With it’s own language, traditions, folklore, bustling markets and vibrant, traditional festivals, Brittany is a fascinating region to explore, says travel writer and Fracophile Janine Marsh…
There are 1,700 miles of glorious coastline from Cancale to Saint-Nazaire; from the Pink Granite coast and lovely hidden coves in the North to the idyllic beaches of the Gulf of Morbihan – seamlessly following on from one another.
Inland the unspoilt countryside of rolling hills, river valleys and forests is dotted with fascinating medieval towns and quaint villages steeped in history and culture where you will find bustling markets and quirky boutiques and museums.
During the summer months, numerous traditional festivals take place throughout Brittany, particularly in the west of the region where the Breton culture is strongest. Each area of Brittany has something different to offer so whether you choose a lively, popular resort such as Carnac or a more rural location off the main tourist track there is much to tempt the holiday maker.
Beautiful towns to visit in Brittany
These are just a few of our favourite must-see towns in Brittany.
Pontrieux: It is a small town north of Guingamp, slightly inland from the coast of northern Brittany; it may not be a huge town but we have included this as it is so pretty. There is an inland port which contributed to the town’s prosperity for centuries and enabled the building of beautiful bourgeois houses along the river. These houses are famous for each having their own lavoir – a special wash area on the edge of the river where the maid could do the family’s washing without having to go to a communal washhouse. There are fifty of these private lavoirs along the river, each restored and beautifully planted up with attractive flower displays on the river banks and even in boats floating on the river. Take a boat ride to make the most of this beautiful town.
Rennes: Brittany’s historic capital, located in the east of the region is very charming with its curving cobble stone streets, medieval town and maisons à colombage — “half-timbered” homes dating back to the 15th century, a place to wander on foot for hours.
Quimper: The cultural heart of Brittany, famed for its Gothic cathedral, atmospheric old quarter and museums but most of all for its annual festival celebrating Breton culture. This picturesque riverside town with cobbled streets and half-timbered houses is the region’s oldest city and it’s one of the best places to experience the Breton culture. Don’t miss Place au Beurre, where butter was once sold, one of Quimper’s prettiest locations and good place to stop for a crêpe and a glass of cider.
Dinan: The best preserved medieval small town in Brittany with 3 kilometres of ramparts, half-timbered houses, a warren of narrow streets, an attractive port and cobbled streets filled with art galleries and craft shops. The quay of the port is lined with old stone houses, many of which are now waterside restaurants – perfect for a bite to eat and watch the world go by.
Carnac: Quintessential Brittany, a lively seaside resort and one of the world’s great prehistoric sites. The standing stones of Carnac are one of Brittany’s greatest attractions. Three fields – Ménec, Kermario and Kerlescan – contain around 3,000 aligned megaliths, which date from 4000BC. It is not known why they were put up though it is thought they had a religious or cultural significance, though according to local legend they are Roman soldiers turned to stone. You can tour the stones from July to August (English language tours).
Vannes: The walled town of Vannes is one of Brittany’s most attractive sights and a must-visit on any trip to Morbihan. Wander around the well-preserved medieval streets of this lively commercial city and enjoy a harbour-side lunch before taking a boat trip around the gulf.
Fougeres: This lovely little town on the Brittany-Normandy border has a lovely medieval district, a magnificent castle (see photo at top of page) and a lively Saturday-morning market.
Regional cuisine of Brittany
Brittany is renowned for the superb seafood that is harvested off its shores. A genuine ‘fruits de mer’ platter is one of the great classics of the region and will consist of truly epic proportions of freshly caught oysters, lobster, mussels, clams, crab, prawns and winkles. Roscoff, on the north coast of the region is particularly noted for its delicious lobsters, whilst the oysters that come from Cancale, further east along the coast, are world famous, indeed it is said that Louis XIV, the Sun King famed for his style, had oysters delivered to Versailles from Cancale.
It’s not just fish though that is served up from the rich sea harvest, a little more unusually Brittany is developing a reputation for a new superfood gourmet product – edible seaweed, being used by top chefs around the region.
Crepes, served plain or with either a sweet or savoury filling are another Breton speciality, and the locally brewed sweet cider is a traditional favourite tipple.
Brittany also produces a large amount of France’s vegetables and the famous Roscoff onions that were sold around Britain until the 1950s by French farmers on bicycles known as Onion Johnnies.
Regionally produced cheeses include the creamy rind-washed St Paulin, and a variety of Camembert that is very popular with the locals and it may surprise you to know that this region is well-known for its French whisky!