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Lorient - la Maison de la Mer et l'avant-port   : Click to enlarge picture
Panorama of Lorient
LORIENT, Brittany's fourth largest city, lies on an immense natural harbour protected from the ocean by the Île de Groix and strategically located at the junction of the rivers Scorff, Ter and Blavet. A functional, rather depressing port today, it was once a key base for French colonialism, and was founded in the mid-seventeenth century for trading operations by the Compagnie des Indes, an equivalent of the Dutch and English East India Companies. Apart from the name, little else remains to suggest the plundered wealth that once arrived here. During the last war, Lorient was a major target for the Allies, but the Germans held out until the very end and by the time they surrendered in May 1945, the city was almost completely destroyed. The only substantial remains were the U-boat pens, which have subsequently been expanded by the French for their nuclear submarines.

Across the estuary in Port-Louis is the Musée de la Compagnie des Indes, a pretty dismal temple to imperialism (Jan–March, Oct & Nov daily except Tues 2–6pm; April & May daily except Tues 10am–6.30pm; June–Sept daily 10am–6.30pm; closed Dec; €5). Time would be more enjoyably spent on a boat trip, either up the estuary towards Hennebont or out to the Île de Groix. This 8km-long steep-sided rock is a somewhat smaller version of Belle-Île, and holds some gorgeous beaches to encourage day-trippers.

Lorient's tourist office, beside the pleasure port on the quai de Rohan (July & Aug Mon–Sat 9am–7pm, Sun 10am–1pm; Sept–June Mon–Fri 9am–12.30pm & 1.30–5pm, Sat 10am–12.30pm; tel,, can provide full details on local boat trips and organizes some excursions itself. Unless you arrive during the festival, there's a huge choice of hotels. Among reasonable, fairly central options are two on rue Lazare-Carnot as it curves away south of the tourist office: the Victor Hugo Hôtel at no. 36 (tel,; under €30), which offers an action-packed €16 menu, and the Hôtel d'Arvor, at no. 104 (tel; under €30), also with a good-value restaurant. There's an HI hostel, next to the River Ter at 41 rue Victor-Schoelcher, 3km out on bus line C from the gare SNCF (tel,; €8.08). Good central restaurants include Yesterday's, 1 cours de la Bôve (tel, a brasserie near the town hall that serves an excellent €15 menu, and Le Café Leffe (tel; closed Jan), in the same building as the tourist office, facing the port.

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