Brittany, Brest and Saint Malo ; the Gulf of Morbihan and the wild coast of Quiberon

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Brest, Dinard and Saint-Malo
Quiberon wild coast, Quimper
Gulf of Morbihan

It has often been said that Brittany is both unique and multiple. Unique in its geographical situation, which invariably makes one think of a ship’s bow ploughing through the ocean, in the power of its winds and tides on which human activity depends. Unique too because no other French region is more attached to such a rich, such an authentic culture and heritage. Multiple because it is hard to find in one region such a diversity of landscapes, so many tourist marvels, exposed or hidden, a coast (Armor) so extraordinarily carved, so finely sculpted, dotted with islands, and an inland country (Argoat) so hilly. A land of a thousand faces constantly changing throughout the day, always different, always
designer gueshouse , romantic BB in Brittany
The Armor region comprises more than 1100 kilometres of capes, coves, bays, granite rocks, estuaries washed by high tides, islands and islets battered relentlessly by the waves. This coast, where the sea, the sky and the land constantly blend in ever-changing patterns enchants the visitor, who never grows weary of the spectacle. Here a breach on a patch of beach or in a small fishing port, there a moor dotted with gorse bush, a thatched cottage perched on a cliff. Landscapes and skies vibrate with light. The spectacle is constantly changing, the ocean’s influence often creating several sequences of weather in a single day. The mild climate favours the growth of an abundant, varied flora, southern species flourishing in the sheltered areas, northern varieties in exposed areas beaten by the ocean winds.

Brittany is France’s foremost maritime province. It used to be said – even in songs – that the Breton was born a sailor. In actual fact, not so long ago, many Bretons did take to sea. Sea fishing, coastal or deep-sea, off the coasts of Newfoundland, Iceland or Greenland, has for centuries been one of Brittany’s prime resources. It has sparked legends, inspired writers and left a deep mark in the hearts of native Bretons. Fishing activity today, which has been industrialised, is facing severe difficulties as resources grow scarce, but the sea-going tradition endures with as much vigour as in past times. The proof of this is the fantastic development of sailing all along the coasts. More than a leisure activity, it’s a sort of religion. Brittany, which is ideally suited to sailing activities, is a nursery for some of France’s most famous sailors and skippers. What amateur has never felt the urge to navigate along it’s shores…or never dreamed of transatlantic crossings while gazing at the “formula 1’s ” of the sea anchored in a Breton port !

The Argoat region boasts undulating landscapes, a succession of hills carved out by fast-flowing rivers. The oak forests, heavy with ferns, have given way to vast moor lands, covered in heather and gorse bush, which in turn give way to farms and fields. Traditional Breton housing blends in perfectly with the countryside. Low granite cottages with thatched roofs or tiles, simple village houses or town houses, all convey an impression of solid, durable construction. They seem to defy the seasons, the rain, the wind, the storms. The architectural heritage of this province possesses remarkable treasures, villages or neighbourhoods, untroubled by modern anachronisms. Another distinctive feature of Brittany is that everywhere you go you encounter chapels, Celtic crosses, crucifixion scenes, and parish closes built out of granite, a symbol of this region. These closes, like ancient comic books, narrate religious events and rural scenes, depending on the sculptor’s inspiration. The province, which has always been deeply religious, has always made great efforts to protect its spiritual heritage.

Brittany also boasts thousands of megaliths, mysterious monuments made out of crude stone pointed at the sky. There are over 7000 menhirs, cairns or dolmens planted in the earth, which impress the visitor by their sheer size. How did Neolithic men (around 6000 years ago) transport and raise blocks weighing more than 350 tons ? And why ? These colossuses have raised many questions and become the stuff of legends. There are tales relating that the Carnac menhirs go down to the beach on certain nights to drink. Similarly, the forest of Brocéliande (or Paimpont) calls to mind the exploits of King Arthur, Merlin the sorcerer and the fairy Viviane. In Brittany, springs, forests and megaliths are at the heart of stories and legends in which brave knights defend traditional values against dark forces.

The islands of Brittany reveal another world. Each one of them, however tiny, has its own character, its identity, to which the island’s inhabitants are strongly attached. They offer quiet havens and sumptuous scenery. Bréhat, off Paimpol, surrounded by a hundred or so islets and reefs, the “island of flowers” and of pink granite rocks. Batz, over the water from Roscoff, with its mild climate washed by the Gulf Stream. Ouessant the furthest to the West, between the Channel and the Atlantic, battered by the waves, isolated by strong currents and dangerous reefs. Like Sein, standing off the mythical Pointe du Raz. The archipelago of Glénan, off Concarneau, a paradise for sailing enthusiasts. Groix, over the water from Lorient, with it’s moors covered in heather and gorse bush. The aptly-named Belle-Ile, the largest of all, with rock faces and valleys, on the famous wild coast (côte sauvage). The Gulf of Morhiban, that magnificent inland sea so sought after by visitors and tourists, also contains over sixty islands among which the white sails of yatchts weave endless arabesques.

Brittany is proud of its quintessential Celtic cultural identity, of its language and music. Costumes and head pieces are the outer signs of this identity. The atonements (pardons), expressions of religious fervour, the folklore festivals, the “fez-noz” bring together throngs attached to traditions handed down from generation to generation. The festooned bagpipes, bombards and drums accompany the highly codified Breton dances. Tradition remains intact and alive. Every year, the various folklore groups rival with each other in competitions that attract large crowds. The costumes and head pieces reveal the extraordinary Breton diversity : multi-coloured embroidery, jackets with black facing, small waistcoats, vast shawls, as well as a wide range of headgear. Each small locality is attached to its traditions, proud of its particularisms. “A hundred countries, a hundred fashions” proclaims an old Breton saying. This is a source of rich cultural diversity.

To carry out an inventory of Brittany’s picturesque sites is an authentic challenge. Tourists are spoilt for choice in this highly visited region. Tourist Bureaus offer hundreds of different circuits and tours. Bigoudi country, Cornouailles and the Pointe du Raz, the Armorican peaks, Trégor, Léon and its wild abers, the Steps of Brittany, the heart of Argoat, the Esmerald Coast, the Pink Granite Coast, the islands, etc…Theme tours, such as Pont-Aven land of painters, the tour of the arts cities, of lighthouses and beacons, parish closes, the Dukes of Brittany, the land of Merlin the enchanter, etc.. Most Breton towns have authentic centres of interest. Brest offers a visit to Océanopolis, a magnificent showcase of Ocean life. Quimper has its old town. Quiberon its peninsula. St Malo, its city of pirates and its ramparts. Rennes, the regional capital, its Parliament palace. Fougères its feudal chateau. Vannes its golf course. There are plenty of other Breton towns and sights to delight visitors. It is also impossible to make a list of all the festivals and shows, whether the theme is local traditions, atonements or local produce. A few original themes : the festival of “Astonishing travellers”, embroidery festivals, the blue string festival, the sailor’s song festival, the golden gorse bush festival, the hydrangea festival, etc…

Breton cuisine also reveals the diversity of Brittany’s heritage. The produce of sea and earth, of Armor and Argoat, come together in the local cuisine. The ocean’s delights are countless : sea bass, red mullet, sea bream, mackerel, St-Jacques scallops, scampi and lobsters, crabs, prawns, sea urchins, shellfish and oysters. There is plenty of choice and fresh produce : the return of the fishing fleet in a small Breton port is always a spectacle to behold and a promise of succulent fare. The inner country offers plenty of specialities : cold meats, chitterlings and sausages, the famous wheat or buckwheat pancakes, the black wheat flat cakes. Breton produce is universally loved and is an important feature of France’s regional cuisine.
The gastronomic tradition completes this overview of a land of charm, character and authenticity. A land where it is good to relax and recharge one’s batteries.

Côtes d'Armor

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