Virtually uninhabited since 1944, Cézembre, just offshore from Saint-Malo, Brittany, was targeted by 20,000 bombs and shells in three weeks in the wake of D-Day in August 1944 as Allied forces tried to force the German base and its heavy guns (which had a range of 20km) to surrender.
High-explosive, phosphorus and napalm bombs were dropped on Cézembre and the bombardment and shelling left the 18 hectare island full of unexploded bombs.
Since then the 750m long island has been left wild and is now a haven for wildlife with seabirds such as shags, fulmars and razorbills and coastal plants abounding in what is also a protected Natura 2000 zone.
The new path twists for 800m past blockhaus and rusting cannons over land pockmarked with thousands of craters. Marine Nationale bomb disposal teams used heavy diggers to clear the ground down to one metre depth to make sure it was safe for the Conservatoire du Littoral to take it over and discovered mines, anti-aircraft shells (with their wrecked guns visible just off the path) and other munitions.
The beach was first cleared several years ago but the latest operation saw it being cleared to a depth of three metres but, despite this, a man and boy walking there last year found a 250kg cannon shell.
For the past 25 years the only inhabitant has been Franck Meslier, who has lived there each summer tending the beach bistrot although the rest of the island was prohibited.
As one of the few south-facing beaches on the Côte d’Emeraude, it is a popular spot with boats bringing day-trippers from Dinard and Saint-Malo all summer. The path is due to open this month once the Conservatoire has completed signage.