C'est Bretagne! Ten things to see and do in Brittany
Brittany was once known as ‘little Britain’, but fret not, you’re unlikely to find Vicky Pollard and her cohorts here. The Celtic region of Bretagne est both très cultural et très independent, has a different feel from the rest of France, and is the only place in the country where you’ll see such an impressive headpiece .
We utterly love Brittany: here’s our take on ten things to see and do in Bretagne:
Walk the walls of St-Malo
The walled city of Saint-Malo is the most visited place in Brittany and was known in the nineteenth century as la place pour corsaires and pirates (aaarrr, really). These days, head for la citadelle (the old city), hoist yourself up on its west side for a walk around the remaining old ramparts, then drop down for several bites to eat: St-Malo is one of the most restaurant-packed regions in Europe and will have, we confidently say, pretty much whatever you fancy (we fancy oysters).
Stay at: Camping Les 4 Vaulx , a short drive from St-Malo and another Bretagne walled city, Dinan – and steps away from the seaside resort of Saint Cast le Guildo. Grass pitches with optional electric start from un piffling £9.55 a night.
Hop around the islands
Both Bretagne’s Atlantic and Channel coasts off St-Malo bay are home to simply stacks of islands, ranging from rocky dots one can fantasise stranding enemies upon to tourist draws such as beautiful Belle-île (there could be a clue in the name there). Artistes français have been inspired by Belle-île for centuries: take the ferry from Quiberon, hire a bike or scooter and explore the 150 villages, a 95km coastal footpath and plenty of famed spots like Monet’s Côte Sauvage to see why.
Stay nearby at Camping Plijadur , a family-friendly park just north of Quiberon and a kilometre from the fishing village and sandy beach at Trinité Sur Mer. A three-bedroom holiday home starts from £563.32 for a week in July for up to seven people, and from £461.68 in August.
‘A part of France has nice food’ isn’t exactly an earth-shattering pronouncement, but c’est impossible to write about Bretagne without mentioning its cuisine, from les galettes available all over to shelly and fishy specimens done up every which way (and also available all over).
There’s no food trail as such in Brittany – mostly because it would just consist of the word ‘everywhere’ – but most foodies head for the port of Cancale ten miles east of St-Malo for oysters; Tourteaux for spider crabs, and everywhere for seafood: about 80% of France’s seafood catch is landed in Brittany. And we did mention les galettes…?
Sup le cidre, c’est savoureux
L’official Route du Cidre is in Normandy, but there’s nothing to stop you making your own Brittany cider trail: it will unpeel in front of you anywhere in the region you choose. We hicfully suggest you start off in Cornouaille, or French Cornwall (we hear there’s also decent cider in Cornwall ), probably the best-known region for Breton cider and where the first cider was produced with the appellation controlee (AOC) stamp. (We hicfully also suggest you only buy cider with this stamp.)
There are ten cider producers on the ‘route du Cidre AOC Cornouaille’; look out for the AOC signs at the entrance to breweries and ask nicely for a tour. How much you buy afterwards is up to vous.
Stay at Camping de Keranterec in the region for cider tasting on a local farm, pitches in an apple orchard and direct access to the beach. Electric grass pitches start from £22.03.
Get cultured and shop in Rennes
If you can only spend one day in Bretagne’s capital city, make it Saturday for one of the biggest open-air markets in Europe (and free cockles and mussels at The Thirsty Artist afterwards). The cobbled streets around Place Sainte-Anne are best for more shopping that afternoon (look up/out for the wobbly half-timbered houses), or make a cultured day of it with a trip to the massive Musée de Bretagne/Museum of Brittany, telling the tale of this lovely region through the ages.
Stay at Loudéac’s Camping Aquarev about an hour to the west of Rennes, three km from Loudéac Forest and a short drive from lake bathing in the Mur De Bretagne. Aquarev is a family site with facilities for disabled guests, and has electric grass pitches from £11.43 a night.
Have a bath
Much like our own lovely Bath in Somerset , Bretagne is renowned for its own form of aqua-based health goodness, even if it’s a bit harder to pronounce. Thalassotherapy is the use of sea water for therapeutic purposes, and is probably particularly famed in Brittany given the amount of water they have. A spa in Paris? Le pffffft.
Stay at the aptly named La Piscine in Finistère to be near the thalassotherapy centres of spa town Bénodet: on site, watery therapy will also be found in the aqua park with waterslides, heated covered pool, spa and Jacuzzi. Grass pitches with optional electric start from £15.53 a night.
Hike the Côte de Granit-Rose
Pink rocks? We did say Bretagne is a rather independent place… Brittany has almost 2800km of coastline to hike, including the north’s GR34 coastal path following the old routes of coastguards in les days de yore, which also has the Côte de Granit-Rose or Pink Granite Coast between Trébeurden and Perros-Guirec. Strangely pink rock formations can be found here, especially on the seven-kilometre round trip between Perros-Guirec and the port of Ploumanac’h: start off at Trestraou and follow the GR34 to see odd shapes like Napolean’s hat, a rabbit and a pinkly wicked witch.
Camping du Port is on the Côte de Granit-Rose and has direct access to the beach and views of the pink rocks of Trégastel-Plage. A two-bedroom lodge sleeping up to five starts from £359.22 for seven nights.
Get Celtic in Quimper
The medieval city of Quimper is the ancient capital of cider centre Cornouaille and probably the most traditional region in Brittany. Although you’ll find la musique – et le cidre – anywhere in Bretagne, Quimper is the spot for culture and has had Bretons and travellers visiting for its Festival de Cornouaille since 1923. Go here for Breton and modern music, children’s shows, concerts, dance and traditional Breton costumes on the last day; the 2014 Festival de Cornouaille is from 22 – 27 July.
Stay at L'Orangerie de Lanniron for the festival or into autumn: these 90 acres of space were the former summer palace of the Bishops of Quimper and you can reach the city by foot and cycle path from the campsite. A studio sleeping two starts from £53.07 a night, and two-bedroom holiday homes sleeping six from £980.47 for 23 – 30 July.
Build a sandcastle
Quelle surprise – there are beaucoup beautiful beaches in Bretagne. After the French Riviera, the beaches of Brittany are the most visited in France, just possibly because of their white sands, super surfing waves and cliffs that guidebooks always seem to call ‘rugged’.
Both the Channel and the Atlantic sides of Bretagne have beaches that will make you never want to go back to work: try the sandy beaches of Dinard and the tiny inlet of Ploumanac’h at the former, and the mile-long stretch of Fouesnant’s Cap-Coz and the watersports of Morgat at the latter. Special mention also of course to Quiberon’s wide and sandy Grande Plage (and because Quiberon town has a Quidditch team: vraiment).
Dig some history (man)
Much like its cousin across the Channel, you can hit a site historique in Bretagne almost anywhere in the region, usually by tripping over an ancient stone… After a great deal of thought, which may have involved Breton cider, we’re recommending Morbihan for a first historical stop: not only has it the greatest number of castles in Brittany, but it’s also home to the ancient village of Carnac with its 3000 megalithic stones, the biggest collection in the world. Go. See.
Base your history party at Carnac’s Le Moustoir for easy access to the stones, a petting farm pour l'enfants, a spa, steam room and water park with Jacuzzi, waterslides and pools. Two-bedroom holiday homes sleeping up to five start from £429.51 for a week in August and from £507.45 for a week in July.
Bonus no 11
If you’re in Bretagne – or France – in August, we must demand that you go to the Festival Interceltique at Lorient, a Celtic music celebration that sees 700,000 visitors and Celtic musicans from all over the world. This year’s festival is from 1 – 10 August; stay nearby at Camping Le Moténo 10km from Lorient, which has electric pitches throughout the festival from £201.11 for seven nights, or a two-bedroom holiday home from 2 – 9 August at £724.20, sleeping up to six.
We also recommend La Route du Rock Festival at St-Malo, 13 – 16 August, and wherever you are in Brittany over the summer, look out for the local fest noz , a traditional dance and music festival that will keep you up until dawn.
If you’re having a holiday in Bretagne this summer, please bring us back some cider? Merci.