Sauzon owes its name to the presence of Saxons on its shores once the Romans had withdrawn. Its harbour is well sheltered from the prevailing winds and, for a long time, fishing was the predominant industry. The first fish canneries were built there in 1843 and Sauzon still has a few fishermen, mainly engaged in pot fishing (lobster, spiny lobster and crab). These days, it is developing a thriving marina. Apart from the village itself and its attractive narrow streets, popular spots with visitors include the Pointe des Poulains and Sarah Bernhardt’s holiday house, the Jean and Jeanne twin menhirs and Donnant beach.
Le Palais is the administrative and economic hub of the island. It is the smallest of the four townships, but has the highest population: over 2,500. The imposing citadel built by Vauban overlooks its harbour, which is the main gateway for both freight and passenger links with the mainland. Thanks to its strategic location, Le Palais has a legacy of historic military architecture that is unrivalled in France. Its fortified compound houses an open-air walkway that is not only enjoyable but also instructive, leading through a variety of trees including elms, acacias, ash, holm oaks, willows and chestnuts.
Bangor was founded in the sixth century by monks from the British Isles. This is the wildest part of the island and the most exposed to the south-westerlies. The rocky coastline occasionally gives way to lovely fine, sandy beaches known as Herlin, Kérel and Donnant. There are hosts of striking rock formations, such as at Port Coton and its famous Aiguilles, Port Goulphar and the Bangor islands. The municipality has nearly 800 inhabitants, living in thirty white and slate-blue villages, nestled along small valleys leading down to the sea. Dominated by the Saint-Pierre et Saint-Paul church, the township exudes the quiet peacefulness of a charming country village.
The township of Locmaria was founded in 1070. Even today, it is still set off from the island’s other municipalities by a greater focus on farming, more densely-populated rural areas with large hamlets, and an almost total lack of maritime activity. The highest part of the island, Locmaria has a remarkable combination of wild, forbidding coastline, with the island's highest cliffs, and long stretches of appealing beaches at Port-Andro, Samzun and Les Grands Sables (2km of fine sandy beach suitable for water sports). The 700 inhabitants live in 33 villages. The village of Locmaria itself houses a church dating back to the year 1000 with a 17th century choir and an 18th bell tower with a candle-snuffer roof.
The federation of municipalities
Belle-Île-en-Mer is home to over 5,000 year-round residents in its four townships. It also plays host to a large and variable population of holidaymakers.
The insularity and fragile beauty of this outstanding site create a number of problems, though, and the four municipalities – Bangor, Le Palais, Locmaria and Sauzon – joined forces in 1969 to find more effective solutions. Today they form a federation of municipalities known in French as the Communauté de Communes de Belle-Île-en-Mer (CCBI).
The CCBI may be small but it is very dynamic and versatile, handling 35 different areas of responsibility, such as natural areas, sanitation, waste, etc. Nineteen elected representatives from the municipal councils take charge of management, while their decisions are implemented by a 38-strong team of permanent officers and around fifteen seasonal employees.
Go to the CCBI website