Brittany France 1 to 4 October 2014

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October 5th 2014
Published: October 5th 2014
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Brittany France 1 to 4 October 2014

After leaving La Mont Saint Michel, we drove west, close to the northern coast of France, towards Cancale where stopped briefly. It was yet another lovely little French village.

We then travelled a further 20 kms to Saint Malo, another harbour town with a stack of history. Once the feared base of pirates (corsairs), heavily fortified against Norman (or English) attack, today's Saint-Malo is one of the top tourist draws in Brittany.

We were struck by the size of the Ramparts of the walled city (La Ville Intra-Muros). There was also the well preserved Chateau. The town was badly damaged during WW2 but they have done an excellent restoration job.

Saint Malo is also known for its tidal power station, which was the world's first.

Rennes is not often mentioned on tourist guides but we thought this medium size town is well worth a visit. It has more than 200,000 inhabitants, of whom about 60,000 are students. They had a beautiful city Thabor Gardens which was being used for staged entertainment. The 17th century garden had many water features and a bird display.

From there it was onto Josselin which was a real surprise package. All the buildings were of granite stone. Of course, the central square had the cathedral in it - there was a funeral service being held so we only popped in for a short time. We stopped at a little restaurant for lunch and had some crepes which the French LOVE!

The incredibly stunning chateau des Rohan was very easy to find. I had read it was now in private hands, but when I tried the side gate and found it opened, I decided to use my frequently applied saying "ask for forgiveness, not permission". We walked around the grounds taking photos, and sure enough, a young person came and told us the grounds were closed.

Next was Locronan, a small town built at the foot of a hill. It was granted town status in 1505 by Anne of Brittany, who went there on a pilgrimage. The village's name means the "hermitage of Ronan", after the eponymous founder Saint Ronan. The Saint Ronan church was built in this period, and holds the tomb of Saint Ronan.

We then drove onto Quimper a name which is the French name Kemper meaning "confluence" in Breton. Indeed, the birthplace of the city lies at the confluence of Frout and Steir Rivers. The city is full of churches and museums and is very strong in the Breton culture (see my information on Breton, later in this blog).

Being on the rivers, all the menus are full of fish dishes, with the emphasis on mussels, oysters and prawns. We met another Australian (Melbourne) couple who gave us a hint on the best seafood restaurant. We took up their suggestion as no other restaurant was serving meals on a Thursday night, but there were plenty serving drinks. We ended up having dinner with them and found out that they were travelling by car through France for 4 weeks. We enjoyed the town, even though it was only from the late afternoon to the next morning.

The Melbourne couple recommended that we pop into see Pont Aven on the way to Nantes. We were glad we did. This little village has a river flowing through it and used to have 14 or more wiers. It now has only 4, all of which make beautiful photos, hence the reason for the high percentage of artists in the town. We walked along the river, seeing the water wheels as well as all the flowers and plants tumbling over rocks and the bridge. It was beautiful.

Carnac is a beach-side town renowned for the Carnac stones – one of the most extensive Neolithic menhir collections in the world. Carnac is famous as the site of more than 10,000 Neolithic standing stones. The stones were from local rock and erected by the pre-Celtic people of Brittany. Local tradition claims that the reason they stand in such perfectly straight lines is that they are a Roman legion turned to stone by Pope Cornelius.

The Carnac stones were erected during the Neolithic period which lasted from around 4500 BC until 2000 BC. The precise date of the stones is difficult to ascertain as little dateable material has been found beneath them, but the site's main phase of activity is commonly attributed to 3300 BC. One interpretation of the site is that successive generations visited the site to erect a stone in honour of their ancestors.

After walking along the beach we headed for the Stones where there were several bus groups also walking around the large area. It's phenomenal when you stop to think about what you are looking at. The Visitors Centre was also full of information.

As we had a finite time period, before we were dropping off the car to Bordeaux, we headed for Nantes for the night. Nantes is the sixth largest city in France, with a metropolitan area of about 900,000 people. The city had an 'open' feel to it, with many large squares and parks. There was a great tram system also which we used several times. Our hotel was very close to the CBD.

Tom had a haircut near our hotel while I had a look through the antique market. There were some lovely items on display, so very different to the markets in Brisbane.

We headed for the mechanical elephant which is a real tourist draw card. It stands outside the Mechanical Museum which is full of things 'mechanical' you would expect! It presents a history of many mechanical inventions over the decades. The elephant can actually walk and 'drink' water and wet by-standers. it wasn't working when we were there.

We found out that it was University Orientation week so there were groups of students all dressed up and as we were having our afternoon beer and later dinner, we saw that the students were wandering in a group around the city.

The evening was warm so it was lovely walking around the streets. The next day we were off to Bordeaux to drop the car off and will be staying in Bordeaux for 2 nights before we head for Spain.

Now a bit about Brittany before we leave:

Brittany received its modern name when it was settled (in around 500 AD) by Britons, whom the Anglo-Saxons had driven from Britain. Breton history is one long struggle for independence — first from the Franks (5th-9th century), then the Counts of Anjou and the Dukes of Normandy (10th-12th century), and finally from England and France.

The Breton people maintain a fierce sense of independence to this day, as displayed by their local customs and traditions. In the past 5 years or so a resurgence of the regional identity has happened in France. Breton art, music and culture are recognized across the nation.

The people of Brittany all speak French, many speak the regional Breton language Breton, but many speak English very well too. Breton is a Celtic language derived from the historical Common Brittonic language, and is most closely related to Cornish and Welsh. Many of the town and street signs are in French and Breton. Recently there has been a revival of the language which is now taught in some schools. Have a look at their traditional costumes in my photos. The lady's hats are fantastic!

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