With miles of unspoilt coastline, picturesque cities and the world’s largest megalithic rock site, Brittany is one of the most versatile provinces of France. And the food’s not bad either…
CULTURE A GOGO
Rennes boasts a glorious mix of eclectic architecture, grand squares and more historic sites than you can shake a stick at. It also has quite the cultural calendar. Look out for Les Tombées de la Nuit – or nightfall festival – in July; a celebration of music and dramatic arts with street performances, shows and recitals throughout Brittany’s capital. In winter, Les Transmusicales sees up-and-coming bands descend on the city. This is the music festival for those in the know…
WORTH ITS SALT
Guérande’s world-famous salt marshes produce 10,000 tonnes of coarse salt each year but only 300 of the delicate fleur de sel – a favourite with chefs and gourmets alike. Pinches of the sought-after stuff go for a pretty penny too. Head to Terre de Sel in Pradel to visit a salt pond with a paludier (salt harvester).
MYSTÈRE ET… MENHIRS
Some 3,000 tall stones were erected 7,000 years ago at Carnac by the pre-Celtic people of Brittany. The dense collection of megalithic rocks is the largest in the world and one of the region’s greatest attractions. Legend has it the giant menhirs were once Roman legions turned to stone by Merlin.
Thalassotherapy was born in Brittany nearly two centuries ago. While methods and techniques have evolved over the years, the basics haven’t changed: simply lie back and relax. From weight-loss plans to post-natal treatment, choose the programme for you at one of the region’s 13 thalasso centres.
La galette is the pride and joy of Brittany. Served with a dash of butter the stuffed savoury pancakes are to die for. Don’t miss the Fête de la Crêpe in Gourin, where ambitious chefs attempt to whip up the world’s largest pancake each year. The record stands at 98cm!
Designed by Vauban, Saint-Malo’s national fort is one of the defensive treasures of the corsair city. In 1817, it was the setting for the storied duel between the French privateer Robert Surcouf and 12 Prussian officers. During World War II, 380 locals were locked up by the Germans in the impregnable defences, without food, for six whole days.
ACROSS THE BAY
The island abbey may stand just across the border in Normandy, but much of the phenomenal Baie du Mont St-Michel forms part of Brittany. Head to the Banc des Hermelles, an extraordinary reef built by sea-worms, or boot up and follow the great GR34 hiking path. There’s no shortage of sites to explore on the Emerald Coast.
Although it’s technically no longer part of Brittany, Nantes was once the main residence of the Ducs de Bretagne and is home to the historic Ducal Palace. Now a museum, the fortress’s 850 exhibits retrace the city’s chequered past, from the signature of the Edict of Nantes to its role in the slave trade and advent as a thriving industrial hub.
Using personal accounts and historical data, Brittany’s Amis de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle association has resurrected the lesser-known pilgrim trails that led to Galicia. 1,500km of paths criss-cross the region, with myriad religious landmarks along the way.
There are no fewer than 236 locks along the 360km Nantes-Brest canal. The waterway snakes through delightful ‘Petites Cités de Caractère’ (small towns of character) such as Malestroit and Rohan.
From France Today magazine