This article was first published in May, 2014
THE CLOCKS may have moved forward an hour across Europe for summer but one Brittany island is continuing its tradition of using a completely different time zone – at least some of the residents are.
Locals on the tiny island of Molène, 15km off the Brittany coast near Brest, have grown used to living by two different time zones, as some residents maintain the age-old tradition of using “solar” time, which now lags two hours behind the rest of the country. So when mainland France is sitting down to lunch at midday, many Molène residents are drinking their 10.00 coffee.
There is no other island off the French coast that maintains this tradition. It means that you could sail through three different time zones between the south coast of England and Molène, via the north-west coast of France. If your boat leaves Le Conquet at 9.45, you could sail the 30 minutes to Molène and be strolling around before the clock shows 8.30.
Yannig Masson, the owner and chef of the Kastell Swann restaurant, has lived on the island all his life and is philosophical about this quirk of his homeland. “We don’t base our lives around the eight o’clock news from Paris, we do things our own way,” he says. “But it’s never been a problem for us, our family has always lived by the sun. If there’s ever any confusion or a mix-up with visitors, you just laugh about it, that’s all you can do; it’s not the end of the world.”
In French, this time-zone is known as the heure solaire: solar time. Yannig’s mother, Cécile Masson, started the island’s only hotel, Kastell An Daol, in 1962 with her husband Robert, and her father was an island fisherman who only ever lived by the sun.
Now that her two sons have taken over running the hotel and the restaurant respectively, they are carrying on that tradition, even if tourists arriving for dinner at seven might be asked to return in two hours, as Yannig shows them a clock that is pointing to 17.00.
“It isn’t really a question of time; it’s a question of organisation,” says Yannig. “You adapt between one time zone and the next, just as you would adapt between two different languages.
“That’s one of the things that makes Molène so unique. If you’re coming here it’s not just a special trip, it’s like travelling through time without leaving the country.”
The Penn Ar Bed ferry company that connects Molène to the mainland certainly does not change its clocks during the crossing. A spokeswoman said: “Our crossings are based on the usual, mainland time so it never presents a problem for any of our passengers.”
Stéphane Le Hir, who owns and lets holiday properties on Île Molène with his wife, Fabienne, says: “As far as I know, only the Masson family continues to use the heure solaire.
“The hotel Kastell An Daol and the restaurant Kastell Swann both continue to operate on the old time zone but the rest of the island clocks are exactly the same as the mainland.”
Perhaps some will see it as a publicity stunt by the hotel and restaurant, but Stéphane adds: “It doesn’t make life difficult for visitors, because if they go to the Kastell Swann and find it’s closed, they can always go to one of the other two restaurants so it’s no problem. If anything, it’s useful for anyone who is late going to dinner, because they can always find somewhere that’s still open.”
Fabienne adds: “I believe that some of the older residents still prefer to keep their watches on the old time, but it’s possible to visit Molène and not even be aware that some of the islanders are living two hours behind the rest of France.”
Stéphane concludes: “This thing about the time difference is just a funny quirk about the island, a nice talking point but it’s certainly not the only reason to come to Molène.”
The island’s newly-elected mayor, Daniel Masson (cousin of Yannig), agrees: “There’s a quality of life here that you can’t find anywhere else.
“There are hardly any cars, no motorbikes, it’s very calm. The island means a lot to me. In fact I’m hoping we can attract more young families to come and live here all year round. It’s a close-knit community, one that’s active all year round, and you couldn’t find a better setting.”
Photo of Molène port: Xavier Dubois-ADT 29