A part of France and yet distinct, Brittany offers no shortage of novel experiences… Here’s a sampling of favourites.
To truly experience the real life of Brittany, you’ll have to find yourself a Fest Noz – a Breton night-time party – to go to. Especially popular in summer, they usually take place outdoors with fairy lights, live Breton music and abundant, affordable food such as grilled sardines or moules frites. Everyone eats together at long trestle tables, and there’s a large area for Breton dancing, which you can join in with or simply watch! Best of all, these events genuinely attract all ages – from toddlers and teens to mums and dads and retirees – and they’re thoroughly sociable so they’re easy to join in.
As you explore the region, you’ll notice brightly-coloured ceramics known as faïence, hand-painted pottery originally from Quimper, where you can still see it being made in HB Henriot. There are contemporary designs but Breton figures and naïve floral motifs remain popular.
Most weekly markets finish at lunchtime in France, so come early to enjoy the best fresh seafood, artisan bread and local vegetables, as well as snack vans selling crêpes. In summer and at Christmas, look out for marchés nocturnes, night markets that usually showcase handmade goods and crafts.
Definitely make time in your trip for some people-watching from a pavement café – this is one of Brittany’s greatest pleasures. Whether you’re in a busy city, a fishing port or a sleepy village, watching the world go by with a café or a small glass of rosé is a favourite, unhurried local pastime.
Les Champs Libres brings together three complementary establishments under one roof: the Museum of Brittany, the Science Museum and the city’s main public library. This meeting of different disciplines, scientific and artistic, makes Les Champs Libres a lively, unique and exciting place to visit. Events and installations, digital arts and literary and artistic performances all find a place within its walls. See www.leschampslibres.fr for more.
Wherever you are in Brittany, you won’t be far from an aquarium, and they’re fascinating for all ages. The most famous is Océanopolis in Brest, with its separate Polar, Temperate and Tropical pavilions housing seals, penguins, jellyfish and sharks. It’s right on Brest marina, too, which is a lovely place to stroll around after your visit. Vannes has a smaller aquarium – allow around an hour – whose star is the crocodile found in Paris’s sewers rather than the many fish! Finally, Saint-Malo’s Grand aquarium has a ring-shaped tank of sharks, turtles and fascinating fish, plus a ‘Nautibus’ submarine ride.
If you find yourself in Morbihan, you can choose from Pont-Scorff Conservation Zoo near Lorient, with its elephants, reptiles, parrots and sea lions, or Branféré near Vannes, which is more interactive, and has wallabies, birds and primates as well as zebras and giraffes. Between Rennes and Saint-Malo, you have Bourbansais, a château, gardens and zoo on one site. There are more than 400 animal including lions, tigers, lynx, all manner of monkeys and unusual residents like wolves, red pandas, falcons and tropical birds.
From France Today magazine