I had always envisaged Brittany as being similar to Ireland in culture and in weather, but before visiting Carnac, I got advice from Breton native who pointed out to me that Carnac was in Southern Brittany. She was from Northern Brittany and she spoke of the south coast of here native land as if it was the very Cote d’Azur itself; painting a picture of a balmy part of the world where the sun shone in summer and where one would have no problem going for a swim.
Southern Brittany is that crucial few degrees warmer than Ireland and that partly explains why Carnac has been such a favourite destination of the Irish summer holiday seeker for quite some time. It’s also very accessible from Roscoff – the landing point for so many Irish tourists taking the Brittany Ferries route from Cork.You know you have arrived in Carnac because the unfailingly efficient French signposting system tells you so. Otherwise, you mightn’t be too sure. It’s one of those places that doesn’t seem to have a centre to it and which appears to be a series of tree-lined avenue after roundabout until you finally come across the long promenade and the sea.
That’s because there are two small Carnacs which have grown and spread over the years to create a slightly non-descript sort of build-up. Carnac-ville is the original settlement. It’s is a pretty, if somewhat unremarkable sort of place: a typical small Breton town with narrow streets and cut-stone buildings. The area around Place de l’Eglise offers most by way of traditional atmosphere.
Carnac-Plage is the one that really draws the crowds. It’s the long beach bit with everything geared towards the tourist, but tastefully developed all the same, as with most French coastal resorts.
Carnac has no fewer than five beaches to choose from and there many more little coves along the beautiful broken coastline here. Pretty much all the beaches are long and large with plenty of fine white sand and gentle slopes seawards that make them very safe bathing areas.
Between the beaches with all their ancillary amusements going on throughout the summer and the various amusement arcades on the main drag in front of the sea and in the streets behind, there is plenty to keep children occupied. Carnac also has a huge range of cheap places to eat out en famille. If you do want to bring the children further afield, there is even more choice, with adventure parks, horse-riding and other activities. Another good option is the Parc de Préhistoire, about an hour’s drive west past Vannes. It’s like Jurassic Park only the animals are all of the stationery and non-attacking kind. Pictures of the place don’t do it much justice, I think, and the fun factor in walking through a forest and then coming across a brontosaurus is difficult to express with mere photos.The other major feature of Carnac is its world-famous range of megalithic sites with their stones standing in neat alignments. The sites date from the Neolithic period (3,000 to 5,000 years BC) and the two principal sites (Ménec and Kermario) alone contain more than 3,000 standing stones between them.
Because you’re here, it’s worth going to check out the standing stones, but don’t get too excited: the more spectacular ones are saved for the tourist brochures and many of them are small stump-like protrusions. Also, a lot of them are fenced off so that you can’t get to walk around them as you might like to.
For my money, a far better way to spend a few hours is to take the short drive (or the regular TIM bus from in front of the Tourist Office on Carnac Plage) to Auray. Wander through their excellent market before strolling down to the estuary and across the mediaeval bridge to the completely charming twin settlement of St Goustan. Here, a collection of restaurants, trinket shops and cafés huddle picturesquely around a little cobblestone port. For a little break from the seaside, it’s the perfect accompaniment that will recharge the spirits.
Brittany Ferries (www.brittanyferries.ie) operate a weekly ferry service to Roscoff (a 2-hour drive to Carnac) while Aer Lingus (www.aerlingus.com) operate a weekly flight from Cork to Rennes during the summer.
There is a bewildering range of accommodation types all around Carnac Plage during the summer, for which the best point of contact is the Carnac Tourist Office (www.ot-carnac.fr). For camp sites, the large and well-endowed “La Métairie” is the pick of the crop. For further details, see www.keycamp.ie.