Georges Rouzeau - 2012-08-14
The Isle of Batz is like an enchanted garden rising from the water opposite Roscoff. Dunes, marshes, sand and pebble beaches, exotic gardens and cultivated fields all add up to a mosaic of authentic charm.
A restful island
Like an exotic colonial garden set on turquoise waters, the remarkably calm and restful Isle of Batz is an ideal holiday destination. Dunes and sandy paths, the coast – at times gentle, at times wild – and beaches of white sand are revealed as you walk about the island.
A few minutes from the mainland
Located opposite Roscoff in Brittany’s Finistère département, the Isle of Batz can be comfortably reached in just a quarter hour by boat. It’s a breeze - nothing like the crossing to the Ile d’Ouessant which can be sorely trying during rough weather. During high season, three companies run ferries to and from the island. Once you’ve settled on Batz, you might even offer yourself a day trip to Roscoff’s old stones in search of Tristan Corbière, Alexandre Dumas and its famed pink onion-peddling Onion Johnnies.
The island of diversity
This small, verdant gem offers a great diversity of landscapes over a very small area: in addition to the white sand dunes and beaches, there are shingle bars, cliffs and boggy wetlands. The exotic garden alone (Jardin Georges-Delasselle, see below) is worth the journey. Horses and tractors are common as the island is also actively devoted to agriculture. The way that land has been allotted – a system thought to have originated with the Celts - gives the island its unique physiognomy as a mosaic of interlocked fields planted with cauliflower, fennel, lettuce, carrots and (very tasty) potatoes.
An island with a soul
The Isle of Batz has retained the authentic island spirit of the fishermen and farmers who live here year ‘round. Far from the glamour and bling-bling airs attributed to certain islands that have been transformed into summer getaways, Batz has maintained its simple and rustic character. There’s nary a spa, hip nightclub, fish pedicure, leisure club or cinema to be found.
An island of simple pleasures
The simple pleasures that Isle of Batz is known for nourish the soul for months to come. Boat fishing and beach angling, sailing, rambling and bicycling are practised in an atmosphere that hints of both land and sea. On this island measuring 3.5 km by 1.5 km, the full 10 km tour takes around four to four and a half hours on foot.
An island of a hundred thousand flowers and ten thousand birds
Well, yes, the numbers are maybe slightly exaggerated, but flowers and other plants truly seem like a sort of second skin on this mild island embraced by the Gulf Stream.
Hydrangea, tamarix, agapanthus, agave, Pride of Madeira (something like a giant lupine), alyssum (whose small white flowers have colonised many a dry stone wall), climbing roses, kniphofias, thrift... An inventory à la RHS would hardly suffice. Each stroll gives you the impression that you’ve entered an impressionist painting – a scented painting at that.
Protected species include sea kale, which grows amongst beach pebbles and shifting dunes in the maritime mist; and sea holly, a blue-green perennial with tough, prickly leaves which also happens to be the Coastal Conservancy’s emblem. Soaring above are countless birds that use the island as a stopover or a home, such as herons, egrets, common terns, common shelduck, cormorants, Eurasian oystercatchers and ringed plover.
The Jardin Georges-Delaselle
In 1900, a Parisian insurance broker, misanthropic aesthete and amateur gardener who had fallen in love with the Île de Batz decided to create a colonial garden here. The colossal undertaking involved digging a gigantic basin to provide protection from the wind for the Southern Hemisphere plants, trees and shrubs he meant to grow. During excavation, Neolithic tombs were discovered; they adorn the garden yet today. He died in 1944; the property was sold in 1955; and the abandoned garden went to seed in 1962-63.
Purchased by the Conservatoire du Littoral (the French Coastal Conservancy Agency) in 1997, the Jardin has risen from its ashes. Today you can admire over 2,500 species from the five continents; two-thirds of them are natives of regions of the southern hemisphere with Mediterranean-type climates. There are plants from California, Chile, South Africa and New Zealand – the plant kingdom is incredibly inventive! Naturally, you may wander through the garden with no particular goal, but you can also follow the director for a marvellous guided tour of the four corners of the world in the space of one exceptional garden.
Pen ar Chastel
Madame Jeanine Créach
Tel: +33 (0)6 30 56 50 01; +33 (0)2 98 61 77 75
Located outside the village, L’Escale is a modern and comfortable home offering two bedrooms with baths. Alas, the soundproofing between rooms could be better.
Ti Va Zadou B&B
Mr. and Mme. Prigent
Tel: +33 (0)2 98 61 76 91
Very handsome period furniture embellishes the rooms of this highly recommended guest house. This is also where bicycles – the best way to discover the island – can be hired.
Chantal Cabioch B&B
Rue neuve LD Ker Ru Louet
Tel: +33 (0)6 23 07 48 73
Upstairs in a nicely decorated century-old house, two rooms with a view of the sea.
Crêperie du Phare
At the base of the lighthouse
Tel: +33 (0)2 98 61 75 93
A variety of crepes and buckwheat pancakes are served at this spruce establishment run by young islanders.
Crêperie La Cassonade
Tel: +33 (0)2 98 61 75 25
The island’s best eatery, especially recommended for its kig ha farz, a Breton dish whose name means ‘meat and pudding’. The chef uses vegetables provided by his father, a retired organic farmer, to concoct this sweet-and-savoury buckwheat dish.
Les Mystères de l'Ouest
On the wharf
Tel: +33 (0)6 14 46 61 75
An appealing selection of Breton products and sandwiches. Open non-stop daily from 10 a.m. to 6.30 p.m.
During high season, three ferry companies ensure crossings.