Ploudalmézeau in Brittany

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Ploudalmézeau in Brittany
Ploudalmézeau is a rather weird name for a very ordinary Breton town. “Ploudalmézeau” derives from the Breton Gwitalmézé, roughly “the parish before the plain:” plou: parish; dal, in front of;, mezon, plain or countryside. That “Plou” means parish is the explanation for the seemingly hundreds of “Plou . . .” place names in Brittany, though not as common as the “Ker . . .” names for houses –ker is the Breton word for house or home, so Kerjean translates to John’s place.   Ploudalmézeau’s place in front of the plain, or the countryside, makes sense when you approach from the sea: standing atop a rise in the ground, the church spire is a distinctive landmark. It also has the distinction of being the last gothic-style steeple built in France, in 1776. When we return from our frequent trips away, that spire tells us that we are truly home. Today, though, the skyline is dominated by the Château d’eau, the water tower, a kilometre or so outside the town, but the stark form of the water tower does not have the same romance as our steeple. Indeed, the best view to be had of the area is the only one that excludes the water tower – from the windows of the crêperie at the top of the tower. From here you can see the plains inland – rich farming country; the English Channel to the North and the Atlantic to the West – the coastlines that define this country. The coastline is as rich and varied as you could wish. To the north-east you can just see the tall lighthouse of L’Ile Vièrge, then the inlet of the Aber Benoît, a sailor’s haven. Along the northern coastline are miles of clean yellow sand, the beaches of Trois Moutons (three sheep – we think from the little rocky islands just offshore). Trois Moutons is the home of the kite surfers – most days of the year you can see the coloured arcs of their kites moving above the dunes. Then comes the rocky outcrop of the Serpent and our favourite beach at Treompan – a sheltered sandy cove a kilometre or more long with maybe a few walkers, a fisherman out for sea bass and a couple of horses and riders to disturb the stillness. Not far beyond Treompan you turn the corner towards the Atlantic Coast and reach the Portsall, a working fishing port. The coastline turns rocky and you are on the Côte Sauvage – the savage coast — where the big Atlantic rollers crash on the rocky cliffs. The views are spectacular; the sea air takes away the cobwebs in seconds. With the occasional sandy beach or fishing harbour the Côte Sauvage runs south to Lanildut, the mouth of the Aber Ildut and the end of our little corner of Brittany, over the hill and out of sight of our view from the water tower. The three Abers Benoît, Ildut and, further east, the Aber Wrac’h are unique, at least in France: they are glacial inlets — related perhaps to the fjords of Norway in origin if not in scale. They are each sheltered tidal inlets, the home to fishermen, oysters, yachts and wildlife. I love to drive our visitors back from the airport in Brest along the Route Touristique and stop at a viewpoint high over the Aber Benoît where you can look down at the still water surrounded by dense green woods inviting long summer walks along the waterside paths. Sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, wooded inlets, rolling fields, fishing ports and all within a few kilometres of our door here. Who’d want that? Bob Janes and his wife Jane Revell divide their time between rural Brittany and urban London – a tough choice. Bob is an occasional organisational consultant and coach and an avowed internet tekkie. He enjoys having choices about his life after 25 years in international business, working in finance, strategy and change management. Jane is a writer, teacher and trainer in personal development and English as a Foreign Language. More at www.bobjanes.com and www.janerevell.com
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