La côte d’Emeraude, the “coast of Emerald”, is between Cap Fréhel and Saint Malo, on the North-Eastern coast of Brittany.
This part of Brittany is less typical, less of a picture-perfect postcard than many of the places I have visited so far. The local stone is pink sandstone, not granite. The local dialect was Gallo, a dialect of French, not Breton. The local costume, less striking that the coiffe bigoudenne perhaps, has well and truly disappeared. Its relative proximity with Paris, however, means it was developed throughout the twentieth century for tourism.
But this is where my family is from; where I went on holiday as a child. I used to play on those long and wide golden beaches, where the sea retreats so far it looked out of the reach of my little legs.
I would build sandcastles, sand pyramids and temples too. I would play à la marelle: drawing the grid on the wet sand, throwing a pebble on one of the boxes, and hopping, on one foot, one foot, two feet, and around once I had reach “heaven”, the top of the grid. I would play freezbie, and beach tennis; I was hopeless. My father used to blow up inflatable balls and toys; I remember a particularly big – and breath-challenging – crocodile.
It is in this cool, clear, emerald sea that I have learned to swim in the sea, to dive, to do hand stands in the water, to roll in the waves. This was so much fun in summer, that we would extend the sea bathing season from Easter to October. One Easter we were swimming in the – bracing – sea, when a hailstorm started. We had to stay in the water much longer than we had planned, swimming like madmen to keep warm.
This is also where I have learned to harness the wind, with kites at first, then sailing catamarans. It is atop the local cliffs that I have first walked on the sentier des douaniers, the section between the Cap Fréhel and fort La Latte being a family favourite.
There are two lighthouses on Cap Fréhel: the 1702 round tour à feu, now falling to ruins, and a 1950s square one, one of the most powerful in France, its ray reaching 120km by good weather. The promontory is an important site for birds on migration, and its imposing 70m-high cliffs has important seabird colonies in spring and summer. The sea here is a deep blue; it only turns turquoise and green towards the beaches.
As I visit at the beginning of May, the numbers of seagulls, cormorants, razorbills and petrels are still building on La Fauconnière, the stack of rocks just off the promontory. No falcon’s nest, but peregrines regularly fly past, scaring the rock doves. Gannets fly past too, far at sea; the black tip of their long wings is unmistakable. In French, they are called fous de Bassan, for the way they dive looks like folly: suddenly, head-first and at full speed.
A beautiful hour’s walk away, along the anse des Sévignés, I reach the fort La Latte. Built in the 14th century as a family stronghold, improved in the 17th to defend the coast from the marauding English pirates, it is simply the most scenic castle I know. Many film directors agree with me. And if you climb atop its walls, the view stretches from Cap Fréhel to Saint-Malo.
I know I must be biased, but there is nowhere else like here. Nulle part ailleurs.