My Brittany tour: Love at first sight

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My Brittany tour was a fabulous experience, that I planned a for a long time before going and that is still in my heart now. I fell in love with Brittany after reading an article in a travel magazine many years ago when I was just a teenager. Every photo in the article was like an enchantment to me, making me feel this great longing to leave immediately. But an image in particular struck me: that of a stone house, with pale blue shutters and many hydrangea bushes on either side of the door. It seemed a fairy abode. Fortunately I’ve seen so many beautiful houses like that during my stay, so I was not disappointed. On the contrary! I know it has nothing to do with Italy but I’m happy to keep a sort of diary to remember and share also other travel destinations.

Me and Matteo went there by car from Padova. Our first stop-over was Lyon, where we just slept. The next morning we stopped in Bourges: define it charming is an understatement. The Cathedral is the largest I’ve ever seen, with gorgeous stained glass windows. Next to the Cathedral is a nice garden where you can rest a bit (ah ah ah I mistyped and wrote you can rest a nit), while on the other side of the town you can wander and get lost in the narrow cobblestone streets overlooked by old timber frame houses.

Brittany Tour destinations:

  • La Roche-aux-Fees It is a megalithic monument about 20 meters long, located in the middle of a green area, under some magnificent trees. When we arrived there was no one else so the atmosphere was really suggestive. The visit is brief. I think it is worth a visit if you’re near and you never saw a megalithic monument before.
  • Fougères is a charming village with a magnificent castle (from the outside). Inside meh. The rooms are empty. But from its walkway you can enjoy a beautiful view over the village. The town garden is magnificent, and from there, being on a hill overlooking the castle, you can enjoy the view of the other part of the village. In my opinion, Fougères is worth a visit whether you visit the castle or not. It’s very romantic.
  • Dinan, perhaps the prettiest village of the entire trip. We parked at the top of the village and so we reached the small port going down the main pebbled and steep street. Along this street, you can admire a sequence of houses, one prettier than the other. From a bastion that crosses this road you can admire the pointed roofs of the village, very fairytale like. For lunch we noticed a long row outside a small bakery (La Biscuiterie du Graal – the management changed and so the name, now it’s Boulangerie Royer) and so we queued. Inviting and excellent sweet and savoury products, I must say. Just looking at my own photos I get hungry! If, like me, you love butter above all else you can try the local sweet called Kouign Amman. Mamma mia!
  • St Malo meh. 30 minutes in line just to enter the parking lot, too many tourists along the streets, not much to see besides the church and the town walls. I heard many enthusiastic opinions about this place so I was a little disappointed. I’m sorry.
  • Mont Saint Michel (Normandy). The highlight of the trip. As a child I dreamed of seeing it while leafing through a book I had: The Wonders of the World. It was a big red book. I still miss it, it was my favourite book. But my mother threw it away one day without asking. I’m still traumatized after 20 years. Anyway, when I saw Mont Saint Michel on the horizon while we were driving towards it I was moved… well, yes! But then… huge parking lot amusement park style, too many tourists, all in a bus squashed like sardines, the road to get to the Abbey lined with shops, boutiques, restaurants for every budget. I really felt like I was at a funfair. I envy those who have the opportunity to visit it off season because the atmosphere must be completely different. Even if the abbey is very bare, the place itself is magnificent and to see the high tide coming up is impressive. Even with the above-quoted defects, I think Mont Saint Michel is an unmissable destination.
  • Cap Fréhel. Tip: arrive early. At 9 am there was no one, we walked along the cliff, admiring the view and the yellow and purple flowers that cover almost all the surrounding meadows, and when we got back the parking lot was full and people came in droves. Beware of the wind. In August I wore a sweater, a windbreaker and I had to cover my head! Yes, I am sensitive to the cold!
  • Fort La Latte. I do not know if I would visit it again. If you are fond of Forts and Castles it is definitely worth a visit, you can moreover enjoy a superb view.
  • Dol-de-Bretagne. Small town. I suggest you visit the Museum called Medievalys which is about Cathedrals (architecture, history and symbolism), really interesting and original (unfortunately most of the explanations were only in French). After the museum, visit the Cathedral next door, so you can appreciate it more. We were lucky enough to find out that the same evening there would have been a free concert in the Cathedral with typical Breton music: bagpipe, accordion and bombard. Fantastic. I will never forget it. I love this kind of music and those instruments. A few kilometers away you can see the Menhir du Champ Dolent, about 10 meters high. I don’t want to spoil it, so you will read on the place you the two different legends explaining why that Menhir is located there.
  • Ploumanac’h. We parked at 20 Rue Saint-Guirec, you will recognize the parking because there is an installation of statues. From the parking area starts the path that will lead you to enjoy a magnificent landscape, until you get to the beach and the town centre (1 hour stopping here and there to take pictures). The shapes of the pink rocks are unique and fascinating, it’s like being on another planet. I had never seen anything like that before. A true marvel.
  • Jardins de Kerdalo. A little expensive, no map (you have to pay another 5 € for a booklet with map) and furthermore the best part of the garden can only be admired from the outside… but precisely that forbidden part, called Les Quatre Carrés, is wonderful. Maybe because I love purple, lilac and violet. Visit it only if you’re a garden enthusiast.
  • Tréguier. One of my only regrets about this trip regards precisely this town. I noticed a likeable shop selling handmade jewels (not expensive and too precious, just nice metal jewels with eccentric shapes: dragonfly for example or a medieval bridge… I don’t know, I’m making that up because I don’t remember anymore. But they were cute, just the kind of things I like and I never find at home. But it was closed, damn! I still think about that shop, I even remeber the name, Atelier Du Cameleon. I googled it but it has no website, so no online shopping. Boooo! We also experienced the thrill of the high tide in Tréguier. We parked in a huge parking lot near the small port to take part in a local festival (nice: food, traditional dances, music and so on). We enjoyed it but we were also very tired (a long travel day) so we decided to go away quite soon, right after dinner. Well, right on time! The sea level had increased and our car had the front tires reached by the water. The cars in the row ahead were unreachable, not without getting wet. So, pay attention!!! (We noticed the warning signs only after this happened).
  • La maison entre les rochers. Finding it was a challenge. Search in Google Maps “Le Gouffre, Plougrescant” and follow the signs towards Le Gouffre. When you’ll arrive at a small parking, park the car and follow the path, you will see it in two minutes. Really crazy! Many friends of mine who have seen the picture exclaimed: I want to live there!
  • Enclos Paroissial de Guimiliau. The parish closes are Breton complexes consisting of a church, an ossuary, a cemetery and a Calvary (a stone cross carved with scenes from the Bible). This Enclos in particular is really beautiful and charming, located in a tiny village where the house of the mayor is also the post office. A few steps from the Enclos there is a lovely bakery selling delicious pain au chocolat (my passion).
  • Huelgoat. We stopped here just because we were curious to see the famous forest. I must say it is very peculiar, with its huge rocks covered with moss. Fairy tale atmosphere but too many tourists.
  • Locronan. As it was described as one of the most beautiful villages in France, I had super high expectations. It really was beautiful then, but overcrowded. And completely devoted to tourism, as if no one really lived here: A B&B, an hotel, a restaurant, a souvenirs shop, another hotel and so on. It seemed unauthentic.
  • Concarneau. Another Luna Park effect. Definitely charming from the outside: we entered during the high tide and when we got out we saw a dog playing with his master where 2 hours before there was water. But inside the walls there were only shops, bars and restaurants.
  • Pont-Aven. Beautiful, romantic and chic. Pont-Aven too is touristic but it is not soulless, not at all! Beautiful the nature path around the village and along the river, the mills and the atmosphere that you breathe. And furthermore it is full of shops selling gallettes, delicious and very buttery biscuits.
  • Carnac. Here you can admire the famous megaliths, not huge in size but very numerous, standing in the meadows. Do not expect 5 meters high menhirs, they are very little, but it is impressive to see them all lined. What a mystery! We arrived very early and there was no one else. Perhaps thanks to this “loneliness” we enjoyed a peaceful and almost magical atmosphere. You can cross the gates only with a guided tour. This is a precaution to maintain the vegetation that allows the menhirs to remain anchored to the ground. We didn’t fancy a guided tour so we just walked around. In my opinion this place is worth a detour if you’re nearby or if you never saw anything like this before. I personally liked it.
  • Rochefort-en-terre. We were there for dinner and enjoyed the village very much. It is really teeny-tiny. So tiny that you can visit it in less then an hour… also stopping for a cup of tea 😉
  • Vannes. Maybe not unmissable, but still a nice town with nice medieval buildings, a beautiful cathedral, a covered market where you will find something to eat without spending too much, and a garden, overlooking the village, full of colorful flowers: perfect for a romantic walk.
  • Josselin. Really a beautiful village. From the river you have a nice view on the castle walls. It ‘s nice to walk along the narrow streets and admire the colorful houses. Beautiful church. I also went top of the church tower and the view was wonderful.

Omitting a couple of places (not worth mentioning), I give you the references of some B&B where we stayed during our Brittany tour:

  • Near Mont Saint Michel. Le Relais de Moidrey (www.moidrey.com), 10 minutes by car from the Mont Saint Michel parking lot, 1-2 km from supermarket and gas station and 5 minutes from the nearest village, Pontorson. It was a quiet place, breakfast wasn’t abundant but sufficient, the lady was not very chatty (but this can be a quality if you love privacy), the room was just OK, the parking lot convenient. Not the best B&B I stayed in but with many pros and a good value for money (55€) in that area.
  • Near Tréguier and Ploumanac’h. Convenant Pennec (www.convenantpennec.com), 6, Convenant Pennec, Langoat. It is a little bit in the middle of nowhere but lovely. The beautiful hostess Claire is smiling and cheerful, and she speaks perfect English. There wasn’t much cell phone coverage but who cares in a place like that? Breakfast was something phantasmagoric: Claire gets up early especially to prepare it. We woke up with a delicious chocolate perfume on the air. The table was all set with bread, croissants, marmalade, a freshly baked chocolate cake, warm crepes and fruit salad. We paid 65€ per night.
  • Close to Locronan and Quimper. Penn ar Yeun (bothorel.com), lieu dit Pennaryeun, Landrevarzec. About € 63. Spacious and neat room in a fabulous contry house. Owner super friendly and great breakfast.
  • Near Vannes. Gorvello Cafe (www.gorvellocafe.com), 41 rue des Ducs de Bretagne, Le Gorvello, Theix. This is a cool address, in a charming tiny village. The B&B (65€ per night) is all covered in vine. The American owner, Don, is very easygoing. Upstairs there are a couple of rooms, downstairs a bar. It was cold that night, so I drank a delicious apple juice with cinnamon, as Don suggested. I still remember that taste! The whole village is very pretty. I admit it, some things I read online are true: breakfast was meagre, the bed wasn’t the best. But we loved it all the same, due to the atmosphere, to the people we met there and to the charm of the village. So I was happy to stay there.
  • Near Rennes / Paimpont / Josselin. Le Champ des Oiseaux, 2 Chemin des Demoiselles, Saint-Peran. Guys, this was the house of my dreams: with rustic stone walls, with pale blue shutters and a beautiful garden around where I sat to write my postcards. The room was big with many shelves and wall sockets (hallelujah), a big bathroom and a shower with sky view. The owner was a friendly and affable lady. Although we stayed only one night, and despite my poor French, she was so kind to chat with us at breakfast to make us feel welcome. Speaking of breakfast, there were: two different kinds of homemade bread, butter, marmalade, no croissants but homemade raspberry crumble. 53€ with breakfast. Incredible! I checked just now and I noticed that their website is offline. I fear they went out of business 😥

Brittany was maybe the most astouding place I ever visited. There is a way of saying there:

Quand tu arrives en Bretagne il pleut! Quand tu en pars tu pleures!

When you arrive in Brittany it rains. When you leave Brittany you cry. Well, while for the weather we were very lucky (not much rain), j’ai pleuré, I cried! I feel moved right now as I’m writing just thinking about this trip and all the amazing things I saw.  If you are fascinated by Brittany, then go and let yourself be taken by its charm!

Discussion6 Comments

  1. Jennifer Smith Cochran

    The photos and your descriptions are fantastic! I spent an academic year during college in the Loire Valley and saw a number of the spots that you mention. Yet, there is clearly so much more to explore! Everything sounds charming and lovely. I think that it must be difficult for successful destinations to balance remaining authentic and becoming a commercial tourist attraction.
    How many days did you spend in the region? Thank you!

    • Hi, Jennifer! I’m so sorry, I found the comment on spam (why???) just now. I went to Paris + Loire valley on my honeymoon in 2011 (10 days) visiting all the castles I could. The castles were described in that same red book of wonders of the world I loved as a child. Then in Brittany we spent 10 days touring, almost every night at a different B&B to see all we could. It was August but we found a lot of tourists only in the 2-3 places I mentioned on the post. The little villages were still rather peaceful (if I compare them to Italy most wanted destination during the same period). Plus, what I like in France is the lower urbanization compared to my region. Here (as you know) it is: city, suburb, 1 field, village, village, 1 field, village, suburb, city. There: city, suburb, forest, fields, tiny village, fields, forest… Authenticity is the most difficult thing to maintain. It’s the logic of money and progress. You know, Padova, my city, was once made by many beautiful canals like Venice and Treviso. But the municipality in the 50s and 60s decided to cover some canals with concrete in order to allow cars traffic and to transform Padova in a modern city 🙁 They also built some horrible modern buildings here and there. What a pity! We still have a couple of canals but the city has changed forever. I saw some old pics… Padova was amazing.

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