Le Port–Museé, Douarnenez, Finistère, Brittany
Writing about web page http://www.port-musee.org
Douarnenez is a small town on the coast in the bottom corner of the bay that stretches out towards the Crozon in the north and Cap Sizun and Pointe de Raz to the west. Finistère does of course mean "the end of the land" - but for many Bretons now and in the past, with their love of the sea, it really means "the start of the ocean". Douarnenez is, these days, as much about beaches, cafés and coastal wildlife as it is about real oceanic adventures. But its two ports are still busy with leisure and historic craft, as well as a few working boats. You can even buy Douarnenez sardines in Waitrose.
But in addition the town has put some effort into maintaining its link with the sea. There is an annual tall ship festival. And you can learn to sail or kayak. But most of all there is a really wonderful museum full of maritime character and the smell of ancient salty timbers.
For the last few years Le Port-Museé has been one of my favourite places to visit with my children. It has been magical for them and for us adults too. We keep going back. And there is plenty of reason to do so. The museum fills cavernous old warehouses and a long stretch of the river (the old port Rhu). There are permanent exhibitions, with a wide selection of old boats and associated clothes and equipment, all displayed with great thought and arranged for visual and learning impact. The musuem also hosts large "temporary" exhibitions (although they do seem to stay for a couple of years). We have seen The Box (about the container shipping business) - which might sound dull, but is in fact brilliantly done with amazing exhibits including a giant lego model of a container port. We have also visited the Sinbad exhibition, about the maritime traditions of Arabia, which is still running. It is wonderful. They even sailed a dhow called Nizwa all the way from Oman - we have seen it sailing out across the bay, which is quite surprising when in close up you see just how roughly made it is.
There are many ships into which you can explore, with all decks open - lots of them on moored on the river, but also (and this is the most popular with the children) a fishing boat in the warehouse on which they can play at being at sea.
There is a lot more to the place than I have so far described. To really get across how great it is, here are some photos from our visits over two years.
Steering hard to starboard...
Full steam ahead for the Mighty Atom!
The Nizwa dhow, all the way from Oman and now sailing across the Bay of Douarnenez.
Ghostly sailor's clothes...
A life-size diorama of an old Breton port...
The huge lego model of a container port...
One of the many Arabian artefacts in the Sinbad exhibition. There is also a recreation of a Omani house, including spices, and a giant Arab astrological map.
And there is a great restaurant next door.