A spa lover’s guide to Brittany

by Sarah.Todd

I first visited Brittany to experience some of the variety of thalassotherapy centres, for which it is famous. I wasn’t disappointed: my experiences remain some of the most memorable I’ve ever had

There’s something fundamentally relaxing about being by the coast and, combined with five days of mineral-rich sea therapies, my first trip to Brittany worked a treat. I returned, quite literally, glowing.

Brittany is a great place to visit all year round, but the best times in terms of spa are towards the beginning of winter before the chill sets in, from October or from April to early Summer, before the heat rises too high.

My experiences in this region have been brilliantly varied – from watching a sunset sitting in a swimming pool perched 200 feet above the sea to the giggle-inducing, deceptively strong French cidre, delicious sweet crêpes and tasting my first oyster.

Thalasso is also a great introduction for men to the benefits of really excellent spa treatments – not too girly, lots of water involved, deep massages and manly scents. As thalasso is enjoyed equally by both sexes in France, male guests had robes that fitted properly and decent-sized flip flops. In other spas I’ve visited, it’s not uncommon to see unfortunate men adopting a permanently panicked attitude, hobbling around as best they can in slippers two sizes too small, frantically trying to protect their modesty in miniscule robes. 

Some thalasso treatments are not for the faint-hearted, so if your French is basic, just ask any of the bilingual staff for a full translation. Generally speaking, wraps, massages and balneotherapy (therapeutic bathing) will be fine, and if you’d prefer a female or male therapist, just say. Post-treatment, there’s nothing quite like standing up against a wall in skimpy paper knickers while you’re hosed down to drop your inhibitions in a heartbeat. This was especially true with our group of Brits, who all still did the ‘towel tango’ on the beach to get into swimming costumes instead of baring any excess flesh!

Castel Clara

On the island of Belle-Ile-en-Mer (a fave subject of Monet), Castel Clara takes full advantage of its stunning location.

Situated in a bay surrounded by high cliffs, both the hotel and the thalasso centre boast rooms with jaw-dropping vistas; the floor-to-ceiling window stretching across the end of the indoor swimming pool offers beautiful coastline views.

Price-wise, on low season, a luxe-chic room at Castel Clara facing the sea is 230 euros, while a junior suite with a sea view is about 300 euros. In high season, the room rises to 330 euros and the suite 400 euros respectively.

Highly recommended is the sea mud wrap, which is intended to re-mineralise the skin. Once the mud is applied, you’re wrapped up from neck to toes with sheets of plastic, before the centre of the treatment bed ‘sinks’. You descend into the heart of the bed, cocooned and warm, for the mud to work its magic with coloured lights gently twinkling above you.

As with all my recommendations, the food at Castel Clara is excellent, especially the buffet-style breakfasts and lunches, which included seafood, savoury and sweet options.

If you were searching for a romantic location to propose, Castel Clara would be perfect. Whatever your reason for visiting, be sure to try and catch a sunset or sunrise from – or in – the swimming pool – it’s a truly unforgettable experience.

Hotel les Sables Blancs

Situated to the South of Quimper, Hotel les Sables Blancs is tucked away at the edge of Concarneau Bay. You enter through an unremarkable doorway, but the location, and the sea views, couldn’t be better.

The Nautile restaurant, like the rest of the hotel, is contemporary, but warm and unpretentious. Being this close to the sea, the extensive fish menu has something for most palates including Brittany’s fruits de mer of lobster, oysters, mussels, clams and scallops and Cotriade (Breton fish soup).

The bedrooms are spacious, yet homely, with a lot of white throughout the interiors. The addition of contemporary furniture prevents the rooms from being too clinical. While it isn’t cheap – a standard room, half-board in low season is 105 euros for a double room on a room-only basis or 230 euros for half-board (demi pension) – it’s well worth it.

If you were to undertake a thalasso tour of Brittany, this hotel would be a perfect one-night stay. While it doesn’t have a spa, there’s plenty to explore and it breaks up the thalasso treatments so you don’t end up too drained at the end of your trip.

Thalasso Carnac

Although not directly on the sea, the sprawling resort of Thalasso Carnac is built upon salt marshes and is surrounded by water. As well as a massive indoor-outdoor seawater swimming pool and a spa, there are two hotels – a luxury Novotel (yep, not an oxymoron, for those more familiar with Novotel’s basic offering) and a two-star Ibis, which is perfectly adequate for those on a tighter budget.

For men, the hydromassage baths with underwater jets are particularly envigorating, or try a sous affusion massage, where warm seawater covers your back from jets placed above the treatment beds. It’s very relaxing and will leave you floating on air for the rest of the day. For those who would prefer to be pampered rather than pummeled, there’s also a full-service day spa.

Carnac offers a wide range of incentives for all of its accommodation when combined with thalasso, so the best way is to visit the website, go to the tariffs section, and fill in the 'Nos Offres Ce' form for the latest prices.

La Mouliniere des Longchamps

The family-owned hotel and spa, La Mouliniere des Longchamps, is located in the Haute Bretagne area of Brittany and is a second good location for a romantic, long weekend.

One of the major selling points for both the hotel and the spa at La Mouliniere des Longchamps is the intimate quality of its offering – there are only nine bedrooms in the main building and five small cottages – as well as the remoteness of its setting. A standard double with a shower is 99 euros in low season, rising to 139 euros in high season.

Highly recommended at the hotel's adjoining Aqua Bien-Etre spa is a gold dust treatment, where real gold particles are used in a body massage, leaving your skin with a gorgeous lustre. Have this as near to the end of the day as possible, so you can shine the night away.