Situated at the mouth of the Pouldavid estuary and on the southern shore of Baie de Douarnenez, one of most beautiful bays in the world, that faces directly westwards into the Atlantic from the west coast of Breizh. Four localities, Douarnenez, Ploaré, Pouldavid and Tréboul, have merged to form the Commune of Douarnenez. Over the years the city has been immortalised on canvas by Renoir and Boudin. The meaning of the name, translated from Breton is “The Land of The Island”.
Today, it is a city with four harbours; Rhu - Port Museé (You must visit the fabulous maritime museum
that contains many original sailing fishing boats), Tréboul for pleasure craft, the modern port (lobster fishing) and Rosmeur (coastal fishing) where the open-air fish market opens at 6.30 each
morning. This latter port has some amazing little streets that have changed little from a century or more ago and the views of the bay are simply divine.
It was once the capital of the French sardine industry and the first city in France to have elected a Communist mayor, Sebastien Velly (1878-1924) in 1921, then in 1925, against the law (at that time women did not have the vote), a woman, Joséphine Pencalet (1886-1972), heroin of the strike of the sardinières in 1924 was elected onto the local council. During the German occupation in the Second World War, local fishermen sailed their boats back and forth to England to help the resistance.
With the advent of new technologies the canning industry is now the main contributor to the local economy as the fishing fleetshave decreased by about two-thirds in the past twenty years. At the beginning of the 20th century there was around 5,000 fishermen, today that number has dwindled to around 200. However the canning industry is still working at full capacity thanks to imported fish. Weel-known trade marks being Paulet (“Small Ship"),Chancerelle ("Constable") and Gourlaouen ("Arok"). Another major export is jams and sauces!!
This is a vibrant and exciting city, often a talking point in the history of Brittany. It’s a port, but not one with the sleepy beauty of its neighbours. The inhabitants, however, are wonderful people, very independent and welcoming.
Facts and Legends
As has been said many times this is a land of crosses and stones. Since the dawn of time, and the double-side stone axes of Moustérien and Kervouster, to the polished axes of Kerfinidan, you can see traces of how the ancient peoples controlled the environment.
At Poullan sur Mer (from Breton " the ploe " (parish) and from " lann " (devoted place) there are many interesting relics from prehistoric times, tumuli and steles (age of bronze and iron); the shady walk of Lesconil (Neolithic time), still called seems it "Ty-rear-Boudiged" (house of the Fairies); the menhir (Neolithic time), located close to the chapel Notre-Dame-de-Kérinec; and a dolmen (Neolithic times).
The barred spurs of the Gallic oppidum of Kastel-Coz (Breton – Old Castle) and Castel Meur, a tiny residence built at a time when permission to build did not exist and where one could build in one’s own way using one’s imagination. All this evokes the insecurity of earlier times.
Some of the ancient quotations of Leones are reproduced on the chart of the Arab geographer Idrisi (1100-1186), it remains, in Plomarc'h, together with the last remaining vestiges of the Gallo-Roman factory of garum, spiced condiment of fish.
The strange city of Ys, at the bottom of the bay, so the story goes, is a drowned city, the daughter of King Gradlon having taken the devil inside its walls. Gradlon managed to escape, sacrificing his daughter to the angry sea. He went on to found the new capital of Quimper. Legend has it that you can hear to drowned church bell during heavy storms…
Inland is one of the prettiest villages in Breizh, Locronan, founded by St Cronan, an Irish Bishop who arrived on these shores in a stone boat, and the setting of Roman Polanski's "Tess of the d'Ubervilles" with its remarkable medieval houses surrounding the priory church of St Ronan.
A Tumultuous Past
Douarnenistes like their reputation of turbulence and bold audacity, which seems to meld with their history. During the crusade, with the baron Juch à Damiette, in 1249, and again in 1640 when they drove out the preacher Michel Le Nobletz. Red Bonnets revolted in 1675, then there was the sans-culottes in 1792, and the capture of Tileries by Sergeant Antoine Laplanche and the fusilier François Tutor. Then there was Jean-Marie Breaking (1817-1872) and Eugene Béléguic (1809-1878). On the 18th June 1940, they were the first to join General de Gaulle, on wood boats, which will find their place, much later, in a Museum with flood inaugurated in 1992, with the Port-Rhu, the festivals of the Maritime Inheritance launched by the review "Drives out Tide". Since 1978, the city accommodated a cinematographic festival dedicated to the minorities of the whole world. Douarnenez attracts mariners, painters and poets, such as George Perros (1923-1978). Who enjoy the magic of the place and the sounds of the local dialect, that earthy Breton language!! Douarnenistes are a passionate people who love to share their festive heart, as each year the insane environment of the Shrove Tuesday recalls. And their currency remains: "Dalc' H Mad! ", Hold Good!
A Guide to the charms of Douarnenez
The Isle of Tristan is located a few cables' length away from the Pointe du Guet in Douarnenez was formerly named Saint-Tutuarn Island after the priory founded there in 1118. Now it is named after Tristan, lover of Isolda, from the medieval story. This little jewel of local history and nature is part of the common national heritage and was acquired as such in 1995 by the Conservatoire du Littoral. Guided tours are now organised on the island.
As has said earlier, it is possible that a valiant Knight of the Round Table gives his name to this island that stands close to the
shore: it is, a local legend suggests that he dies of his love for Isolda the Blonde. Tristan Island, the island of devoted love, however sheltered a dreadful brigand of the Wars of the League, Place
de la Grève à Paris: Sire Guy Eder of Fontenelle (1575-1602). Another legend is that King Marc’h was residing in Douarnenez and gave the island to his nephew, Tristan.
You will thus be able to explore the island where the Baron de la Fontenelle, a famous and ignoble leaguer from the 16th century buried his treasure. This island, laden with history and legends, reveals itself little by little as you advance, by showing its magical exotic garden, by the diversity of its former activities, its wild and preserved nature, its unrestricted and unforgettable views of the bay of Douarnenez. You will be dumbfounded by so many hidden wonders on an island only 300 meters from the Douarnenez coast.
The Boat Museum
One of the largest collections in Europe, on the premises of a former fish canning factory, 120 boats representing different maritime traditions and cultures from all over the world. Moreover, approximately twenty boats are moored in the former local harbour of Port Rhu that was restored, using 19th century techniques, with stone built quays and wooden landing piers. They are the survivors of a craft, a fishing technique, a bygone time, a region. You can go on board a hundred year old Norwegian galleass, a Douarnenez lobster boat, a Welsh coracle, an Irish Curragh or even a barge from the Thames.
The Beaches and Sea Activities
Douarnenez looks out onto a wide bay, safe for bathers and easily accessible to boats. Numerous fine sand beaches (supervised) make all nautical activities possible, beginners or advanced sailing courses, hiring of boats, kayaks, sailing dinghies or sailboards. All these activities are organised by different structures such as: the Sailing Centre, children's clubs, the Point Passion Plage, and numerous associations and professionals.
Old parts of the town and the Festivals
The people from Douarnenez know how to organise a festival and take part in it. Several events are indeed organised:
- Cinema festival
- Gulls festival
- International folk festival
- Breton games festival
- Shows and music in the street, “les Arts dinent à l'huile”
- The marine Santa Claus
- The Carnival