Brittany, or “la Bretagne!” as the locals proudly announce, is not all about the food. I know, I can’t resist the sweet smell of bakeries every time I return to this exquisite part of France but let’s not talk about my addiction to buttery almond croissants (with melting chocolate inside) and crepes…
Even after the union of the Duchy of Brittany with the Kingdom of France in 1532, Brittany has never stopped nurturing and promoting its very own cultural identity.
For visitors it means weird place names with a lot of K’s, unique architecture and historical beauties in every town and village, music festivals where traditional and modern music collide. And of course, culinary exploits that send you home with some extra weight around the waist.
Sprinkle on top of it some breathtaking views over a very diverse coastline enjoyed by hikers, surfers, beach-goers and lighthouse climbers like myself, and you will want to come back over and over again.
WHAT IS BRITTANY?
Brittany is an Atlantic-facing region in the westernmost part of France, formerly an independent duchy before it became part of the Kingdom of France in 1532. It is subdivided into 4 “départements” (Finistère, Côtes-d’Armor, Morbihan and Ille-et-Vilaine). Historically the Duchy of Brittany spread as far as the “département” of Loire-Atlantique and there are regular calls and petitions for it to rejoin the other four and recreate the historic Brittany.
My Top 5 Things To Do In Brittany
Visit A Castle
Whether built on a rock in the middle of the ocean or the elegant residence of the duchy’s former rulers, castles in Brittany come in various shapes and sometimes unexpected locations. Brittany is dotted with extraordinary castles (more than 200) from cities to coast that reveal it’s complicated history with the Kingdom of France and its constant fear of the British invaders. Quick to grasp the visitor’s imagination, Brittany’s castles are always on top of my list whenever I explore this historic part of France.
Are you looking for something fun to do this Summer? You must try surfing! Brittany has some great spots for surfing, the best ones sprinkled along the beautiful southern coast. If you’re just getting started, I would recommend La Torche, a superb span of sand with a surf school meters away from the beach. It’s never too late to get on the board!
Indulge A Crepe “Made In Brittany”
It has become second nature to me. I won’t leave Brittany before stopping by a local crêperie and relish a Breton crepe garnished with warm salted caramel on melting vanilla ice cream. Brittany has some of the best crêperies I know of and I would beat myself up if I’d missed an opportunity to visit one. That’s what we call addiction. I had quite a few crepes in Rennes last time I was there if you need recommendations…
Climb A Lighthouse
I love the thrill of visiting a lighthouse! Protected from the world by the thick walls as you climb the stairs to the top, unaware of the waves crashing against the rocks, you suddenly re-emerge in the light with the most splendid view at your feet. Climbing a lighthouse is one of my favourite activities in Brittany. Not all of them are open to the public but a fair number are and it is an experience like no other. Just hold on tight to your camera, it can be exhilaratingly windy.
Escape To An Island
Brittany has more than a thousand islands and islets along its coast. So deciding which one is most picturesque could quickly turn into an endless argument. They are all unique and make for fantastic day trips away from the hustle and bustle of more touristy coastal towns. Don’t know which one to pick? I loved the car-free Ile-de-Batz and its Caribbean-like waters.
Other Things To Do And See In Brittany
- Discover Brittany’s well-preserved medieval architecture: Morlaix, Rennes, Quimper, these are just some examples of cities where centuries old half-timbered houses have been magnificently preserved and are worth discovering as you stroll down their cobbled streets.
- Go to the beach: the weather might not be as pleasant as in St-Tropez but Brittany is clearly not all about rain (my last sunburns are evidence of it). The Summer months see strong enough spells of sunshine to make you want to cool down in the ocean. Sandy beaches can be found from north to south, minus the congested crowds of the South of France. A great way to chill out, literally.
- Explore Brittany’s religious heritage: historically fervent Catholics, the Breton people built numerous monasteries, churches and cathedrals along the centuries. These are architectural masterpieces well taken care of today and that keep impressing the visitors.
- Pay a visit to Brittany’s mysterious standing stones: Megaliths have been standing on Brittany’s soil since 4000 BC and their significance is still a mystery today. One thing is certain though, their alignment makes for an astonishing view that shouldn’t be missed.
- Go on a road trip: Renting a car remains one of the best ways to discover Brittany’s charming villages, market towns and harbours, some of the prettiest in France. Roscoff, St Malo, Concarneau, Locquirec, Locronan, the list goes on an on. Shop local, enjoy the Breton food, chill out on a cafe’s terrace. Just slow down and get a taste of the Breton way of life.
- Taste the local cakes: We talked about the Breton crêpe? Yes, we did… Well, that’s not all. Brittany’s traditional bakeries have more than one insidious way to ruin your pre-holiday diet. Butter-rich Kouign amann could easily be your worst downfall but it would be a shame to leave Brittany without taking a bite first.
How To Get To Brittany
Brittany is also well connected to Paris by train. With departures every hour from the French capital, you will be in Rennes in just 90 minutes. The journey all the way to Brest passing through Morlaix will take 4 long hours though. Same thing if you’re going to Quimper while you’ll be in Nantes in roughly 2 hours.
Low-cost bus companies like Ouibus will also take you from Paris to Brittany’s main cities but be prepared to spend long hours on the road (5 to 6 hours to Nantes or Rennes). If you’re driving yourself, well-looked after motorways will lead you all the way to Brest. Just don’t forget to take regular breaks, it is a long road!
Another option I tested myself is the ferry. I embarked from Cork in the south of Ireland for a night long crossing to Roscoff. From the south of England, ferries connect Plymouth to Roscoff and Portsmouth to St Malo. Travelling by sea can be more expensive but you might be saving on other costs like renting a car if you’re bringing your own with you. You also save a full day by travelling at night. And you get to see the sunset and sunrise at sea!
How To Get Around Brittany
A car will be necessary though if you want to visit smaller towns, villages and beaches. If you’re planning a road trip or want to move more freely around Brittany, you can easily pick up a rental at one of Brittany’s airports. Shop around online first for the best price but renting a car in France is clearly not as expensive as in other European countries (cough, cough…Ireland).
Roads are well maintained and are a breeze to drive on, with motorways and expressways connecting the bigger cities. Remember to be careful though as they can get a bit narrow sometimes especially when driving near the coast. Also don’t forget to reduce your speed through the many villages you’ll discover on your way. And drive on the right hand side!
QUICK FACTS ABOUT BRITTANY
What are Brittany’s main cities? Rennes is considered the capital of Brittany but Nantes is the city where the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany, the main residence of the Duchy’s former rulers, can be found. Brest is famous for its naval history while you can’t ignore Quimper’s picturesque charm.
What language do people speak? French is of course the main language in Brittany but 5% of the population also speaks Breton and 3% speaks Gallo, two local languages.
What currency would I need? Stock up on Euros. Shops won’t accept anything else.
Can I drive In Brittany with a foreign driving licence? If you have a driving licence from the European Economic Area, you’re good to go! Coming from outside the EEA, you will need a driving licence in French. If not, you’ll need to carry an official translation of your licence or an international driving licence with your actual driving licence.
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