Lighthouses have always fascinated people. Centuries have gone by since the lighthouse of Alexandria was built and destroyed, yet its name remains in the popular conscious as one of the original Seven Wonders of the World. Some see lighthouses as solitary sentinels defying nature, others as guiding lights, some just admire their beauty, few are not moved in some way by their presence.
In Japanese, a lighthouse is called a tōdai or toudai. Japansese lighthouses fall under the authority of the Coast Guard’s Maritime Safety Agency. I received this card from a friend’s vacation trip to Shikoku. Ashizuri lighthouse in Japan dominates the Pacific Ocean from its base high on the cliffs overlooking the sea. Built in 1914, on the southernmost point of Shikoku, it is located in Ashizuri-Uwakai National Park. The park is known for its fauna and sea views. Visitors looking for an afternoon walk can choose among several coastal paths to follow. The lighthouse itself is not open to visitors.
When I received Aki’s postcard, it made me think of our local lighthouse on Cap Fréhal. Living in Brittany, lighthouses like in Japan, are less a luxury than a necessity and seem to be a perfectly integrated into the coastal landscape. No need for us to go on vacation to see one! Cap Fréhel is about 30 minutes away from us and a nice afternoon out. For those coming from further abroad it is about a 45-minute drive from Saint Malo. A car is a necessity but parking is free in the little lot by the lighthouse. If you feel like a longer walk, simply find a spot along the road and pull over (very popular in the summer). As you can see on the photo, there are actually two lighthouses–the historical one built by Vauban (smaller tower at right) and the modern one (on the left) built after the German’s blew up the 19th century lighthouse during WWII. The smaller lighthouse was built in 1685 by one of Vauban’s engineers, Simon Garangeau, as part of a larger coastal defense project. Vauban’s tower got a second life while the current lighthouse was being built–from 1944-1950, it again guided local ships out at see. Neither building is open to the public, however, there is a small café/souvenir store next to the lighthouse. You can get a drink and admire the views. If the weather is clear, you can even see the Channel Islands in the distance!
As Vauban’s name indicates, Cap Fréhel has been considered a strategic site for centuries. Looking to the east, you can see another one of his (renovation) projects Fort La Latte. The Goyon-Matignon family built the first castle to stand here in the 13th century. When Vauban visited it centuries later, the castle was still occupied but in ruins. Vauban recognized that the position was still strategically important and drew up new plans for the fort. Garangenau would finally restore and renovate the fort under Louis XIV using Vauban’s plans. It is about a 1.5-hour leisurely walk (4-5 kilometers depending on exactly where you start) from the lighthouse to the fort or vice-versa. You follow the old Custom’s Officers paths (le chemin des douaniers) now open to everyone as part of the GR 34 (an official hiking path). The trail follows the coast and offers stunning views of the cliffs, the sea, and the fort or lighthouse depending on which way you turn. While anyone in decent shape can walk between the two sites, it’s not stroller or small child friendly unless you have a baby carrier or backpack. We’ve hiked it ourselves but only done bits with the girls. You can easily take a shorter walk with your children and then drive over to the Fort (also an option for those short on time).
Old movie fans might recognize Fort La Latte. As you immediately learn upon visiting, the Fort was used in the 1958 Kirk Douglas /Tony Curtis film The Vikings. The Fort is open to visitors during the tourist season and school vacations. Admission costs 4.90€ (2.80€ for children). The fort was sold to private owners in 1892 and, while considered a Historical Monument since 1931, has remained in private hands since. I have to admit that we’ve never actually paid to go in. You can walk right up to the main gates and get a fairly good view of the exterior. You can also admire the sea birds that flock to the rocky cliffs surrounding the fort. Both the Cap Fréhel lighthouse and fort guard against the sea; while they have two different purposes, for the modern tourist, the make one pleasant afternoon’s worth of sightseeing! Now, we just need to make it to Japan and the Pacific Ocean for another shoreline lighthouse walk!