The presqu’île de Crozon is the three-ended tongue of the Brittany monster (see previous post). It’s a world onto its own, diverse, remote. The locals say “En presqu’île” as if it was a country, or a continent.
It is a big promontory surging west into the Atlantic, protected from the worst wilds of the ocean by Pointe Saint-Mathieu to the North West, and Pointe du Raz to the South West. This double embrace is crucial to its existence, for, unusually for Brittany, its backbone is not granite, but sandstone (grès Armoricain) and shale (schiste). Armorique, a Gallic word, first attested in writing in Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars, is the old word for Brittany. It is always a wonder to me how the victors are the ones who salvage and transmit what will be left of a culture they destroy. The word has been recycled when the departement of Côtes-du-Nord was rebranded as Côtes d’Armor (22).
The presqu’île‘s cliffs surge high above the baie de Douarnenez to the South, the mer d’Iroise to the West, the rade of Brest (the word “harbour” doesn’t cover it) to the North and the estuary of the Aulne river to the North East. You are never far from a spectacular coast. The peninsula is also blocked off from the mainland by Menez-Hom, the highest mountain in Brittany, and the Montagnes Noires. It is an absolutely unique natural gem, one with many facets.
Crozon is the market town at the centre of the peninsula. On this Easter Saturday, the local producers’ market is fizzing. People are looking to a long weekend of food, family and festivities, and there is excitement and joy in the air. The third nation-wide lockdown, to start the week after, gives a sense of urgency to the fun, the last gasp before the dive.
The boulangerie-pâtisserie shop is overflowing with customers, who come out with armfuls of bread, chocolate, and strawberry cakes. The smell of fresh, warm crêpes makes everyone hungry. Several parents cave in to their children, then, in a change of heart, cave in themselves. As I pull down my face mask in front of all these strangers, in order to quickly swallow a warming sugar and lemon crêpe, I feel almost naked! How quickly we adapt.
There is a very long queue at the strawberry stand to buy the first of the famous strawberries from Plougastel (listen to my conversation with the seller here). Otherwise it is a typical breton market. People buy lamb meat, fish and seafood for the weekend’s feasts. There are also two vegetable stands with cauliflowers, onions, turnips, radishes, potatoes and leeks, fresh from the fields. A local goat cheese stand, where the lady in front of me tells the vendor her husband won’t eat anything but the peppered, fresh goat cheese since he tried it. I buy one myself; I agree with the husband, it is very delicately balanced. Delicious in a galette or on a baguette. There is a honey stand, a chicken and eggs stand, a boulangerie stand (in case you can’t face the crowd at the pâtisserie on the other side of the market place), and a Vietnamese caterer (traiteur), if you fancy a change.
But to experience what makes the Crozon peninsula unique, you have to leave the town. There are no buses, so many people hitch-hike (with a face mask). The interior of the peninsula is rather hilly. Strict regulations mean the area isn’t too built up. Entire hillsides are fluffy (moutonnent) with hawthorns in bloom. Willows add their pale green catkins in the bottom of valleys, gorse its dark green and yellow in the more exposed clifftops. The roads are steep and twisty. And as you reach the top of every hill and crest, a new sight of la mer d’Iroise awaits on the horizon. It shimmers and shines in every hue of blue, from turquoise to aquamarine, or slate-grey on an overcast day, or even almost white. You never know what it will be until you reach that hilltop.
But the Crozon peninsula is not cut off from the rest of the world…