Sheltered from the Atlantic Ocean on a beautiful bay at the western tip of France, the city of Brest has one of the busiest ports in the country at its heart.
With its proximity to the British Isles, you’ll find this area of France is steeped in Celtic heritage when you travel here. Thus, accordions are shunned for bagpipes and locals prefer zesty ciders over fine wines. The region even has its own Celtic language, Breton, which is still spoken by nearly 200,000 people.
Brest was unfortunately decimated during the Battle of Brest during World War II. It has since been rebuilt and is now a sophisticated city that hosts some of the most theatrical sailing festivals in Europe.
The Thunders of Brest
Every four years, more than 2,000 traditional boats come from countries as far away as Madagascar and Mexico to take part in the event, which is attended by nearly 700,000 enthusiastic spectators.
The last one took place in 2016.
« There’s no other festival like this if you love classic boats, » said Adam Purser, who has sailed from England to Brest three times since 2000.
« Everywhere you look there are big ships and the atmosphere is fantastic. There is good food and music and you can race along a beautiful coastline. I wouldn’t miss it for anything in the world, » he said.
« The festival has something for everyone. It’s really becoming a universal exhibition of all types of boats, » said Chantal Guillerm in 2012, the festival’s communications director.
Those unable to make it to the main maritime festival of the summer can still enjoy the port of Brest every Thursday during the summer when it is transformed into a vibrant arts space, filled with street theatre, concerts, comedy and markets.
The musical offer is as eclectic as it is exciting, with a mix of folk, rock, French chanson, world music, jazz and classical throughout the summer.
In recent years, France has produced some of the best electronic groups in the world, and Brest Astropolis has played a vital role in the development of the music scene. Every summer for over 20 years, the city has hosted one of the country’s most anticipated electronic music festivals, Astropolis.
But there’s also plenty to do and see outside of the summer festival season, especially if sailing, seafood and marine life are on the agenda…
For years, Brest has been the European capital of oceanography. According to the University of Brest, more than 60 of France’s maritime researchers and engineers have made the city their home, so it’s perhaps no surprise that a giant marine pavilion has emerged there.
The site is much more than your average urban aquarium; it is an ocean discovery park of almost 10,000 square meters, with 50 individual aquariums housing more than 1,000 animal species.
Through three pavilions dedicated to polar, tropical and temperate marine ecosystems, Oceanopolis aims to immerse visitors in an underwater universe representing the flora and fauna of the oceans around the world.
A fourth pavilion houses temporary exhibitions on marine biodiversity. The current exhibit, titled “The Abyss,” is dedicated to the weird and wonderful creatures that lurk in the deepest part of our oceans.
Once the property of King Richard II of England, the impressive medieval fortress is the most important landmark of the city which, by sheer fortune, was spared from destruction during the bombardments of World War II.
Brest Castle and its ramparts offer stunning views of the city and inside the fortress hides the city branch of the Naval Museum of Paris, which traces 17 centuries of Brest’s long naval history.
Read also: Discover Brest Castle, a jewel of Brittany
Built on a huge block of granite, the Tanguy Tower is a tourist favourite, with its medieval turret offering views of the River Penfield which runs through the town.
The tower also houses the Brest Museum, where a series of huge dioramas take visitors on a photographic journey through the origins and development of the city, showcasing life in Brest before it was bombed.
Read also: The Tanguy Tower of Brest, the oldest monument in Brest