In my previous post, M1623 – Green Venice, I described my visit to La Pallice, the commercial port of La Rochelle, and my boat trip around the beautiful tree-lined canals of the Marais Poitevin from there.
Overnight we continued to sail north up the French Atlantic coast, and early the next morning we docked at our sixth and final port on this cruise, Lorient. This port is unfortunately most known as being the location of one of the U-boat submarine bases in occupied France, and Admiral Dönitz the supreme commander of the U-boat Arm and his staff occupied a villa nearby. Despite the Allies pouring some 4,000 tons of bombs onto the city, nearly razing it to the ground, the huge submarine pens remain to this day as a stark reminder of a dark time in European history. As a result of this bombing the city has almost entirely been rebuilt since the war, and it therefore does not feature the historic buildings of say Rouen or Bordeaux to view.
The ship’s tour I had chosen in this final port was a simple coach tour along the coastline accompanying my elderly friend. Our local guide on this tour was the same gentleman we had on the tour from Montoir-de-Bretagne, and who I gather had also done tours from some of our other ports such as Rouen. He joked that he lived and slept in his car between giving these tours. I found him a very good guide, giving interesting information and knowing the right amount to say. Some guides feel they need to speak continuously which can be very tiring, whereas pauses between periods of information give time for it digested.
Leaving the port we drove first to Lamor-plage, where we had a short amount of free time to admire the views across the bay to Lorient, and see some fine houses overlooking a busy marina:
We then drove on, aiming to view and visit several places along the coast between there and Guidel-plage before returning to Lorient and our ship. However at first we struggled, as recent changes in regulations meant it was no longer possible to access the coast in the coach, and I was beginning to think this was going to be a coastal tour that didn’t visit the coast! However some sterling work by the driver of the coach got us back on track, and we were able to stop for another short free time in Lomener, where an old customs tower caught my eye:
From there we were able to drive along the coast itself, and our guide pointed out the huge concrete blocks that originally formed part of the vast Atlantic Wall from the second world war, which were finally beginning to break up under the relentless pounding of the Atlantic seas and weather:
Our next stop was at Fort Bloqué, from where we could see Fort de Keragan across the water. Here it was suggested we visit a biscuit shop, which made and sold it’s own fare as well as selling a range of other gifts and souvenirs. Entering the shop the biscuits smelled lovely, and small samples were laid out to try, so I had to be strong to resist temptation!
We then passed a series of lovely looking sandy bays and beaches before arriving in Guidel-plage:
At Guidel-plage we had around half an hour of free time to view and explore the lovely coastline there, or for the caffeine addicts there was the chance to get a fix of a cup of coffee in a small café there, although I gather the girl serving was somewhat overwhelmed when two coach-loads of people arriving at once wanting be served!
I was far more concerned with the pretty estuary coming down to the marina and long sandy beach looking across to Saint-julien:
I would happily have stayed longer and walked further along the beach, but all too soon it was time to return to the coach for the drive back to the city. We returned on a more inland route, taking the effort to cross a bridge over La Laïta river in each direction, which slightly baffled me as the views from the bridge were not that remarkable. We did however pass some roundabouts that triggered my love of the quirky:
On reaching Lorient we did have a short drive through the city, the local guide explaining how the bombing in the war had meant that was so little of historic interest to see. We did drive close to some of the U-boat pens, where a French submarine was resting outside:
Nearby a familiar vehicle had a new use in a new country:
We then returned to our ship for lunch. I had enjoyed the tour and the chance to see the attractive Brittany coastline, which perhaps not unsurprisingly reminded me at times of Guernsey or of Cornwall. I had originally thought about going into the city on the shuttle bus in the afternoon, but hearing there is so little to see of historic interest I decided to remain on board ship and enjoy the views of the bay from it’s deck.
At 5pm we sadly set sail for Southampton, and predictably I was up on to top deck to watch us sail out. As we did so a group of local musicians and dancers were performing once again on the quayside:
We had a close view of the U-boat pens as we passed, and the ship’s hooter kept sounding out warning blasts to the many small craft sailing around us, despite the pilot boat leading us out:
I had noticed an unmarked plane circling the bay, sometimes right over our ship, but my attention was elsewhere photographing a couple of windsurfers far offshore when a cry from my fellow passengers redirected my attention back to the plane. A group of parachutists had jumped from the plane, and were drifting down towards the open sea. Zooming in with my camera I could see some small boats waiting to pick them up, and a short while later another batch of parachutists were also dropped. I assumed they were from the Commando Marine, the French special forces equivalent of the SBS which have their base near to Lorient:
It made for an unexpected and dramatic end to what had been a lovely last day in France towards the end of our cruise. There was just one sea day, a rare commodity on this cruise, to enjoy before we returned to the UK.