Tuesday 10 October 2017

Brittany diaries : Riding the Téléphérique de Brest cable car

When we visited the in-laws in Brest this summer, one of the things at the top of our to-do list was a trip on the new cable car. It opened in November 2016 but by the time of our Christmas 2016 trip, it had already been closed for a prolonged period after a series of serious technical problems, including one of the cable cars setting off unexpectedly with a workman on the roof, almost crushing him in the cables, and the doors opening 50m above the ground with a workman inside during a maintenance check. Strong winds also resulted in it being shut early on the day of its inauguration, which didn't bode well.

The cable car is in the Recouvrance area of Brest. To give you a quick geography lesson, Brest is cut in two by a big river called the Penfeld, which is where the big military port is located. On the left bank is the town centre, on the right bank is Recouvrance, historically the district of sailors and arsenal workers, now an economically-challenged area - there are a few shops and businesses but access is restricted to two bridges so nobody bothers going across from the town centre.

The French Navy sold off one of its big disused buildings, the Atelier des Capucins, to the town of Brest for redevelopment and the creation of a new neighbourhood, baptised Capucins. It was originally used as mechanical workshops for the Navy until activity levels dropped (due to modern technology and much of the workload being moved to another big military port, Toulon). As well as the cable car station, this new complex will house a big library (already open), a multi-screen cinema, 600 flats and a shopping centre and it's designed to make the right bank just as commercially attractive as the left bank.

It still seems very industrial inside but I don't know if that's done on purpose or if it is still being developed. It's the perfect setting for inspecting the machinery of the cable cars though.

Even before you're up in the air, you get some good views of the area - here's Recouvrance bridge and some of the naval installations and vessels in the port, as well as the Château de Brest on the left (which houses a museum about the Navy) and a sadly overlooked building, the Tour Tanguy (just next to the right pillar of the bridge in the photo), a little medieval tower that was probably built to regulate (or block) passage between the two banks of the river.

Once inside the cable car, you feel like you're in the London Underground (or Parisian métro). The cable car is run by Brest public transport, which also operates buses and trams, and they have kept the same interior design as in the trams. There are a few seats but it's pretty packed and most people stand up to look out of the windows.

The cable cars have a unique "leapfrog" technology (or "leap-sheep" - saute-mouton - as they say in French !), so rather than passing each other side by side in the middle, one goes over the top of the other on a higher cable. This means it takes up less space.

There are (or were, but more about that in a moment) two cable cars, named Charlotte and Lewin, in honour of two children who hung about for ages on the day of the inauguration to try to be the first ever passengers. Literally a couple of weeks after our visit this summer (at the end of July and start of August), Charlotte was undergoing maintenance work off the cables, toppled over and is now a write-off, so there is now only one cable car operating. It's quite unbelievable just how many things have gone wrong in such a short space of time !

For the first few seconds, if taking off from the Capucins station, you don't see a lot because the tinted glass gets very dark. This is apparently another unique feature - liquid crystals that go opaque to stop you getting a view of anything potentially top secret in the military port area. I suppose you can't be too careful these days.

You still see a lot though and we spotted which naval ships were in port and the little bridges only open to the naval and arsenal workers.

You can see the work underway in the dry docks too.

You have the choice of the view from the windows ...

... or, if you have a good head for heights, the porthole in the floor.

The great thing about taking a ride on the cable car is that it's a really cheap activity. It's part of the public transport system so you buy a regular ticket and for one hour, you can ride the buses, trams and cable car to your heart's content. We took the cable car across then jumped on a tram for a couple of stops to get into the main shopping area, had a look in a few shops, wandered back down to the port and rode the cable car back, all for the price of a bus ticket !

The kids had fun running through the fountains in front of the town hall trying not to get wet (the spouts of water stop then start again at different levels, so if you watch long enough and work out the routine, you can run across while there's no water - if you time it wrong by even a few seconds, you get soaked though, so there are guaranteed squeals and giggles !). This is the area that is used for Brest Christmas market, that I told you about last year.

Despite the excitement of riding on a cable car, our day was about to get even more memorable - heading into the commercial port area of Brest on the way home, we had an amazing and totally unexpected encounter with a wild dolphin, literally close enough to touch.

Country Kids


  1. Looks like you had a great time, look at those views. I have not been on a cable car since I was little, I think I would like to even though I am scared of heights.

    1. Madhouse Daddy isn't keen on heights either but if you look outwards and not down, it's not too bad !

  2. You're brave people, and adventurous explorers! With so many disasters happening to the cable cars in a year, and you don't even bat a lid. The views are impressive, and how amazing that the ticket price covers an hour on public transport.

    1. They were all teething problems during maintenance work, nothing has gone wrong with the public (luckily - I won't say yet !)

  3. Interesting how they don't pass side by side

  4. I’m not a huge fan of heights but this trip with certainly be worth it for the great views.#countrykids

  5. I love a cable car ride - so handy to get a different view of cities #countrykids

  6. Cable cars are great fun, that said I don't think I've ever taken my kids on one, I know they would love it. I do remember how industrial and big Breast is after a school French trip there many years ago. How lovely to see the city from above and wow to the wild dolphin, what a sight!

    Thank you for sharing with me on #CountryKids

  7. Wow, you do get some amazing views, although I don't think I'd be too keen on the porthole in the floor :) #countrykids

  8. The views from the cable car are great and Brest sounds like an interesting place. I think you're quite brave going in them - all those technical problems would make me quite nervous about doing so! #countrykids


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...