In the middle ages, as far as anyone knew – before Columbus returned – the world ended on the European shores of the Atlantic.
Three famous viewpoints from which you can watch the sunset over a limitless expanse of water are reminders of this fact.
They all share the same name which derives from the Latin Finis terrae, meaning the end of the Earth.
One is near Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, northwestern Spain and, of course, there is the spectacular Land’s End in Cornwall. The third of the “ends of the world” is in Brittany.
In addition, France is surprisingly littered with places encouragingly called le bout du monde: “the world’s end” or “the end of the Earth”. The phrase is frequently used in everyday speech to mean “far away” in a vague sense or “further away than one might think”.
Here are five French places where the known world comes to an abrupt halt.
The westernmost department of mainland France, at the tip of the Brittany peninsula, sticks out into the Atlantic ocean in a succession of rocky headlands.
The capital is Quimper although the biggest city is Brest. Beneath the waves, so they say, is the drowned mythical city of Ys.
Delightfully, the department has a home-grown airline company called Finist’air.
2. Basilique Notre-Dame-de-la-fin-des-Terres, Soulac-sur-Mer, Gironde
This Romanesque church was built in the 12th century to house a precious relic: a drop of the Virgin Mary’s breast milk brought back from the Holy Land by pilgrims.
The name comes from its relative inaccessibility near the Pointe de Grave, at the end of the Médoc peninsula which extends north from Bordeaux.
3. Le Phare du Bout du Monde
The adventurer André “Yul” Bronner, created an association of volunteers with the express purpose of building a replica of an octagonal wooden lighthouse erected in Patagonia, on the other side of the ocean, in 1884.
It stands off the Pointe de Minimes on the edge of La Rochelle.
4. Rue du bout-du-monde, Paris
Sadly, this rather nondescript Parisian street in the 2nd arrondissement north of Les Halles no longer carries its evocative 18th-century name which was inspired by a rebus pub sign showing a bone, (os), a goat (bouc), a duc (a kind of owl) and a terrestrial globe.
Put the sounds together (the end consonants being silent) and you get the phrase “au-bout-du-monde”.
It is now the much more prosaic Rue Léopold Bellan, after a 19th century politician.
5. Cirque du bout du monde, Vauchignon, Côte-d’Or
‘Bout-du-Monde’ is a lesser used name for a physical landscape feature more usually known as a steep head or blind valley because it ends abruptly in a cliff, making it difficult to progress further.
There is another one in the Alps at Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval, in Haute-Savoie.