Perched on the edge of Brittany
Jutting out into the Atlantic, Brest is France’s western-most city (in fact, about as far west as Cornwall and with much in common). Steeped in maritime history, it’s no surprise that visitors flock here for fabulous seafood and beautifully light crepes, all washed down with a jug or three of local Breton cider. Sante!
The classic, stripy T-shirt Bretagne look is permanently on trend in Brest. Slow (4 rue Ducouedic) has the best line in sailor style, with a fabulous ethically sourced range of clothing and jewellery. The mainstream stores are concentrated in Coat Ar Gueven Shopping Centre (50 rue Jean Jaurès), but for a true taste of Brittany pop into Le Roi de Bretagne (12 quai de la Douane). This maritime gem stocks everything from local textiles to hampers and handmade figurines, and it’s the perfect place to pick up a souvenir. Sweet-toothed visitors should check out Histoire de Chocolat (60 rue de Siam), which specialises in original flavour combinations.
Food & Drink
If you only eat one dish in Brest then make it a Breton crêpe. This regional speciality seems to be sold on every street corner, but nowhere does it better than Crêperie du Roi Gradlon (19 rue Fautras). The region’s other major specialities are seafood and apple cider. Find the former cooked to perfection at La Maison de l’Océan (2 quai de la Douane), an art deco institution with a commendable ‘pile it high’ approach to food. Alternatively, splash out with a meal at Michelin-starred L’Armen (21 rue de Lyon) – head chef and owner Yvon Morvan is known for his creative and seriously tasty seafood dishes.
Brittany’s premier techno festival has been going since the 1990s and is billed as one of the first raves to go legal. It runs for four days each July in venues across Brest.
Tonnerres de Brest
This large-scale maritime celebration only takes place every four years, but it’s undoubtedly the biggest and best festival that the town has to offer. The sight of more than 1,500 boats from all corners of the globe filling Brest’s harbour is unforgettable.
Les Jeudis du Port
‘Thursdays at the Harbour’ have become a summer institution in Brest. Featuring everything from classical music and street theatre to children’s fairs, this is one of the town’s most diverse festive celebrations.
Atlantique Jazz Festival
This region-wide jazz festival consists of more than 30 concerts across Brittany, with Brest hosting the popular grand finale. It culminates in five days of concerts, featuring artists from all over the world.
Brest European Short Film Festival
This arts festival has been at the forefront of the European short film scene since the 1980s. Its aim is to spot and foster up-and-coming young filmmakers, so expect to see creative edits from the stars of tomorrow.
Brest is a busy, working port town, and accommodation consequently ranges from über lavish to businesslike and basic. The best hotels in and around the centre are upmarket modern chains, such as Hôtel Oceania Brest (82 rue de Siam), with its famous seafood restaurant, and the art deco Hôtel Le Continental (Square de la Tour d'Auvergne). A little out of town, the Old Salt House (4 quai Amiral Douguet, Châteaulin) is a 19th-century country house hotel with oodles of French charm and a captivating river view. For equally beautiful views on a tighter budget, Hotel de la Rade (6 rue de Siam) in central Brest offers comfortable rooms that overlook the sea.