Georges Rouzeau - 2009-06-08
L’Île Vierge - the Virgin Island - belongs to the archipelago of the Îles de Lilia located in the Aber Wrac’h area north of the Finistère département. Our visit was inspired by the promise of a truly exceptional lighthouse. We arrived on the island after a boat ride of a few minutes from the tip of Castel Arc’h on Lilia. The tallest lighthouse in Europe, and purportedly the tallest cut stone lighthouse in the world, it is one of the four in France which are still inhabited.
The keeper who looks after this architectural gem is Jean-Philippe Rocher from the Île de Molène. He sleeps in the old lighthouse (built between 1842 and 1845), a square tower set in a rectangular two-storey keeper’s house. The new lighthouse, built between 1897 and 1902, is a giant stretching 82.5 metres high comprised of two superimposed towers, one straight, the other conical, which meet at the top. The twelve alternating windows on either side serve to reinforce the structure.
The interior of the lighthouse is covered with several thousand opaline sheets polished by French glass manufacturer St. Gobain; opaline is so smooth that nothing clings to it - not even dust. Climbing the helicoidal staircase’s 397 steps is an arduous, dizzying adventure. One storey below the top is the wood-panelled watch where the lighthouse keeper would sleep, waking to fuel the light with twenty litres of petrol per night. In 1956, electrification sent the guardian back to his bed.
One last passage and you will have reached the focal plane area, where the optical apparatus lies on a bath of liquid mercury. Every five seconds, the lighthouse produces a white flash which can be seen as far away as 28 nautical miles, or 52 kilometres. At the top, on the narrow walkway where a ‘light’ breeze of 50 km/h is blowing, a superb panoramic view encompasses the aber, an immense turquoise-coloured fjord dotted with reefs which appear at the water’s surface amidst the white, churning sea foam.
Tickets may be purchased at the Comptoir des Abers shop
Phone for information: 02 98 04 74 94
On 23-24 July, 21-22 August and 19-20 September, low tides make it possible to reach the
Île Vierge on foot, spend the day there (pack a picnic) and return to the mainland by ferry later in the day.
Pays des Abers / Côte des Légendes
Espace Kermaria - BP 18
29260 Le Folgoët
Tel: 02 98 89 78 44