Brest is an old military port in Brittany so, as you might expect, many of the sights and attractions have to do with the sea, such as the working harbour. But the centrepiece of Brest remains its castle. With over 1,700 years of history, it appears remarkably intact and is the oldest castle still in use today. This is because the fortress has been continually rebuilt over the years to defend the area against attack from land and sea. The Château de Brest was one of the few structures in Brest still standing following the World War II and is the first of a series of military buildings and structures that line the River Penfield. Within the Château, you’ll find the Musée de la Marine de Brest, packed with artefacts and paraphernalia relating the history and naval tradition of the port.
An arsenal of sights
The Tour Tanguy faces the chateau. Built originally during medieval times, the tower now houses the Museum of Old Brest, which contains many images of the town as it was before the outbreak of the World War II. Admission is free. Like most of central Brest, the main street, rue de Siam, was largely reconstructed after the war. It ends at Recouvrance Bridge, an imposing vertical lift bridge spanning the river that was built to replace the swing bridge destroyed by Allied bombardment at the end of World War II.
For the kids
Staying with the marine theme, Océanopolis
is more than just an aquarium. With a sea-lion show, penguins, and a host of exhibitions, it will keep the kids entertained for hours. The Conservatoire Botanique Nationale de Brest
is another ecological attraction, located at 53 Allée du Bot. Reclaimed from a rubbish dump, the gardens here contain many endangered plant species from around the world.
Much of Brest’s old architecture has been rebuilt, including the Saint Louis Church, an old landmark reconstructed in a Modernist style after World War II. Unfortunately, it has lost a lot of its original charm in the process. Of more interest is the Saint Sauveur Church in Recouvrance. Designed in the Art Deco style, the central rail station is worth a visit.
A place of peace
In a place that suffered so much as a result of conflict, the Place de la Liberté, with its war memorial is an elegant and tranquil place for quiet contemplation. Stand in the centre and you can see the spire of the Church of Saint Louis in town. At the end of September, when the town is pedestrianised for the Saint Michel fair, children congregate here selling bric-a-brac. A Tall Ships event
is held every four years to celebrate the town’s military history. Visit in November and you can take in the local film festival.
If you hire a car, you’ll discover much to explore outside the confines of Brest. Porspoder has a fine beach, which makes for a great day out during fine weather, and the area is littered with quaint old lighthouses to visit.