As explained in the previous post, I’ve recently been in Normandy and Brittany with my friend Agatha. After publishing the first part of the trip (Normandy: a brief opinionated guide) now I proceed to do the same with Brittany.
It has been quite complicated because we saw a lot of awesome things and for me it still takes a lot of time (several hours) to write this kind of articles.
What to expect from this guide
I don’t like to repeat myself, so I invite you to read the disclaimers in the Normandy article. I’ll simply put here the map of Brittany prepared by Agatha.
Our first stop in Brittany from Normandy was precisely in a town that was besieged several times by the Normands. In 1924 the town changed its name from Dol to Dol-de-Bretagne, maybe to discourage a new attempt by their neighbours.
Dol-de-Bretagne deserves a quick visit, not only to see its Cathedral and the quaint Grand Rue des Stuarts (Dol is considered the origin of the famous royal House of Stewart) but specially to see a huge menhir (the estimated weight is 125-150 tons).
We arrived Cancale at the right time, just before lunch. This fishing village is famous for its oyster beds, its oyster farmers everywhere, its popular oyster market, and its countless restaurants where you can order oysters. According to Wikipedia, the oyster beds of Cancale cover more than 7 square kilometres, and they harvest about 25,000 tons of oysters each year. Impressive, even for someone like me who finds eating raw oysters quite disgusting.
Cancale’s Oyster Market is famous because in the stalls they sell freshly caught oysters on a plate or tray with a slice of lemon, and people eat them right there by the sea. The initial plan was to visit the market before lunch so that Agatha could satisfy her appetite. After seeing one after another the handful of stalls that were there open, the rumors say that Agatha did not find the idea very pleasant and had to settle for trying the oysters in the restaurant.
There were countless restaurants, I suspect that in high season it will be difficult to come and eat in a decent place without reservation.
Bonus recommendation: Restaurant Le Cancalais, one of the finest restaurants in Cancale, although perhaps also one of the most expensive. Great menu with several seafood and fish dishes.
Saint-Malo was one of the main positive surprises of the trip. With an historic center that is itself a walled citadel, Saint-Malo was in the past notorious for its privateering and pirate activities. Today, it is considered the most visited place in Brittany.
Although the day was windy it was not very cold, and with a vin chaud in the hand we took a very cool walk over the city walls. I thought initially that it was the standard insipid posh town with glamorous sites everywhere but I found a charming town with (yes) lots of glamorous places everywhere. Maybe I put a lot of my part, but I perfectly imagined the streets and beaches full of corsairs.
Bonus recommendation: Café La Java, by pure chance we stopped for a coffee in this spectacular place. The decoration was based on dolls, puppets and lots of circus material. The chairs on the bar were swing chairs hanging from the ceiling… everything was incredible, even the blow they gave us when we asked for the bill.
After the positive surprise of Saint-Malo we decided to visit Dinard, another famous tourist destination for wealthy people in this case mainly from the United Kingdom. We took a short walk after the sunset that did not allow us to see much but we ended with the feeling that the place looks nice for the spring and summer but it’s basically dead in the low season.
The most remarkable moment, and it was not prepared in advance, was the photo that I took next to an statue of Alfred Hitchcock with an Alfred Hitchcock’s t-shirt. Hitchcock visited several times the town for holidays, to the point that the locals even claim that the house used in Psycho is based on a still standing villa of Dinard. The statue is full size a replica (or viceversa) of the trophies for the winners of the Dinard British Film Festival, held here every year since 1989.
Dinan was also one of those villages that could deserve a relaxed weekend getaway. We quietly walked through its center despite the rain, crossing countless streets and squares with picturesque facades and shops. We couldn’t climb La Tour de l’Horloge to see the views from up there, but maybe you should.
I think that Dinan was the first town where we enjoyed a town center more or less protected from the cars and the traffic. This helped a lot to improve our sense of comfort there. As happened in Saint-Malo, the town center was full of nice shops and restaurants, giving the pedestrian the feeling of being inside a spectacular outdoor mall.
Côte de Granit Rose
The Côte de Granit Rose (Pink Granite Coast) is a >30km stretch of coastline famous due to its unusual pink sands and rock formations. This is an unique place, and several curious and picturesque areas can be seen from different places. Beside the coast and the cliffs, most of the house and chalets in the area were also built with this pink granite.
We went first to some viewpoints inside Perros-Guirec and then to Ploumanac’h, close to the main area for visitors to the Pink Granite Coast in the Pors Karmor bay. It is supposed to be more startling during the summer because there is more sunlight, but it’s a recommended visit at any time of the year.
Bonus recommendation: Restaurant Le Ker Louis, again we ended there a little bit by chance, because we tried before in several places that turned out to be closed, and it was a tremendous luck. Our lunch was spectacular, very well prepared and quite inexpensive.
Rumengol and Le Faou
We planned Le Faou and Rumengol (a small village that belongs to Le Faou as well) as two quick visits in our way from the northern coast of Brittany to the Pointe du Raz, and we were not mistaken.
Rumengol has a curious church (Notre-Dame-du-Tout-Remède) that hosts a significant pilgrimage ceremony, one of the main ones in Brittany. We only saw the church from the outside and after the sunset, but it looked very special and quite different from others. Le Faou has a couple of cute streets, nice but nothing remarkable where almost all the villages have the same.
Pointe du Raz
Pointe du Raz is one of the sites that most impressed me on the trip and one of the places that I will remember the most. It is a rocky promontory that is just embedded into the sea, but the sensation there with strong waves crushing the cliffs and hurricane winds was really special. Totally overwhelming, to the point that it seemed dangerous to go near the edge of the cliffs in case the wind blew you away. I’m not surprised that the French considered it the end of the world.
From the headland, you can see several lighthouses of different sizes located on rocks or small islands. It’s the place that I know where more lighthouses can be seen.
We really wanted to see Locronan and we were not disappointed. Narrow streets, cute shops, houses made of stone and slate,… Our only problem was that we arrived exactly when dozens of workers and gardeners were conditioning and decorating the entire town in a big way for XMas. It was full of vans, tractors, boxes, sacks,… but despite all this, the town looked beautiful.
Locronan is a deserved member of the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (The most beautiful villages of France) association. Le Faou is also a member but there are huge differences in terms of beauty and care.
Bonus recommendation: Ty Kouign Amann, one of the finest chocolate shops we’ve seen in the trip. It was so tempting that we left there with a bag full of chocolates.
Among all the large towns (or small cities) that we visited, Quimper was one of the ones I liked the most. Several gardens, beautiful houses and the usual town center full of nice shops, boutiques and restaurants. Also, the Cathedral has a feature that makes it special. The main nave is bended in the middle, so much that it is clearly perceived both inside and outside the temple.
Bonus recommendation: Le Sistrot, this marvellous place is both cider house and refined restaurant, they served us one of the best meals of the entire trip. They had in the menu dozens of different ciders from all over the world and of many different types, for example I ordered one made of 5 different kinds of apples. I was left wanting to order the add-on for the menu that included a different cider to match with each plate, dessert included.
The Ville Close (Walled Village) is a fortified island forming a medieval small village inside the town of Concarneau. It was nice but somehow disappointing because it’s very very small and 90% of the shops and restaurants inside the fortress were closed. It is sized for many people, and they even had an outdoor theater, so surely in other seasons it will be much more attractive.
Pont-Aven is mainly known for the Pont-Aven School of Arts, a group of artists in the 19th century led by Émile Bernard and Paul Gauguin that painted every corner of this town. Now Pont-Aven is full of tourists, restaurants and art galleries.
To reinforce the impressionist atmosphere that inspired (and inspires) the painters and charmes the visitors, the entire village specially around the river was illuminated in a very special way. I’m not sure if this is always like this or only on these pre-XMas dates.
We made a quick visit to Auray, just to walk a while through the center and to have dinner. It’s nice, not as interesting as other places in Brittany but I’d recommend a visit if you pass near there.
Carnac is renowned for the Carnac stones, one of the most extensive Neolithic menhir collections in the world. Within the limits of the town you can visit several areas with kilometers of alignments of stones of different sizes, some of them over two metres high. I’m not sure what is more impressive, the fact that they could do that around 4500 BC or that most of them in this area are still standing in the 21st century.
Near a couple of alignments you can also find a huge menhir, brilliantly called Le Géant du Manio, with more than 6m of height. Le Géant is hidden inside a forest, so you need to walk for 10-15’ to reach there but the short walk is worth it because the forest is impressive. I would love to have forests like that near my house.
Vannes was also a positive surprise. It’s quite big (more than 50K inhabitants), but the town center is again very well preserved and luckily for them restricted to vehicles. Narrow streets with nice shops and restaurants everywhere.
One of the differential elements of Vannes is his port, built in an elongated way to take the sea into the center of the city.
Bonus recommendation: Restaurant Rive Gauche, possibly the restaurant that we liked the most. The plates were spectacular, refined and inexpensive. It’s very small, so you should book in advance.
We only had time for a quick walk through the center of Malestroit and it was raining a lot, so we couldn’t see this small village as calmly as we normally do but what we saw was very beautiful. They were celebrating a charity market, and we were able to buy them vin chaud so our memory of them will always be positively biased.
La Gacilly is famous for two things: it’s local craftsmen stores (not as valuable as they were described) and Yves Rocher. This cosmetic company was founded here, and everywhere you look you’ll see something related to it: shops, restaurants, cafés, spas, hotels,… the company even maintains a botanical garden in La Gacilly, open to the public without charge.
Rochefort-en-Terre was perhaps the most anticipated destination by Agatha. During the entire year is just another nice village with stone houses, attractive restaurants, galleries, cute shops… but during the last days of the year it changes entirely to transform the entire village into a magnificient XMas market. It’s true that after the sunset the environment is magical with all those lights and even some artificial snow flakes in some streets. The magic disappears partially because it was infested with visitors, even more than Mont Saint-Michel.
That night we slept in another small town close to Rochefort-en-Terre so in addition to seeing it at night, the next day we walked by there with sunlight and it was also interesting, specially because we were almost alone. The bad thing is that everything was closed that early in the morning.
Josselin is considered one of the most beautiful medieval villages in Brittany. In addition to having the typical facades with wooden beams, here I had the impression that they were painted with more care and style. We took a good walk but we could not enter the castle, things that happen when the monuments are privately owned.
We really wanted to spend a few hours hiking through the forest of Brocéliande (a legendary forest commonly considered to be the Paimpont forest in Brittany) but two things crossed our path once we started the route: a copious rain and a sign forbidding us to continue. The forest, at least the part that tourists cross, is privately owned and that makes it possible that the main forest area only opens from April 1st to September 30th.
Anyway, our limited walk was great specially under the rain.
Bonus recommendation: Crêperie La Fée Gourmande, we had a lot of trouble finding a place to eat in Paimpont because everything was closed, but in the end someone told us how to get to a creperie in the outskirts that would surely be open. La Fée Gourmande is not in the center of the town but it’s amazingly located in the shore of the Étang de l’Abbaye de Paimpont and the galettes were amazing. a total success because they were also very nice with us.
We were on the verge of not being able to go to Fougères due to the lack of time and I’m very glad that we could finally make it, even if it was at the cost of having cut the walk through Brocéliande.
The Château, a huge stronghold built atop a granite ledge, is one of the most famous attractions in the area. It’s very well preserved and the visit with the audioguide explains clearly the history of the castle and the city in the Middle Ages.
As in many other places, we were almost alone so we could make funny things like climbing two different towers so we could take each other a picture on top of the other tower. I have several epic pictures in this castle, it’s a pity that I didn’t have my bow and some arrows to pose properly.
The town itself is nice, specially because it’s located on top of a hill and the views are magnificient both from the village to the castle and from the castle to the village. The garden sorrounding the Cathedral was full of lights and XMas figures (and people).
Our visit to Rennes was slightly disappointing, we planned one evening and a morning there but we could only see the Cathedral. We tried hard to visit the Parlament de Bretagne but they exhausted us by making us cross the center of the city to go to a tourist office that later turned out to be closed… Rennes is very big (10th largest city in France) and it seemed to be a very lively city but they did not prove to be very well prepared for tourists out of season.
I would not mind coming back and spending a quiet weekend here.
Vitré was our last stop in the trip through Normandy and it was not a bad culmination. We were able to take a pleasant walk under a light rain, and after lunch we visited the castle. The part of the castle that you can visit is small but interesting, the other part holds the Town Hall and other official dependencies.
Bonus recommendation: Restaurant Le Petit Bouchon, it’s outside the historic center, so it’s almost impossible for you to end up eating here if it’s not after a recommendation. We ate very well and were treated perfectly. Their Café Gourmand is delicious.
Le Mans is not in Brittany, but it was on our way to Charles de Gaulle to return the car and flight back home. They claim to be the second most known french city around the world, and this is because since 1923 the city hosts the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance car race.
We couldn’t enter the Cathedral but we liked a lot the rest of the town center. It’s nice and very lively. They have a cute area around the monument to the 24H of Le Mans race, which is indistinguishable from a shopping mall due to the amount of shops of all kinds.
The Museum of the 24 Hours of Le Mans is full of real sport cars and bikes with a few replicas, very interesing to any aficionado of the races. The vehicles were grouped by category and year, so it was easy and educational to follow the evolution of the technological improvements. One of the most curious things were some showcases with minuatures of all the cars that participated every year.
In addition to the museum, it’s possible to do a walking tour through the Circuit de la Sarthe. The visit includes access to the stands, bleachers and the pelouse area. I enjoyed it but it would have been nice to be able to visit other interesting areas like the boxes, the workshops, the VIP areas… or even lending us a car to make a whole lap to the circuit :-)
I hope that you enjoyed the guide!