Situated on France’s north-western peninsula, Brittany has a strong regional identity. And it’s especially famous for its festivals celebrating Celtic folk music and dancing.
The Celtic heritage of Brittany
The link to the Celtic heritage is strong in Brittany. The Bretons came from Wales and England in the 5th century, absorbing the old tribes and bringing their Celtic language with them. It was separated from France until Claude, the daughter of the Duchess Anne married the future Francois 1 in 1515 and ceded her rights to Brittany to her husband.
Over time the Breton ways were diminished but in the 1930s there was a concerted effort to revive the cultural heritage. Traditional dance groups were formed and Breton music featuring bagpipes became a folk fashion all over France. You may also see the traditional sport of Breton wrestling, where, before they start to throw each other to the ground, the wrestlers kiss each other loudly three times!
Brittany is a land of legends. In the mysterious forest of Brocéliande, the trees, moors and ponds whisper stories of King Arthur, awakening the spirits of the wizard Merlin and the fairy Viviane. Home to many megalithic sites, the area is perfect for archaeology enthusiasts.
Saints are a strong part of Brittany’s heritage and everywhere in the region you will discover ancient chapels, statues and monuments dedicated to the saints. If you head to Ploumanac’h, you’ll see the noseless statue of a saint on the sandy beach. Saint Guirec was an Irish monk who landed here in the 6th century. In times gone by it was a custom for Breton girls to visit him and stick a pin in his nose. Apparently this helped them get a husband – but destroyed his nose.
The Vallee des Saints in Carnoët features monumental granite statues of saints, spread across a hilltop. It’s an ongoing project and a sort of Breton ‘Easter Island’. The aim is to have 1000 saints in total and you can watch the carvers working on their sculptures. It’s massively impressive.
Lighthouses and seafood
Brittany’s destiny is tied to the sea and if its lighthouses could talk they would tell tales of epic storms. With more than 1700 miles of coastline the regional cuisine is largely based on what comes from the sea. You’ll taste the freshest seafood and shellfish, juicy oysters, langoustines and the famous Breton lobster. Feast on the famous crepes, sweet and savoury. And enjoy a cider or local aperitif Kir Breton – cider and crème de Cassis. Look for small ‘auberges’ and ‘tables d’hotes’ where you will taste the most authentic local food, resistance is futile.