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February 11, 2019

France: Brittany, Cap Fréhel and Fort la Latte


Cap Fréhel’s current lighthouse, the third built in the area

Cap Fréhel is located on the rugged northern coast of Brittany. The Breton coastline is famous for its 148 lighthouses, 80 of which are still in operation. Cap Fréhel has had three.

The oldest of Cap Fréhel’s lighthouses was built under the reign of Louis XIV in 1701. This light tower is 15 meters high. Initially it used coal to generate light but latter, in 1774, the source of fuel was changed to vegetable oil.

Cap Fréhel’s first lighthouse remained in use until a second taller lighthouse was built between 1845 and 1847. This improved 22 meter-high lighthouse also burned oil to produce light. Though there were plans to electrify this new lighthouse they were abandoned in 1886.

Cap Fréhel’s first lighthouse still stands.

Visitors work their way out to the point

During World War II the Germans co-opted the second lighthouse for use as a watchtower. The structure didn’t last past the war: The Germans dynamited the lighthouse as they retreated after the allies invaded in August of 1944. Cap Fréhel’s first lighthouse nearby was left standing; with the destruction of the second lighthouse it was forced back into temporary service.

In 1950, years after the war ended, a replacement for the second lighthouse was completed. This third light tower is 32 meters high and has a dedicated power plant that generates the electricity used to produce light. Under clear conditions the light from the new lighthouse can be seen from 110 kilometers away. In contrast to the shorter oil-powered original lighthouse could only be seen for 38 kilometers.

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Today visitors to Cap Fréhel can elevate their heart rates by climbing the 145 steps to the top of the working lighthouse. Visible from the observation platform is the picturesque castle Fort la Latte, roughly three kilometers away across a cove on a rocky spit.

Fort la Latte dates from the 14th Century; it was substantially restored in the 20th Century. Today Fort la Latte is open to the visiting public.

We visited Fort la Latte and Cap Fréhel on a warm day in August of 2018. At the peak of the European vacation season, the castle was a popular destination. The parking lots were filled to overflowing and a stream of tourists headed down the dirt path from their parked cars to the castle’s entrance.

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Since 1892 Fort la Latte has been privately owned. Privately owned historic monuments in France seem to us to be more likely to allow entrance with the visitor’s canine companions. This was the case at Fort-la-Latte where our dog Gigi was able to accompany us as we explored the castle and its grounds. She wasn’t alone. There were numerous other Latte-sniffing canines roaming the castle’s ramparts and towers.

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