Lorient, France

Lorient, a relatively new town founded in the 17th century, has fragments of world history intermingled with its heritage and landscapes. Its houses, beaches and quays tell tales of the conquest of India and the East Indies, deep sea fishing, the Second World War, the growing popularity of ocean racing and the restored pride of the Celtic nations. Facing East.

The French East India Company, or Compagnie des Indes, was established in 1664 in the heart of the bay, at Port-Louis. Operations rapidly spread to the other side of the river Scorff. In the new shipyards a ship named Soleil d’Orient, but nicknamed L’Orient, was built – and the new town had a name! Up until Company’s closure, the city took advantage of its prosperity. In 1738, there were 14,000 inhabitants, or 20,000 considering the outlying villages of Kerentrech, Merville, La Perrière, Calvin, and Keryado, which are now neighbourhoods comprised in the present-day city limits. In 1735, new streets were laid down and in 1738, it was granted city status.

The French Royal Navy opened a base there in 1690, under the command of Colbert de Seignelay, who inherited his father’s position as Secretary of State of the Navy. At the same time, privateers from Saint-Malo took shelter there. In 1700, the town grew out of l’Enclot following a law forcing people to leave the domain to move to the Faouedic heath. The view of the Port-Louis citadel and the harbour, with the Tour de la Decouverte signal tower and the Gabriel sales rooms recall the prosperity of the colourful days of silks and spices.

As Lorient’s business activities developed and diversified, ports were built to match: a military port, a commercial port at Kergroise, and a fishing port at Kéroman – now France’s second largest fishing port. The quayside and the fish auctions are a hive of activity every morning, involving men, boats and machines. Sparklingly fresh fish and seafood are taken straight to the indoor market at Merville.

Lorient is located on the south coast of Brittany, where the Scorff river and the Blavet river join to form the roadstead of Lorient, before discharging into the Atlantic Ocean. To the south of the city, the Ter river used to flow into the estuary as well, but a dam was built in 1967, so it is now a pond. The city is 503 km south-west of Paris, 153 km south-west of Rennes and 158 kilometres north-west of Nantes.

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Lorient, France: See and Do

Once a base for French colonialism, Lorient boasts the Musˆ©e de la Compagnie des Indes, a museum displaying artifacts from 1660 to the end of the 18th century. A submarine base was set up there by the German army between 1941 and 1943. Today, these concrete blocks pose no threat. They’ve become a museum of submersible craft and the submarineFlore, which is now a visitor attraction. In the centre of town, a bomb shelter has been re-opened to show what life was really like at that time. In the town’s streets, Art Deco houses from the 1930s that survived the bombings stand side by side with post-war buildings constructed in a more contemporary style.

The marina and ferry port are flooded every year by a human wave that’s here to celebrate the Celtic nations. With a glorious mix of kilts, Breton bagpipes, Irish fiddles and Galician pipes, the Festival Interceltique celebrates a thriving culture. After the grand parade opened by the local Lann-Bihoue pipe band, there follows a succession of concerts, ‘fest-noz’ and great feasts, full of warmth and friendliness.

To help you recover from all the excitement of the town, the coastline extends as far as the Laita estuary. Facing the bay that is like a little inland sea, Larmor-Plage has all the allure of a Brittany Riviera. A coastal walk takes you past the villas and carries on westwards, with the Ile de Groix on the horizon. Facing the ocean is a string of beaches and harbours. Lomener is a pleasant spot to stop for a rest before continuing to Le Fort-Bloque, with its 18th century fort that is accessible at low tide. Then you come to the beaches at Guidel-plages, a popular spot among surfers. Between Finistere and Morbihan is Bas-Pouldu beach, and here the landscape changes as the wooded shores, sandbanks and river meet the Atlantic tides.

Lorient Submarine Base

In 1941, the Germans, then occupying France, chose to establish one of their U-boat headquarters in Keroman, a neighborhood of Lorient. But the submarines quickly became targets of constant bombing from Allied air forces. The Germans decided to build five U-boat bases on France’s Atlantic Coast – at Brest, Lorient (Keroman), St Nazaire, La Rochelle and Bordeaux – and a Mediterranean base at Toulon. The largest of these, in Keroman, would house the 2nd and the 10th U-boat flotillas for the bulk of the Battle of the Atlantic. Karl Donitz, then supreme commander of the U-boat Arm, moved his staff in the Kernevel villa, just across the water from Keroman, in Larmor-Plage. The construction required the participation of 15,000 workers. The three bases have impressive dimensions and were constructed and subsequently coined KI, KII, KIII. The submarine base area has changed over the years.

In 1943–1944, Lorient was nearly razed to the ground by Allied bombing, which failed to destroy the submarine pens, despite 4,000 tons of bombs dropped. According to the book, “Steel Boats, Iron Hearts”, by former U-505 crewman Hans Goebeler, after the allies failed to damage the U-Boat bunkers the bombing shifted to the city itself in order to deny the Germans workers and other resources. Before these bombings, thousands of leaflets were dropped on the population instructing the inhabitants to evacuate. It is now is open to the public: offering an amazing blend of history, water sports, and tourism and future projects still to come.

The submarine base has now been re-launched, setting sail for its new vocation as an ocean racing centre. Its flagship is the Cite de la Voile Eric Tabarly (Sailing World). On a vessel built of metal and glass, visitors can start learning about the world of yachting with fun, interactive workshops.

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