Drenched in blue, tinged with mystique and steeped in ancient culture, Brittany (or Bretagne) is an irresistible cocktail of sea, gourmet food and prehistoric legacy, all mingling to weave hypnotic magic around its visitors. Soak in the Atlantic blues, paraglide for a heavenly kick or simply drown in a glass of Kir Breton on a charming island — this lesser known holiday spot in the west-end of France nestling around the Gulf of Morbihan has something for everyone. Bretagne can be seen in three parts — Morbihan, Finistère and Côtes d'Armor, of which the focus here is on Morbihan.
This quintessential Brittany port town of Auray was a busy commercial harbour on the banks of the Loch built in the 17 century.
Here’s where Benjamin Franklin alighted in 1776 to ask for French help in the War of Independence, after whom the wharf in Saint-Goustan is christened.
Lounge in the waterside restaurants or saunter around the quays and riverbanks, dotted with 15th century timbered houses that complete the perfect picture.
Little fairs and markets spring up on the quays every now and then and a lively oyster festival takes place here in September.
Saint-Goustan is particularly alluring by night.
2. The beach circuit
Set out early morning for a day’s drive starting from the west of the Quiberon peninsula for a breathtaking view of the Côte Sauvage (literally, the wild coast). The sheer jagged cliffs drop down to pristine, sandy beaches and the rhythm of breaking waves set off by the silence of towering pine forests are breathtaking. Drive towards Carnac, stop by at beach spots to discover caves plastered with thousands of live mussels and enormous boulders emerging from the sand gently rounded over centuries by the friction of the waves.
Carnac is a tourist hot spot in Brittany. It houses a prehistory museum, a formidable array of megalithic stones that date back to 4000 BC, a state-of-the-art thalassotherapy centre and not the least, fine sandy beaches set against picture perfect seaside pines. Carnac is the place for endless swims with the Atlantic drift in warmer streams here although it can get quite crowded in the season. You can also check out how oysters are farmed or stop over to buy a freshly harvested lot of shellfish directly from the farmers.
The beauty of the Morbihan coastline is that you can walk, drive or take a cruise. Hop on to a motorboat from Auray, Vannes, Locmariaquer or Port-Navalo to sail around the Côte and stop at either of Bretagne’s largest islands — the Île-d’Arz or the Île-aux- Moines, an ideal picnic spot for families and large groups. With a history dating to the Palaeolithic Age is another of Brittany’s famous islands Belle-Ile-en-Mer, with fine beaches, rock formations, charming villages and churches. Having withstood many foreign incursions, the island flaunts a formidable lineup of military architecture too.
5. Walk the mile
If you believe the best way to ‘feel’ a place is to explore it on foot, just slip on a comfortable pair of sneakers and hit the streets from Locmariaquer. The city’s official website gives different, detailed route charts and descriptions for avid walkers (les randonnees).
Neolithic temples, sacred stones and graves are scattered all over the region, but Carnac and Locmariaquer are the two most impressive centres around which ancient dolmen, menhir and tumulus abound. The three megalithic symbols of Brittany are found near Locmariaquer. Similarly impressive are the alignments at Carnac — rows of standing stones (menhir), ranging from one row of a few stones to several rows of hundreds of stones. The most famous alignments at Carnac are Le Menec, Kermario, Kerlescan and Le Petit Menec.
7. La Trinité-sur-Mer
A sailor’s Mecca, La Trinité-sur-Mer is a stunning sight (located between Locmariaquer and Carnac) as the bay comes alive with hundreds of yachts and ships, splashing the sea with a riot of colours and sails. Every year, the greatest skippers and yachting champions come back to participate in arguably the largest gathering of yachts in Europe — the Spi Ouest-France Regatta in April.
Races, regattas and parades of tall ships are held year round. And you’ll also find flourishing markets of maritime objects, scientific instruments, model ships, furniture and navigational aids during the season. You can even rent a boat with a pro skipper for half or a full day and set to sail with him/her.
8. Local food
If you’re a seafood lover, it’s a crime not to binge when in Britanny. A local speciality is moules marinières (steamed mussels with white wine, shallots, laurel leaf and thyme), and it’s inexpensive to boot. Oysters and Coquilles St.Jacques are other must-try delicacies; wash it down with cider or kir (blackcurrant syrup with muscadet, a fruity white wine specific to this region of France). That’s not all. Walk into any crèperie (a small restaurant specialising in crèpes, or pancakes) found in every little hamlet you may pass by and check out the range of galletes and crepes from “La complete” to sweeter and fancier options. Another speciality of Brittany is kouign amann, a rich flaky cake with generous dollops of butter and sugar folded in.
9. Faience pottery
Classic ceramic pottery is another of Brittany’s hallmarks. With its own distinct style and patterns, a whole range of bright hand-painted art pottery from plates, fish plates, mugs, bowls, giftware, tiles and furniture knobs can be found here. A town synonymous with pottery in Brittany is Quimper, where Jean-Baptiste Bousquet, a ceramist from the Provence, arrived 300 years ago and set up a pottery workshop. Brittany’s pottery tradition, however, dates back to much longer (from the Gallo-Roman period) and has gone through many influences reflected in the variety of designs and signatures depending on where it originates from.
With tide, wind and a curvaceous coastline, Brittany is a haven for those looking for an adrenalin fix. Parachuting, paragliding, rock climbing, surfing, windsurfing, kayaking, sand yachting, catamaran sailing… and wait, you don’t have to be a pro.
Set off on a fishing expedition, kayak to a lighthouse, or learn to surf with locals who charge a nominal fee for first-timers.
Visa: France is a part of the Schengen treaty and hence you can obtain a Schengen visa from the French Consulate.
Getting there: There are frequent trains to Auray from Gare Montparnasse in Paris. You can also rent a car in Paris and bring it back to Paris.
Getting around: Renting a car is a good and cheaper option. However, an organised tour from Paris would be a better option.