Why now is the perfect time to rediscover an old favourite across the Channel

Dating service
"If Le Pouldu was in Cornwall, which it so closely resembles, it would have become the most chichi of gentrified enclaves, colonised by big-name chefs and celebrity regulars"
"If Le Pouldu was in Cornwall, which it so closely resembles, it would have become the most chichi of gentrified enclaves, colonised by big-name chefs and celebrity regulars" Credit: GETTY

I’m writing this on the train back from a short trip to Brittany via Paris, which I’ll be writing about in more detail in a couple of weeks. The weather throughout was a wonderful September mix of deep blue skies and long, cool but golden evenings. It’s my favourite time for both a city break and a beach holiday, but visiting coast and city in quick succession I realised that – apart from the autumnal weather – this is for almost entirely opposite reasons. 

In Brittany, I was on the south coast, in Pont-Aven and the beach resort of Le Pouldu. The latter is an idyllic little place of small sandy coves, peppered with rock pools and embraced by straggling headlands of low granite cliffs. If this was in Cornwall, which it so closely resembles, it would have become the most chichi of gentrified enclaves, colonised by big-name chefs and celebrity regulars. But, as far as the French are concerned, this is a relatively unfashionable part of the north and, as a result, offers just a few modest seaside apartments, a scattering of slightly old-fashioned holiday villas and clifftop houses and some everyday cafés and restaurants. 

Come the end of August, the buckets and spades have gone from the beach and the shutters start to come down. There is a slight sense of melancholy about the place, but for me, that somehow adds to the appeal. It is easily warm enough to sunbathe and small knots of people lay towels in the shelter of the rocks and sea wall and wade out into the bay to swim in the still summer-warm shallows of the Atlantic. Head a little inland into the wooded landscape around Pont-Aven and the salmon are running up the gin-clear river and the first signs of autumn are touching at the leaves.

Finistere, away from the coast Credit: GETTY

In Paris, too, the chestnut trees in the Luxembourg gardens and Tuileries are just beginning to show signs of turning. The same softening light and lengthening shadows take the edge off the flat bright light of summer. When dusk falls, it is still warm enough to eat outside a Montparnasse café, but cool enough to sleep. 

But instead of winding down like Brittany, the city is gearing up. The Metro is plastered with advertisements heralding the season’s exhibitions and concert programmes. The Musée d’Orsay is about to open a new range of galleries for its Van Goghs and post-impressionist paintings and next month the Louvre will present a ground-breaking Leonardo show. The restaurants have reopened after the August shutdown and the city is back at work. Things are pretty busy in the tourist honeypots and at peak moments the most popular rooms in the d’Orsay and Louvre are rammed – though go early or late in the day and you can still enjoy them properly. 

The leaves are starting to turn in the French capital Credit: GETTY

Of course, so much depends on what you want from a holiday. If you like the buzz of a resort in high season, autumn will not be for you. And if you want to enjoy city sights without too much of a tourist scrum, you’ll need to sacrifice the golden days of September for the grey chill of November. 

But for me, whether headed for city, coast or countryside, the next few weeks in northern Europe are the absolute best time for a break. And the prospect of an imminent general election campaign is only adding to the appeal.