The provence of Brittany, located in the northwest of France, is brimming with medieval towns, stout jugs of cider, endless varieties of crêpes and relaxing walks through the countryside. Basing yourself in one of the bigger cities is a good place to start. However, the real adventure begins when you get off the beaten track.
A great base for exploring the area, Rennes is the capital city of Brittany, but also close enough to the border that you can do some day trips into Normandy too. Explore the historic centre full of half-timbered houses, relax in the large gardens of Parc du Thabor, and feast on gastronomic delights! Being a university city, you will also find a buzzing night life and plenty of cultural attractions.
If you like medieval villages, Dinan will provide endless surprises! Start your day by hiring a little motorised boat and meander up and down the river. Later, stroll up the (very steep) cobble-stoned Rue de Jerzual, through the city gates and into the heart of the village, where you can sit down to crêpes and jugs of cider. Later, walk along the city walls to soak in the views.
Surrounded by tall, granite walls, this historic French port offers sandy beaches, a rich history and plenty of places to eat and drink. Feast on oysters and champagne whilst soaking in the sea breeze. Opposite the city, you will find two small islands that can be reached at low tide – definitely worth it for the views, but be careful not to get stuck out there over night!
Located in the provence of Normandy (though easily accessible from Rennes) this magical island topped with a monastery is surrounded by quicksand and holds many interesting stories. Despite endless crowds of tourists, who have been walking into this town for many years, it is still possible to get lost in your own imagination, as you wander through the narrow laneways and up to the monastery gardens.
A short drive from Rennes, this is the kind of city where you can just walk for hours, admiring the quaint, half-timbered (sometimes crooked) houses, many of which date back to the 13th century. In the centre of Vitre stands yet another beautiful castle, waiting to be explored!
Located on the Brittany-Normandy border, this medieval city features a stunning fortress, which has been standing here for over 1,000 years. You can admire the 13 towers of this castle from many angles and learn about its fascinating history, such as the salt-smugglers, whose secret trade was possible because of the castle walls!
Standing Stones of Carnac
Dating back to 4,000 BC, these rows of mysterious ancient standing stones inspire a multitude of questions. What were they used for? Why were they erected? The whole area can be accessed by foot, though it is best to start at the Maison des Mégalithes, where you can watch a video and get a map to help you on your way. There are over 3,000 megalithic standing stones, so don’t worry if you miss a few! Further along, you can also find ancient burial chambers.
A striking fairytale castle stands near the river in this pretty medieval town, full of colourful, half-timbered houses. Be sure to check opening hours, so that you can take a peek inside the historic rooms and castle gardens. Treat yourself to dinner by the river and watch the golden light dancing over the fortress as the sun sets in the late afternoon.
Originally known for its windmills and port, this tiny village in the south of Brittany was an inspiration for artists, such as Paul Gaugin and Émile Bernard, who spent much time here painting the pretty, scenic river views. Take a walk along the Promenade Xavier Grall, named after a famous writer who also lived here. Be sure to make it all the way out to the Bois d’Amour, and take your paint box, or notebook, with you if you are creatively inclined!
There are so many towns and villages in Brittany, and beyond, that you are sure to want to return at a later date. Each region is so full of history and tradition, you would need a lifetime to explore it properly. Nonetheless, I hope you were able to get a little taste of the pleasures of this beautiful provence!
Have you been to Brittany? What would you recommend?