The French Ministry of Culture has designated eight cities in Brittany as national “cities of art and history” for their contributions to the culture and beauty of France. They are: Quimper, Auray, Vannes, Rennes, Fougères, Vitré, Dinan, and Saint-Malo.
For more than two centuries, Brittany has inspired artists from all over the globe, and today it remains one of the most popular French regions for artists. Artists founded colonies at Concarneau, Pont-Aven, and Douarnenez. In the 1860s, the American artists Henry Bacon, Robert Wylie, and others traveled from Philadelphia through Paris to Brittany in search of fresh inspiration and established themselves in Pont-Aven. Other famous artists like Émile Bernard, Henry Moret, and Paul Sérusier further boosted the status of Pont-Aven by taking up residence. The area has inspired many famous works, including Paul Gauguin’s Portrait of the Yellow Christ at the Tremolo Chapel in Pont-Aven and Sérusier’s Landscape at Pouldu.
Other painters like Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, and Henri Matisse fell in love with Brittany’s diverse coastline and wild landscape. Picasso perfected his impressionism on the beaches of the Emerald Coast, and Monet immortalized the rocky coast of Belle-Île in nearly forty of his paintings.
In all, some 160 noted artists have spent time painting in Brittany.
Visit Brittany’s Eight Cities of Art and Culture
If you aren’t a painter or artist, the next best thing to do is to visit Brittany’s eight cities of art and history. These towns are bound by a common charter to preserve and enhance their architectural and cultural heritage, through tourist and cultural activities.
The Corsair City of Saint-Malo, a renowned seaside resort, is breathtaking with its storied granite architecture and soaring ramparts. Just south of Saint-Malo, on the banks of the Rance river, sits the medieval village of Dinan. Wander through medieval, narrow cobble-stoned alleys that rise high above the river. A true treat.
East of Dinan, is the city of Fougères which is known for its deep religious history that inspired a generation of artists. The region’s biggest art museum is in the capital city of Rennes. Vitré, in all its majesty high upon rocky cliffs, is another medieval city in the region. Vitré is where Madame Sévigné lived when she wrote her famous letters.
To the west, the city of Quimper lies in a valley at the junction of two rivers. Quimper is renowned for its impressive historic architecture and deep influence on Breton culture through its much sought after pottery. The port city of Auray boasts an attractive and charming old harbor with a stone bridge and historic homes. Finally, a visit to Vannes rounds out the eight cities of art and history in Brittany. Built in the shape of an amphitheater at the Gulf of Morbihan, Vannes is a picturesque old city with elegant shops, manicured gardens and traditional timbered houses.
Western France has no shortage of inspiration for the the creative, enthusiastic traveler. Come experience life as Paul Gauguin and his contemporaries once did, in the welcoming region of Brittany.