IT WOULD be hard indeed to find anywhere so linked to the sea as Camaret-Sur-Mer.

Anchored behind a headland, jutting from a rib of rock which stabs into the Atlantic, it belongs more to the ocean than the land.

A whitewashed row of restaurants and bars face across the harbour towards a church and fort, which squat surrounded by the barnacled-hulks of beached fishing boats.

You can taste the sea in the air – tangy and tantalising.

“Once you come here, you always return,” says Claude le Fur, curator of the village’s fascinatingly cluttered fishing museum. “It is that kind of place.”

They call this westernmost tip of Brittany, Finistère. The name speaks for itself – ‘Lands End’. This is the ‘wild ouest’ – an expanse of forest, hills and meadows which tumble into the sea in a tangle of jagged headlands and sandy bays.

A world apart from the rest of France, Brittany has its own culture, language and traditions. It has its own flag – the ‘Gwenn ha Du’ (Black and White) – and even its own superior version of Coke – Breizh Cola.

A proud and independent land, it belongs to the Celtic Fringe – its people having as much in common with their French brothers as with the Welsh, Irish, and, especially, the Cornish. Finistère is Cornwall on steroids: boasting all the drama and quaintness of the English county, but on a grander scale – and without the crowds, traffic and tacky trappings.

Camaret, hunkered at the end of the Crozen Peninsula, is typical. While it seems locked in a Rip Van Winkle-style slumber, it was once a prosperous fishing port which grew rich on crayfish.

“Most people here had a share in a boat, and they made a lot of money,” says Claude. “The fishermen went as far as Mauritania. But now the crayfish, and the boats, have gone.”

It’s a familiar story. Except there is no air of despondency. For as the fishing fleet called it a day, its quay and bars were colonised by yachtsmen and clued-up holiday-makers.

But while it may be chic, the Bretons cling to their nautical heritage with pride.

“Outsiders call us Sardine Heads!” laughs Pierre Gestin, a boat enthusiast at the Maritime Museum on the quay at the old fishing port of Douarnenez.

“It used to be a term of abuse, but now we regard it as a badge of honour.”

His museum is a world-class collection of everything nautical (including a gallery devoted to the local canning industry, entered through a giant sardine can) and with a fleet of vintage ships moored out on the estuary, on which wannabe sailors are free to live out their seafaring fantasies.

With its seafaring heritage, beaches, and scattering of stone villages – many boasting elaborate parish churches and intricately carved crucifixes, or calvaries – it might be tempting to treat Brittany as a pretty backwater.

But don’t be fooled by appearances. Like the rest of their Celtic brethren, the Bretons love a good knees-up.

This party spirit manifests itself in the shape of ‘pardons’. Many of these pious religious processions, at which villagers seek forgiveness from local saints for their sins, have evolved into lively feasts of music, dancing, wrestling and, naturally enough, drinking – particularly of the very fine local cider – served in jugs and drunk from cups.

Time your visit right, though, and you could find yourself in the midst of something far more hedonistic.

Perhaps because of the Bretons’ penchant for partying, the region also hosts France’s biggest rock festivals.

These include mid-August’s Route Du Rock in St Malo; Astropolis in Brest (five summer days of banging dance music); Transmusicales in Rennes (up-and-coming local acts and big name bands, each December), and for those who love a good jig – Interceltic, in Lorient every August.

The mother of them all, though, takes place in the usually sleepy market town of Carhaix every July – Les Vieilles Charrues.

A French Glastonbury, this gathering of 200,000 music-lovers is the country’s biggest. This raucous riot of music (the name means ‘The Old Ploughs’ betraying its rural roots) is cutting edge and international, with a bewildering line-up of acts, ranging from veteran French rockers to edgy rappers, big UK indie bands and superstar DJs. Highlights this year included sets by stadium-rockers Muse; camp crowd-pleaser Miko; Gallic dinosaurs Indochine, DJs Etienne de Crecy and Mr Oizo, reggae pioneers Toots & the Maytals, and Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas.

And if you think that’s good, the previous year welcomed Lenny Kravitz, Moby and Bruce ‘the Boss’ Springsteen!

As a seasoned festival-goer I’d always taken pride in the enthusiasm of an English audience. But four days at Les Vieilles Charrues showed that the Bretons are, if anything, even madder. Even unknown bands elicited waves of crowd surfing, while anything resembling a beat had ravers clutching glowsticks in outstretched arms.

Of course, being Brittany, festival-going is a cut above what you might have experienced at home. Especially when it comes to food. Revellers are not content to munch greasy burgers. Here they feast on grilled tuna steaks, risotto, tartiflette and flambé crepes.

Yet even in the midst of a dusty rock festival, the Breton spirit is strong – with farmers selling rustic cider, real ale and passing the time with that other great local tradition – Breton wrestling. Though, unless you fancy the prospect of being hurled on to your back by a burly farmgirl, in front of a grinning audience of Gauloises-smoking spectators, you might want to decline the invitations to get into the ring.

But don’t worry, you can show your respect of all things Breton by raising another glass of that delicious Finistère scrumpy. As they say around here “yec’hed mat!” - Cheers!

  • Read Tim’s review of this year’s Vieilles Charrues Festival at musicreviews