Situated on the Northwest coast of Brittany, the French town of Brest looks out on the vast Atlantic Ocean, which is why the city is so proud of its long, impressive maritime history. Brest’s role as a maritime town dates back over a thousand years, so this quaint town has some truly incredible history. Unfortunately, you won’t walk past dozens of ancient structures when you visit Brest, as much of the city was razed during World War II. Despite the fact that much of Brest has been rebuilt, the city still has plenty of charm, beautiful architecture and historic sights to delight visitors, which is why I made an impromptu decision to visit Brest this past spring.
During a recent trip to Paris, I realized that in all my travels to France, I had never been to the coast of Brittany. So I decided right then and there to head to Northwestern France to get a feel for the heart of this historic coastal town (and to get a taste of Brittany’s famed crepes). To make my spur-of-the-moment trip to Brittany possible, I used HotelTonight to book a great last-minute hotel in Brest. Within minutes, I had a fantastic hotel room waiting for me in the heart of the town, and I left the busy city and hopped on a train to Brest.
Since Brest is best known as a seaport town, I decided that the best way to kick off my stay in Brest would be to wander around the docks. Some locals pointed me toward the Quai Commandant-Malbert, where I walked past all types of boats, from schooners to tugboats. This is also one of the best places for a stroll if you love history, as it’s next to the castle of Brest, one of the only old structures in the city that is still intact. Here, I was able to imagine what Brest must have looked like hundreds of years ago, when it was a formidable seaside fortress with enormous city walls.
Unlike the south of France, Brittany’s coast is rugged and untouched, which gives it a certain poignant beauty. One of the best places in the city to see the rugged coastline of Brittany is at the Pointe du Petit Minou, a pretty point with an old lighthouse at the tip. I walked out to the very edge of the sea to admire the beauty of my surroundings, and I was amazed not only by the gorgeous views, but also by the surfers that were enjoying the waves. If you want to be swept away by the dramatic natural scenery of this coastline, you definitely won’t want to miss the chance to check out this point.
I’ve always believed that one of the best ways to discover a city is by walking, and I found that one of my favorite routes to walk in Brest was Cours d’Ajot. This long, tree-lined avenue provides extensive views of the coast and the city, and since it’s traffic free, it’s perfect for pedestrians. Along the way, I passed a number of historic monuments, which made my afternoon stroll somewhat of an educational tour rather than just a leisurely walk.
The city center of Brest is much different than many major European cities, as it’s much newer. Sadly, much of Brest’s charming old buildings and narrow streets had been demolished in WWII, so the town had to be almost entirely rebuilt. Despite the fact that it doesn’t have that old world charm that many European city centers have, Brest’s center is still full of life and energy, and there are a number of great places to shop, eat and enjoy a fun night out. I was glad that my hotel was centrally located in the heart of the city center, as I was able to easily walk everywhere I wanted to go.
The next day, I decided to visit the most westerly point in France, which meant that I had to hop on a ferry to Les Iles du Ponant or the Ponant islands. Once considered the “end of the world,” the islands of Ouessant and Molene are rugged and beautiful, and they boast a unique heritage. Visiting these islands was one of the highlights of my trip to Brittany, as these unique islands made me feel as if I had been transported back in time.
I didn’t know what to expect of Brest before visiting this seaport town, but I was able to get a great feel for the city in just a couple of days by traversing the city on foot and by asking locals for recommendations. And, of course, my spontaneous trip to Brest wouldn’t have been possible without HotelTonight, which let me book a last-minute hotel in Brest with no hassle and no worries–just how traveling should be.