My Favourite Places in Brittany, France
Brittany (Bretagne) is a region of northwestern France, a short trip over the English Channel from Devon, Cornwall and Dorset, this strikingly beautiful corner of the world sees many British tourists. Go back to your childhood and I can guarantee either you or one of your friends would spend summers here, I am talking to the British readers here of course.
I spent a huge portion of my childhood here, from the age of 7 months we returned to Brittany every year, sometimes three times, for a break! When I was one my parents bought a house here, in the small village of La Foret Foueasnant, a house that became an important part of our family and the memories we made. We loved that house, and even though when my sisters and I became teenagers we didn’t quite appreciate these trips as much as we should, we wouldn’t have changed these holidays for the world.
Unfortunately, I really struggle to find much history on the places themselves, with the exception of a few. These towns and villages date back hundreds of years, but as someone told me on Instagram, you need to talk to a local to find out the real background to these places. Brittany was united with France in 1532.
Brittany has its own distinct Breton culture compared to the rest of France, many of these traditions can also be found in Cornwall, England, and also Wales. The name Brittany (Breizh in Breton) was given to the area by the Romans who named the area Brittania. The area whilst settled in since the Neanderthals arrived, became home to many people from Great Britain who fled both the Roman Empire and later on the Saxon Invasion, hence the similarities between the cultures and language (Celtic).
Below I have chosen 5 of my favourite towns and villages to visit and I hope this inspires you to make your own journey to Bretagne!
I have picked Quimper as my number 1 as I have probably visited this place about 30 times. Not only is this town dotted with delicious creperies but it is rich in history, history I can actually tell you about! Quimper is the capital of the Finistere region, the most traditional part of Brittany with distinct Breton Celtic traditions.
The city was originally settled in during the Roman times and today retains a rustic atmosphere with bridges crisscrossing the rivers and a huge cathedral dating back to the eleventh century. Vieux Quimper (the old town) contains a wealth of shops, ice creameries, restaurants and even a market. The half-timbered buildings have created a bright and colourful environment to take a stroll and enjoy goods bought from the local chocolaterie.
I have been to Locronan a couple of times but this was long before I owned a camera. I knew I had to go back this time, and it is only the other side of Quimper from where I was staying. This ancient village reminds me somewhat of the Cotswolds, just that the stone is grey rather than honey coloured. The centre of town is characterised by pretty houses, shops and cafes, and luckily for me during July the hydrangeas were in full bloom. The village is built upon a selection of hills and if you walk up the right street (turn right when you get to the church front), you will get an amazing view of the town, the countryside beyond, and even the sea.
Unsurprisingly Locronan is part of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (The most beautiful villages of France) association, and in my opinion, is the number one most beautiful town in the whole region!
I used to visit this place when I was younger purely for the butterfly farm and aquarium but now it’s my obsession with oldie worldie buildings that keeps me returning.
Vannes was first settled in over 2,000 years ago and has had strong trading links with Great Britain for many hundreds of years, in 150 BC there was a big increase in trade with the Thames Estuary region east of London. In 56 BC the Romans invaded the town and slaughtered the local Veneti people (seafaring Celtic people), renaming the city Darioritum. Once the Romans were long gone the city became a principality under the Breton name Gwened and in the 5th century the Diocese of Vannes was established.
The city is similar to Quimper in style, surrounded by city walls the centre is a maze of coloured half-timbered buildings, with ample shops and places to eat. If you like indeed
You might have noticed all the places I have picked have been on the western coast of Brittany, well here’s a change! Dinan, just south of the walled city of St Malo, is around 30 minutes south of the English Channel border.
Dinan is a walled town and one of the best preserved in the whole of Brittany, filled with half-timbered buildings (are you seeing a theme in my choices!?), cobbled streets, art galleries and craft shops. Just down the hill from the walled town is the pretty port, lined with stone houses and a picturesque 15th century stone bridge, visitors can take a relaxing river cruise and take in all the sights along the water’s edge.
The old town is my favourite part of the city, I only spent a few hours here but I could definitely go back for a full city break, I wonder if there is an airport nearby!? No worries if not, you can catch a ferry from Poole in Dorset to nearby St Malo and then either drive to Dinan or catch the train, either is easy and no bother.
If you want to head straight to the prettiest part of town then meander your way down to the Rue du Petit Fort. This is a pretty steep hill so if you have any walking difficulties then please be careful as it is also very cobbly! Not only are the buildings stunning at each turn but it is full to the brim with beautiful craft shops and galleries.
It was thanks to one of my Instagram followers that I found this place, I never even knew it existed but is one of the most charming villages I have ever been to! When I arrived into the town I felt as though I had stepped straight onto the set of Beauty and the Beast. Rochefort-en-Terre is a designated “Petite Cité de Caractére”.
The town is flower heaven, many of the houses are covered by hydrangeas and geraniums making it even more stunning. The town is 35km east from Vannes so if you schedule your day right, you could squeeze both stops into one day. The town itself showcases a range of different architectural styles including half-timbered houses, gothic monuments, Renaissance hotels, and 19th-century buildings, the common denominator is that the majority of it is made from local stone.
Unfortunately, it clouded over just as I arrived in the town so I feel as though my photos don’t showcase the beauty as much as they should… my photography skills are definitely more suited to a blue sky!
Thanks, Hannah for the lovely photos and background to some of your favourite ‘villes et villages de Bretagne’. It reminded me of my own childhood – my mother is Breton and we had a ‘gite’ in Benodet, a few km’s from La-Forȇt-Fouesnant which you recall ( and at the estuary of the Odet river, which flows through the delightful provincial town of Quimper). For interested readers, if I may I’d mention a couple more lovely towns that visitors to the region should visit: Pont-Aven is a small milling/ port town near Quimper, famous for being the base of the important artists Gauguin, Serusier, Bernard and many others (including from the USA, in fact they were the first to arrive there). The famous paintings of young Breton peasant-girls, in their distinctive lace head-dresses, were made around the locale and Monet also painted at Belle-Ile, off the coast. Fun Fact: The famous ‘Yellow Christ’ painted by Gauguin, and now in Buffalo NY, still hangs in the small medieval Chapelle Trémalo a short walk up the hill. Incredible to still see. The Musee Pont-Aven is a must for fans of Post-impressionism and Symbolism.
Nearby is the bustling fishing port of Concarneau, where my mother was born, it also has one of the best-preserved walled-towns in France, and a yearly ‘Fete des Filets Bleus’ celebrating the tuna stocks. …and Final Fun Fact: the legendary photo of the remote lighthouse being smashed by huge waves was taken off the coast of Brittany; it is the “La Jument” light which sadly is now automated, and not manned; so the keeper who nearly drowned to take the pic, is now safe (see the movie ‘L’Equipier’ by Philippe Lioret on the history). For ocean-sailing fans, this lighthouse is one end of the official finish line for the tough round-the-world solo yacht races, and almost all the top global sailors are hardy Bretons, and live and train around Fouesnant in fact. Bonnes Vacances 🇫🇷 !
Philip T. (Sydney, AUSTR.)
Isn’t Brittany just gorgeous! I still have some little paintings from Pont Aven from when I was about 5!