of france (42 km)
  • Source - Vincin (Rivière de Conleau): site of natural beauty (43 km)
  • Maison rose (Séné): site of natural beauty (44 km)

The French version of this page is at Belle Ile (Francais)