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Tréguier Brittany a Picture Perfect Town

treguier-brittany

If you are looking for some of the best of Brittany, historic Tréguier makes the ideal base. It’s perfect for garden and nature lovers, walkers, swimmers, cyclists and those who love pottering about on the water …

The small town of Tréguier enjoys a picture-perfect hilltop location, over-looking the confluence of two pristine rivers, the Guindy and the Jaudy. Medieval streets of brightly painted timbered houses descend from a central square, winding down narrow streets to the quayside. Colourful yachts and fishing boats line the marina on the Jaudy.   Campervans park in seclusion under trees above the Guindy. From here, the Jaudy is tidal, flowing north-east past mellow woods and ancient countryside, to join the English Channel only a few miles downstream.

Two of the most beautiful gardens in Brittany – Kerdalo and le Kestellic – are right on your doorstep, flourishing in the shelter of the wooded river banks. A far more secretive gem, Le Jardin du Pellinec, is hidden beside a rocky cove on the Pink Granite Coast less than ten miles away. The sparkling turquoise sea is within easy reach, offering miles of remarkable boulder-strewn inlets and coastal trails, where island nature reserves are interspersed with long stretches of silver sand.

Way back in the VI Century, a pious Welshman was forced to flee his beloved homeland in the wake of Anglo-Saxon persecution. Accompanied by his mother and several monks, Tugdual crossed the Channel and sailed down the estuary of the Jaudy. On seeing a conical hill embraced on three sides by rivers, he was moved to drop anchor and knew he had found the perfect refuge. Tugdual’s settlement became known as ‘Landreguer,’ ’the monastery of the three rivers.’ A town grew up around it which still retains the original name in Breton, translated to Tréguier in French. Although completely destroyed by the Normans, Tugdual’s humble monastery was rebuilt by Bishop Gratias towards the end of the X Century, being reborn as a cathedral dedicated to Saint Tugdual.

Saint Tugdual’s still crowns the town but now it boasts three towers. ‘Tour Hasting’ is all that remains from Bishop Gratias’s time. An elaborate XIV Century Gothic rebuild has added another balustraded tower, which itself is overlooked by the latest and tallest addition, a slender pierced tower in the Breton regional style, built at the end of the XVIII Century. Although the old stained-glass windows were smashed during the Revolution, modern replacements still cast a touch of magic over the interior. The XV Century Cloisters are amongst the best preserved in Brittany.

treguier-fish-sellerTrégiuer’s Cathedral has long been a place of pilgrimage and many of its pilgrims are remarkable for being especially well-heeled. In 1253 a child was born to a minor branch of the Breton nobility in Kermartin Manor, in neighbouring Tréguier-Minihy. His name was Yves.    He studied under Thomas Aquinas in Paris and then trained as a lawyer in Orléans. As a priest, lawyer and judge, Yves dedicated his life to caring for the poor and the afflicted, living, himself, a life of simplicity and austerity. Worn out by his ministrations, he died, 19th May 1303 at Kermartin at the early age of 50. His remains were later interred in grand style in an elaborate marble tomb within the Gothic part of Saint Tugdual’s. As Saint Yves, he is the patron saint of lawyers.

The Pardon de Saint Yves takes place in Tréguier on the 19th May, with processions carrying his remains and those of Saint Tugdual, to the accompaniment of marching bands carrying colourful banners. A big resurgence of interest in Celtic customs and the Breton language amongst the younger generation in Brittany makes this is a festival for all ages. You don’t need to be religious to enjoy it. Whether pious, pagan, or otherwise, you can still enjoy the occasion. The funfair comes to town and sets up on the quayside and it’s a great excuse for a celebration. There is plenty of choice of places to eat and drink, particularly in the fine timbered houses in the town centre and on the quay. If you fancy an expensive treat, dinner on the waterfront at the Hotel Aigue Marine is exceptional.

Festivities centre on the cathedral square, over-looked by a portly gent cast in bronze, seated on a bench. This is Ernest Renan, an ardent supporter of his native Brittany. Behind him stands Pallas Athena, Goddess of Wisdom.  The inauguration of his statue right in front of the cathedral by the citizens of Tréguier in 1903 was controversial. Many believed it mocked the Catholic establishment, for Joseph-Ernest Renan, born in Tréguier in 1823, was a revolutionary philosopher and anti-clerical scholar of religion, who championed freedom of religious expression…

Jane Gifford is a writer and photographer specialising in travel, garden, wildlife and environmental issues: janegifford.net

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