Solo trip to Belle-Île-en-Mer (France), originally published 27 July 2006

To get to Belle-Île-en-Mer from Paris, I departed from Montparnesse train station and spent about 4 hours in a comfy seat with air conditioning (this was TGV), on a train with a snack bar and plenty of leg room. When I transferred at Auray, I boarded an older, slower train and closed my eyes because the heat was somewhat overwhelming. When I opened them up after a half hour or so, everything looked beautiful and different.

When I got off the train in Quiberon (a small port town in Brittany), I heard bagpipes. Talk about atmosphere! I don’t know what the occasion was for, but there was a very happy family all hugging and kissing and obviously happy to see each other. I found the shuttle bus to the Port, got on a boat, and 45 minutes later I was on the island of Belle-Ile-en-Mer, in a town called, appropriately, Le Palais.

Just taking the trip was a little adventure for me, figuring out which step to take next and how to ask for tickets and the location of the shuttle bus and … well, it was all pretty easy but it’s the type of thing that I’m usually doing as part of a couple.  Once I was on the island, I was grateful I remembered the French word for youth hostel, because as I said in a previous post, there was almost nothing translated into English.

I followed the signs, checked in to the hostel (entirely in French, and successfully), and was excited to discover I had a private room for two days. There were two beds, but no one else joined me. It was a great deal. The hostel was really comfortable and really affordable.

I explored the island aimlessly that first night, first taking some time to grab a sandwich and have myself a little picnic. This was my view. Not bad.

The island was everything I could ever want. Beautiful, clean, empty beaches. Amazing restaurants and tiny cafes. Tons of dogs. Farms, cows, horses, mountains, but (seemingly) without the small-town mentality. People were dressed casually in shorts and teeshirts. You could hike the entire outer rim of the island, through the woods, stopping along beaches and rocky shores. I found part of the trail the first night and followed it for a while.

I didn’t pay attention as to where I was going at all, and just roamed around for a few hours with a bottle of water and my camera. I eventually ended up close to where I started, and headed back to the hostel just in time to order a beer before they closed up their bar. The island supplies so much local food and drink, including their own beer, soda, cheese, butter, carmel, etc. The beer was fantastic, so remember this if you ever go:

On Saturday, I was determined to ride a bike and find a beach. Renting a bike was easy, and it felt like such luxury to ride a nice, newish bike with working gears and brakes and adjusted to my height. There are no highways on the island, and the roads have signs for both cars and bikes. It is honestly a bikers paradise – you can go a while on flat land, but you also get great uphill and downhill rides, and it has been YEARS since I’ve just flown down a hill without worrying about traffic or lack of breaks or anything. However, it took me a while to find a beach because I kept getting distracted by all the amazing views.

Eventually, I found my beach. There weren’t too many people, there were no clothing rules, the water was perfectly clear, and there was no need to lock up a bike. Everyone just left them wherever, and it wasn’t a problem. That beach was my paradise. I can’t even begin to describe how amazing those 3 hours were.

I had to have the bike back by 7pm, so I eventually tore myself away from my paradise and rode back. I think I rode about 30 km or so, up and down hills, and maaaaaan did it make me miss riding. I mean, I ride a bike here in Paris but it’s just not the same. I miss riding for distance, having functional breaks, having control, switching gears, etc. Once I returned the bike I walked around a bit and decided fuck it, I’m taking myself out to a Nice Dinner. I went to a seaside place, ordered the 17 Euro menu (fish soup, fish of the day, fruit cocktail for dessert) and 2 kir bretons. It was wonderful, the communication was flawless, and I felt happy and relaxed when I was done. I took a walk around the old citadel and then headed back up to the hostel with a bottle of wine from the supermarket. I read and drank and watched a bunch of kids run around playing football and went to bed earlyish.

I woke up early on Sunday to check out of the hostel and went to the tabac for breakfast. It made me happy to know exactly what to expect when I simply ordered the petit-déjeuner. Bread, coffee, and juice. I took my time with breakfast, since it was 10:30am and I wasn’t trying to rush to get anywhere. The men at the next table ordered beer and then spread pâte on a baguette they bought from the bakery next door. At 10:30am. Yum.

I was a little bummed when I realized that I had to get the 2:30pm ferry, even though my train wasn’t until 5:30pm. But when I arrived back on the mainland, I realized we were dropped off at another beach! So I made sure that there was a shuttle bus to the train station running all day long, and then went straight for the sand. I got some more sun and noted the sheer amount of men in speedos.

I arrived at my train station in plenty of time and enjoyed the trip home immensely. Over the weekend, I finished 3 books, became addicted to Su Doku, and got to watch the sun set from a train, from the front yard of a farm, and over the sea. I really couldn’t have asked for a better weekend getaway, and I would go back to Belle-Île  again in a heartbeat. I enjoyed the freedom of traveling alone in a lot of ways. If I wanted to eat, I ate. If I wanted to pause and look at every single shop or sign or tree, I didn’t have to explain why I wasn’t keeping up. If I wanted to be lazy, I was lazy. I didn’t have to think out what I was going to do next. While all of those factors made me really appreciate my experience, I always wished in the back of my mind that my boyfriend was there too. However, it was good for me to remember that I can do all of this stuff on my own and have an amazing time with no problems. My next trip is in four days, and I can’t wait!

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