According to legend, the fairies were driven from the forest of Brocéliande. They shed so many tears that they created the gulf of Morbihan and into this they threw their flowery crowns and so were formed the 365 islands of the gulf. Three of these coronets escaped unnoticed from the little sea and formed Houat, Hoedic and the most beautiful, Queen of the fairies - Belle Ile.
Over time, Belle Ile has been invested with strategic importance. Thanks to her fresh water the island became an indispensible point between the British Isles and the Iberian Peninsula. During the 11th century the monks of the Abbey at Redon established a monastery on the cliff overlooking Le Palais. In 1572, Charles IX gave the island to Albert de Gondi, the favourite of Catherine de Medici. The Gondi family destroyed the monastery in order to fortify the island. In 1658, the island became the property of Nicolas Fouquet, (Louis XIV’s Minister of Finance) who did not make the time to visit it.
In 1761, after more than a month of siege warfare, the island passed into the hands of the English until 1763 (the Treaty of Paris, which marked the end of the seven years war) and it was returned to France in exchange for the island of Minorca. In 1765, seventy eight exiled Canadian families were resettled on Belle Île after the great changes in French Canada. Twenty of these people finally stayed on the island. Over time the island has seduced a number of artists, including Monet, who immortalised, among other sights, the needles of Port Coton.
The Citadel at Le Palais is open daily to the general public and it allows you to discover the history of the island through a number of exhibits. Belle Île offers a true breadth of scenery, beaches of fine sand, hidden coves, creeks and inlets, little wooded valleys and a large number of villages with typical low white island houses. Every summer since 1998, Belle Isle has hosted a theatrical festival “Lyrique en mer” founded and directed by Richard Cowan.
Extract taken from “Islands of the Great West” – Ouest France dimanche