One of France’s most rugged and friendly regions, Brittany is a fascinating mix of spectacular coastline, medieval towns, magical islands and inland woods. A Celtic duchy for more than one thousand years before its annexation to France in 1532, it is a land rich in culture, tradition and history. When you journey through the region, you’ll discover a people whose language, customs and dress remain a vivid homage to their past.
We offer a Mont St. Michel Day Trip from Paris that stops in two of Brittany’s most interesting northern towns: Dinan and Saint Malo.
- The fastest tides in all of Europe can be found in Brittany. Be careful! When the tide comes in, it really comes in fast.
- In French “Brittany” is spelled “Bretagne”. Great Britain is known as “Grande Bretagne”.
- The capital of the region is the city of Rennes. Rennes has a population of over 200,000 people and is one of the major university towns in France.
Places of Interest in Brittany
Below is a list of some of the most popular places in the region. It is by no means a comprehensive list, but a great way to get started in planning a great trip to one of France’s most beautiful and somewhat underrated regions.
Pink Granite Coast – Sunset is the best time to explore the headland of Arcouest and the island of Brehat and admire the expanses of sandy beaches and the rusty rock formations in splendid hues of pink which give this coast its name.
Charming Saint Malo, France – Welcome to the charming village of Saint Malo
This charming walled city of Saint Malo is France’s gateway to the English channel, and an important ferry stop from Portsmouth, Poole and Weymouth in the U.K. Visitors also routinely head to the Channel Islands from the Saint Malo port. Proudly Breton, Saint Malo even declared itself independent from France for a few short years in the late 1500’s.
Saint Malo – From Pirates to Tourism
Saint Malo has a rough pirate past which also brought wealth to the city, spoils from voyages over many centuries. A typical privateer (pirate) mansion-turned-museum is a must-stop in Saint Malo, as are the many seafood restaurants featuring local oysters from nearby Cancalle.
During WWII, the city was heavily bombarded, but was carefully rebuilt. The medieval center is intact, with quaint cobbled streets and half-timber architecture. Outside the walls, visitors will find pleasant 18th and 19th century-era streets, guesthouses and hotels, part of Saint Malo’s development as a seaside resort, most often for Parisians, who today connect to the city via high speed TGV train.
The French specialty of “thalassotherapy” (spas featuring a sea cure) are a focus for visitors, as well as the world class aquarium and nearby Mont Saint Michel.
The popular book All the Light That We Cannot See is set in Saint Malo during World War II.
The Parish Closes – The parish closes of St. Thegonnec, Guimiliau and Lampaul-Guimiliau, which were built as early as 1532, are symbols of France’s Catholic and Celtic heritage. These granite religious structures are an intricate mesh of skilled of craftsmanship and imagery. Churches, altarpieces and crosses are adorned with elves, gods and fairies carved in wood.
Rennes – Capital of Brittany – Rennes features remnants of typical timbered medieval architecture as well as two town centers, Place de l’Hôtel de Ville and Place du Parlement. One remains from the 15th century, and the other was built in stone after a massive fire swept through the city in the early 18th century.
Rennes is more of a college town than most French cities, gaining 80,000 students a year when the school year commences, and as such, it’s a little more of a meat and beer town than is the French cliche.
There is a cobblestone area not far from the medieval cathedral, as well as a yearly Festival Gourmande in September, in which local chefs create special menus and compete for honors.
Every Saturday Rennes hosts the second biggest market in all of France, with 300 purveyors arrayed at the historic Place des Lices. You’ll find Coucou de Rennes chickens, Petit Gris melons and Reinette apples, cider, shellfish and of course caramel candies and cookies made from famous Brittany salted butter.
Quimper and Pont-Aven – Located in the heart of traditional Brittany and flanked by the Odet and Steir rivers, Quimper is famous for its furnace ceramics which have been produced by skilled craftsmen since the 17th century. The Gothic Cathedral of Saint Corentin has exceptional 15th century stained glass windows. Pont-Aven, home to a former artist colony known as the “School of Pont-Aven” led by the painter Paul Gauguin, is a pretty market village of white houses and sloping riverbanks.
Carnac, Gulf of Morbihan – One of the foremost prehistoric centers, the seaside resort of Carnac is famed for its megalithic remains from the Neolithic period. In addition to 2792 menhirs, massive stones erected by tribes who inhabited the region before the arrival of the Gauls, the area is studded with burial places, semicircles, and tumuli.
Located ten miles off the southern coast of Brittany, Belle Ile (“Beautiful Island”) is the region’s largest. Buffeted by storms and fringed by rocky cliffs, it is an isolated natural paradise whose inhabitants are known for their hospitality. The medieval city of Vannes, at the head of the Gulf of Morbihan, is a perfect base from which to explore this magical inland sea and its many islands.
Cancale – Cancale lies along the coast to the east of Saint-Malo. It is a picturesque fishing village popular with visitors many of whom are drawn by its reputation as the “oyster capital” of the region. Though a small town, it is well served by a large number of restaurants, many specializing in seafood. One suggestion is to arrive in town around noon for a leisurely lunch in this picturesque and charming town.
There is a pleasant coastal path which permits a circular walk from the town to the Pointe du Grouin with splendid views across the bay towards Mont Saint Michel. Eugène Feyen painted Cancale and the inhabitants with the oyster-picking Cancalaises for several decades around 1865–1908. Vincent van Gogh wrote that “Feyen is one of the few painters whose pictures intimate modern life as it is really, and does not turn it into fashion plates”.
Museums in Brittany – Brittany has some great museums including the Musee de prehistoire (prehistory museum) in Carnac. The Musee de Pont-Aven (Pont-Aven museum) which features exhibits from the famous School of Pont-Aven in the charming town of Pont-Aven where artist Paul Gauguin lived. Musee des Beaux Arts (Fine Arts Museum) in Quimper which features a great collection of art from the 17th-20th centuries. The Musee de Bretagne/Musee des Beaux Arts (Brittany Museum & Fine Arts Museum) which retraces the region’s history with displays of costumes, models, porcelain, furniture and statues as well as a collection of fine art including works by Rubens and Picasso.
Castles in Brittany – Like almost every region of France, Brittany has its share of castles. The main ones are: Fort La-Latte in Frehel – Fortified chateau from 14th and 15th century overlooking the sea. Chateau de Josselin-Musee de Poupee in Josselin – Remarkable doll museum located in the former stables of the impressive Josselin Chateau. Chateau de Kerjean in Saint-Vougay – Formidable fortress and at the same time a stately home. Rustic grounds covering 50 acres and a Renaissance fountain.
Chateau de Comper-en-Broceliande in Concoret – Ramparts in red schist rock. The waters of the “Grand Etang” conceal the crystal palace built for Viviane, lady of the lake, by Merlin the magician.
Getting to Brittany
By car – Travel by highway from Paris to Le Mans and then to Rennes. From Rennes, travel toward Brest, Vannes, or Quimper. The distance from Paris to Rennes is about 210 miles.
By train – Daily from Paris Gare Montparnasse or select trains from Charles de Gaulle airport: 2-3 Hours to the regional capital of Rennes.
By air – Air France offers flights from Charles de Gaulle or Orly to Rennes, Quimper, Brest, Lorient, and Saint Brieuc. Flights are also available from London to Rennes, Brest and Dinard.
By boat – Brittany Ferries offers many options to travel from Ireland or the United Kingdom to Brittany.
Brittany Cooking and Food
As a major supplier of France’s vegetables and seafood, the region rewards visitors with hearty, fresh fare from the earth and the sea, and with its famous crepes filled with sweets like chocolate or fresh jams, savory mushrooms, cheese or eggs.
Brittany is identified as being a full gastronomic region. This wasn’t always the case; in the past the region’s cuisine did not get a lot of acclaim. Kind of hard to believe that was ever true with all of the award-winning chefs in the region, the amazing seafood, and the fantastic bistros that dot the landscape throughout the region.
Seafood on the Atlantic Coast
Here the region excels, with abundant oysters (particularly the meaty ones from Belon and Cancale), shrimp, crayfish, crab and scallops. Atlantic lobster is also a mainstay of Breton menus, prepared in a cream sauce or grilled.
The seafood platter tops the bill in many of the region’s best eateries. In order to ensure freshness and variety, restaurateurs have signed a charter with the government guaranteeing an “authentic Breton platter of fresh seafood”. As a general rule, a Brittany seafood platter will include a variety of langoustines, rock or spider crabs, oysters, velvet swimming crabs, prawns, clams, winkles, whelks, mussels, and queen scallops. Of course it all depends on the fisherman’s catch of the day.
Could there be anything simpler and more appealing than a generous seafood platter, accompanied by a fine gourmet sauce, fresh citrus and a glass of crips white wine? If a fresh seafood platter is not your style, Breton chefs make many fish dishes that will please your senses. Delicate sauces, fresh fish, and innovative vegetable dishes are sure to please. All in all Brittany is a seafood lover’s paradise.
When you choose a restaurant labeled as a “Restaurant du Terroir”, “Tables et saveurs de Bretagne”, or “Crêperies Gourmandes” you will not only get a good meal, but a chance to experience an authentic, delightful, and traditional part of Brittany cuisine.
Day Trips From Paris – See Mont St. Michel and More
Book our very popular one day trip from Paris to Brittany and Mont St. Michel. Stops include Dinan, St. Malo and Mont Saint Michel. We also offer an exceptional overnight trip from Paris to Brittany.
Sports and Leisure In Brittany
Water Adventures: Brittany offers over 450 miles of navigable canals and rivers. One of the most beautiful networks in Europe. Traditional one-day and multiple-day cruises launch from the towns of Concarneau, Benodet, Vannes, Dinard, La Roche Bernad and Quimper. Most sail to nearby islands that are great for walking or bird watching excursions. The region is home to the largest nesting seabird area in France.
Biking, hiking and great outdoors: With hundreds of miles of quiet roads and gentle slopes, the region is perfect for hiking, cycling or motor biking. There are over 2,000 kilometers of posted hiking and biking paths, which are accessible year round. A perfect way to discover the region and its heritage.
Golf: A total of 27 courses dot the region’s landscape, many overlooking the coastal cliffs. Course levels are suitable for the casual enthusiast and the season player alike. Below are five courses we like.
- Golf Cesson-Sévigné – www.ville-cesson-sevigne.fr/
- Golf Dinard – www.dinardgolf.com/
- Golf La Crinière – www.lacriniere.fr/
- Golf Saint-Malo Hotel & Golf – www.saintmalogolf.com/
- Golf Saint-Samson – www.golfhotel-saint-samson.com/
Spa/Thalassotherapy – The region is known for its excellent spas focused on a brand of marine hydrotherapy called thalassotherapy. Thalassotherapy is the art of using the healing characteristics of mineral rich ocean water to cleanse and rejuvenate the body. There are 11 centers specializing in this form of bliss on Brittany’s coast in Saint Malo, Dinard, Perros-Guirec, Roscoff, Douarmenez, Benodet, Carnac, Quiberon, Belle-Ile-en-Mer, Crouesty.
Horseback Riding – Simply put, Brittany is horse country. To learn more please visit: www.equibreizh.com
The Grand Aquarium-Saint Malo – Discover the wonderful aquarium in Saint Malo. www.aquarium-st-malo.com