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.
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!
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…
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.
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.
Nantes and Rennes are Brittany’s main airports, followed by Brest, Quimper and Lorient connecting Brittany to the rest of France and some (not all) European cities. Visiting from outside Europe, you may have to fly to Paris first and catch a connecting flight 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!
Travelling between Brittany’s main cities and towns can be achieved by public transport. Trains and public buses are fairly frequent and affordable. Brittany’s local government has even set up a website available in English to help you plan your trip with public transport: check out MobiBreizh.bzh, it is super handy.
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!