Lorient, Brittany

Wendy Mewes a has this  overview of the cycle-friendly city of Lorient in Brittany, gateway to the cycle paths on Ile de Groix.

The harbour is central to life in Lorient. Photo: Cabruta08

Lorient's historic harbour. Photo: Cabruta08

Lorient was founded in 1666 as a centre for naval construction and as a base for the Compagnie des Indes, the French equivalent of the East Indies Company. The Quai des Indes retains a hint of former  glory in a few rich merchants’ houses. A museum at nearby Port Louis charts the history of this elaborate trading company which dominated the French luxury goods trade in the 18th century.

Lorient has also been an important military/naval centre and one of the biggest fishing ports in France. You can still watch the early morning criée (auction) when the boats come in at the Port de Pêche. The vast and rather grim Port de Commerce reflects the continuing importance of commercial traffic.

As a major German submarine base in WWII, Lorient was very heavily bombed by the Allies, and the city today is essentially a post-war creation. There is not a lot to see in the centre away from the water, but there's plenty of action in the pleasure port around the Quai de Rohan and Quai des Indes, where expensive yachts flock and bars are lively. You can visit La Thalassa, a former oceanic research ship, now with exhibitions on the way science has enhanced our knowledge of the sea. This area houses the tourist office and is also at the heart of the iconic Festival Interceltique which showcases a different nation from the Celtic countries (Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Isle of Man, Cornwall, Brittany, Galicia, Asturia) each year (usually August) in music, song and dance.

Also famous as a sailing base and stage on many major competitions, Lorient is appropriately the site of the Cité de la voile Eric Tarbarly, named after the famous sailor from Nantes who died at sea in 1998. This attraction, based in the old submarine basin, charts the history and actuality of the sailing world in a state-of-the-art presentation, drawing many thousands of visitors each year. It is also possible to visit the submarine pens at certain times, together with a museum onboard the submarine Flore.

Around Lorient

Visit nearby Port Louis to see one of the forts that protected Lorient. It now houses the Musée de la Compagnie des Indes. Within easy reach is pretty Pont Scorff with its many craft workshops around the Cour des Metiers. There is a branch of the National Stud for horse-lovers at Hennebont, another attractive and historical place with medieval ramparts to explore and a tower museum. For an exciting day’s outing, the beautiful Ile de Groix is a just 45-minute boat ride from Lorient.

Cycling in Lorient

Lorient is a fairly cycle-friendly town on a grid-plan layout, with around 60 miles of bike paths running through the town and its suburbs. There is a hire scheme for locals via the transport programme. But to get out of the town you do have to be prepared for main roads and industrial zones. Remember that most of the coastal path (GR34) is not open to cyclists. The Forêt de Carnoët around the Laïta estuary on the border with Finistere just to the west has many cycling tracks and can include a visit to the idyllically located Abbaye St-Maurice. Another option is to take a boat to the Ile de Groix and follow many cycle routes on the island, where bikes are for hire at the port.

For bike hire in Lorient and on Ill de Groix, see our bike rental listings for Brittany.

Getting to Lorient

Lorient is just off the N165 motorway that runs across the south of Brittany. From the ferry port at Roscoff, there’s a fairly direct drive south of 118km via Morlaix and the D769. From St-Malo, allow 2.5 hours for the 148km route. Nantes is 148km away with a direct motorway link. See our ferries to France section for more information and links. Trains via Rennes and Nantes stop at Lorient – see voyages-sncf.com train times and ticket prices. See also our information on taking bikes on French trains. See also our getting to France section.

Accommodation and food

Lorient has a good range of hotels. The Inter-Hotel Cleria has a dedicated bike garage and a peaceful courtyard for relaxing in after a day on the bike. The Victor Hugo is worth a try for a good location and standard facilities. For a real budget deal, the Hotel d’Arvor is in easy range of the pleasure port. Booking.com lists plenty of other options too.

There’s no shortage of places to eat around the pleasure port too, with fresh fish top choice on the menu. Le Neptune (15 ave de la Perrière) and Le Grenadin (7 rue Paul Guiysse) are both good-value, reliable options, or try Le Jardin Gourmand (46 rue Jules Simon) for seasonal, traditionally innovative cooking. 

Books, maps and tourist information

See Wendy's Footprint guide to Brittany (UK, US) for a thorough overview of the region. The IGN site has a Vannes/Lorient map (1:100,000), as well as a more detailed (1:25,000) Lorient/Ile de Groix map. Michelin has a regional Brittany map (UK, US), as well as a green guide to Brittany (UK, US). IGN also has a regional map of Brittany (UK, US, Fr). The IGN site also carries dozens of more detailed maps covering every corner of Brittany and its departments. In the UK, Stanfords bookshop has an excellent range of Brittany books and maps, including hundreds of IGN maps.

See also the tourist information website.

Wendy has also written Freewheeling France guides to cycling the Nantes-Brest Canal, as well as the history of the Nantes-Brest Canal, a regional overview of Brittany, and guides to Brest, Rennes, Quimper, Vannes and Carhaix.

Wendy Mewes is the author of eight books about Brittany, including the Red Dog guide The Nantes-Brest Canal and the Footprint guide to Brittany (UK, US). She organises many walks and provides professional guided visits through Brittany Heritage Services. You can follow Wendy on Twitter @brittanyexpert

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