Brittany’s administrative capital is a city of contrasts and never fails to excite. The narrow, cobbled streets in the mediaeval area diverge dramatically with wide tree-lined boulevards. Half-timbered buildings dating back to the 17th century merge successfully with modern glass fronted boutiques and up-market bars. Historic and avant-garde architecture blend timeless testimony to past and present. Annette Liron enthuses about the many charms of the northern French town of Brittany, a meltingly lovely melange of retail, history and art…
The best way to see Rennes is on foot. Everything of interest is within walking distance. However, if the thought of a day’s walking is daunting, make use of the low-cost bus and underground network. The metro operates northwest to southeast and serves 15 stations. The driverless trains are immaculate and frequent. The high-tech elevated terminus at La Poterie with its station and viaducts designed by Norman Foster are very impressive. The neo-futuristic glass and steel design a giant leap into the future.
In the city centre, shopping list in hand I head for Saint-Anne’s. The Saturday morning market in Place des Lices is France’s second largest weekly market and a magnet for both tourists and Rennais. The traders arrive at the crack of dawn to erect stalls and set out their displays of fresh fruit, vegetables, plants and flowers. By 9am business is brisk. Traders vie with each other to attract would-be customers. He or she who shouts loudest wins. There are smaller specialist stalls for garlic and onions, herbs, apples, or bottles of cider with snails.
A multitude of buskers, playing folk-y-blues, jazz, rap and pop, compete with each other for audience appreciation and coins. Most profitable sites for buskers are the ones in front of the restaurants and bars. France’s passion for al fresco eating and drinking is coin heaven for buskers.
The indoor market is different. French delicacies, crêpes, fresh bread, mouth watering chocolate covered biscuits, cheeses and wine which sell on good looks alone. The fishy area just outside the entrance of the indoor market is decidedly wet. In order to keep everything fresh the traders hose the fish at regular intervals.
A superabundance of retail outlets selling a profusion of expensive designer goods, intermingled with a plethora of shops selling lower to middle priced items, in tree lined, traffic free areas encourages and enhances retail therapy. In addition to high priced designer emporiums, numerous department stores, malls and street markets offer an alternative shopping experience. Galeries Lafyette, France’s answer to Harrods is a favourite with tourists and Rennais alike. Quality merchandise beautifully displayed combined with pleasant, helpful staff, willing to go the extra mile to ensure customer satisfaction, makes parting with money an absolute pleasure.
When it’s time for a break, choosing a restaurant in Rennes isn’t easy, so many, perhaps too many, to choose from. Whether you want cheap fast food or gastronomic food at astronomic prices, the world is your oyster. Rennes enjoys an oceanic climate: warmer than average summers and mild winters encourages outdoor dining, drinking and people watching.
Places of Interest in Rennes
Museum of Brittany, home to three permanent and two temporary exhibitions all year round.
Les Champs Libres on Place aux Cultures is home to Espace des Sciences, planetarium and library. Citizen’s corner in a quite part of the library has a wide range of international newspapers and magazines for foot sore travellers to relax.
The French parliament building built in the 1600’s is a wonderful example of 17th century décor. Guided tours, times subject to court sessions, are available daily.
Parc du Thabor Gardens are a heaven of tranquillity in the centre of a vibrant city. The park is spread over 10 hectares and offers a mixture of typical French garden, English garden and Botanical. The perfect place to walk, enjoy nature, trees, fountains and small waterfalls. In June the rose garden is breathtaking.
Rennes After Dark
Rennes is exciting enough during daylight hours but at night the atmosphere changes dramatically. The streets and squares echo to sounds of music and laughter. Restaurants, cafés, bars crowed with people give the city a phenomenal atmosphere. Breton people adore music and love to party. Rennais are no exception.
An opportunity to go to a Saturday all night Fest-Noz, should not be missed. Fest-Noz dates back to the middle ages and draws people of all ages and walks of life. Cider flows and dancing continues into the early hours. Like everything else, Brittany’s ancient knees-up is changing; traditional instruments are being replaced by electric and acoustic guitars and electric key-boards. Love of jazz and pop is slowly but surely replacing traditional music and typical French chanson. In December 2012 Fest-Noz was added to the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Festivals are big business in Brittany. Over 1,000 are held each year. The annual Les Transmusicales de Rennes, one of the best festivals in Europe, known for pushing musical boundaries, takes place in Rennes every December. Every bar, café and restaurant becomes a music venue where professional and amateur musicians merge their talents.
Night life in the city is a kaleidoscope of elements. Multi screen cinemas showing films until late. Cabaret/ dinner shows, night clubs, opera, shows, theatres. Rennes is home to two prestigious universities and 6,000 students. Thursday night in Rennes is known as Students Night. Thousands invade streets and bars to let their hair down. If you don’t like noise and high spirits, best stay home.
Rennes: unique, without equal and utterly charismatic.
Annette Liron is a semi-retired writer from Jersey who lives with her husband and seven rescue cats in a charming, sleepy little village in Brittany, not far from Rennes.