A short guide to Brittany

Brittany travel guide and tourist attractions

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Saint Malo
Saint Malo - walled city   
 Map of BrittanyThe name "Brittany" derives from the Britons who, back in the dark ages, came south across the English Channel to seek refuge from the Anglo Saxon invaders who were pushing them out of a large part of the island of Great Britain.
    In this historic past, other Britons fled  to the west and south west of their own island, to Wales and Cornwall; and so it is that today, Brittany shares a historic culture with the other Celtic regions of northwest Europe.
   Today, the French administrative region of Brittany covers four "departments", the Côtes d'Armor (22) in the north, Finistère (29) in the far west, Morbihan (56) in the south, and Ille et Vilaine (35) in the east, bordering on Normandy and the Loire valley area. Another department used to belong to the historic province of Brittany, and this was the Loire Atlantique (44), the area round the city of Nantes which used once to be the Breton capital, but is today no longer in the region.
     The capital city of the modern Brittany region is Rennes, located in the central eastern part of the region; most of the major lines of communication between Brittany and Paris pass through Rennes, which is a large industrial and university city. Other important cities in the region are Brest, one of the two most important French naval ports, St Malo, an imposing walled city on the north coast, and Vannes, the capital of the Morbihan, with an atractive old town centre. Quimper, the capital of the Finistère, and St. Brieuc, the capital of the Côtes d'Armor, are less important. Lorient, in the Morbihan, was once a major shipping port trading with - as its name suggests - the Orient; but its shipping and ship-building industries have largely declined, and like other ports on the south coast of Brittany, is better known today for its yachting and yacht-building industry. It is also the venue for Brittany's annual Interceltiques music and culture festival.
Carnac - dolmen
Prehistoric megaliths at Carnac 
  Despite its limited size, Brittany is quite a diverse region; the north and west coasts, open to the force of the North Atlantic, are rugged and rocky, with beautiful sandy coves and beaches. The south coast, facing onto the Bay of Biscay, is flatter, much milder, and graced by a number of large sandy beaches. There are also a lot of inlets on the south coast, such as La Trinité sur Mer, which in the past have been ports and commercial harbours, but today are more popular with yachtsmen and a dwindling fishing industry. The sea here is warmer in summer. The backbone of Brittany is a granite ridge stretching from east to west, peaking in the Monts d'Arrée. But most of inland Brittany is gentle farming country, a region famous for its milk and butter and its early crops.     As a holiday region, it is of course Brittany's coasts that attract the greatest number of visitors; the inland regions are on the whole quite tranquil and for this reason have attracted a lot of second-home owners from other parts of France, and from Britain.
      In cultural terms, Brittany is very distinctive, with its own language and Celtic cultural tradition that set it apart from the rest of France. The Breton language, though not much used in everyday life, and not understood by most of the modern population, has made a comeback in recent years, and is taught in a lot of schools. Celtic traditions are alive or recalled today in Breton folk music, its Celtic festivals, and its many prehistoric monuments.

Reaching Brittany:

Train : by TGV from Paris Gare Montparnasse, train from many cities,
Car: Motorway from Paris, Lille, or Calais, via Rouen and / or Rennes
Plane: Regional airports:  Rennes, Brest, St. Brieuc, Nantes.
Accommodation:
Gites and holiday cottages in Brittany
Map of selected hotels on the Brittany coast



Main tourist attractions in Brittany

35 Ille et Vilaine

  • LangresMont St. Michel. (Actually just in Normandy) Fairytale like medieval abbey and city perched on an offshore rock, off the north-east coast of Brittany. A UNESCO world heritage site. One of the most visited tourist attractions in France. 
  • Saint Malo. The ancient city of pirates, historic St. Malo stands above the waves, encircled by its granite ramparts. Large aquarium. Also (most of the time) the Etoile du Roy,  the replica of a frigate from 1745, originally built from the plans for HMS Blanford for the TV series Hornblower.
  • Dinard. Classic tourist resort at the mouth of the river Rance, opposite Saint Malo.
  • The tidal power-station on the Rance; unique tidal barrage generating electricity from the ebb and flow of the tide. Boat trips on the Rance.
  • Fougères : medieval fortress city once part of the eastern defences of the duchy of Brittany. Ramparts, old town
  • Vitré : great medieval fortress castle in the centre of this small historic town.

22 Côtes d'Armor

Beach in Brittany
  • The northern coast; dramatic rocky coastline with enchanting names like the Emerald coast and the Pink Granite coast, with small sandy beaches.
  • Dinan - small town surrounded by ramparts, one of the most attractive towns in Brittany. Near Dinard.
  • Paimpol - steam railway. Le Train du Trieux steam railway from Paimpol to Pontrieux. Operates most days late April to mid Sept. One service a day .
  • Treguier: old town with stone and half-timbered houses, medieval cathedral
  • Cap Frehel ; one of the most beautiful natural sites in France
  • Fort La Latte : impressive clifftop castle

29 Finistère

  • Brest: naval port city; Oceanopolis, one of the best aquariums in France
  • Pointe du Raz : the western tip of Brittany, a rocky headland jutting out into the Atlantic breakers.
  • Pont-Aven : the artists' village. Attracted many artists in the late 19th century, notably Paul Gauguin. the pretty village has an art gallery with 14 works by Gauguin, and other artists who worked here
  • Quimper : small capital city of Finistère. Notable for its Musée des Beaux Arts, the best art gallery in Brittany, with works by Rubens, Boucher, Fragonard, Corot, Boudin, Gauguin, Whistler, Marquet and others.  Gothic cathedral with mediaeval stained glass windows, porcelaine museum.
  • Concarneau : major fishing port with historic walled old town on an island in the middle of the harbour.

56 Morbihan

  • The southern coast; many long sandy beaches, and inlets popular with yachtsmen.
  • Carnac: the most famous megalithic site in France; several prehistoric stone alignments and dolmens.
  • Quiberon: attractive fishing port and resort at the end of a long peninsula. Sandy beaches.
  • Josselin : One of the finest castles in Brittany. An early Renaissance castle built on the impressive base of a medieval fortress overlooking the river Oust. Guided tours
  • The Nantes-Brest canal: those sections of it that survive are part of Brittany's popular inland waterway system, centered on the town of Redon
  • Belle-Ile : attractive island off the south coast of Brittany. A place to escape from the cars. Citadel, beaches, hiking.  Ferries from Quiberon and other ports.
  • La Trinité sur mer : very popular yachting centre
  • Lorient: once the port for the French East India company, the city now has a submarine base (guided visits) and submarine museum.
  • Vannes : the old city of Vannes is largely encircled by medieval ramparts. The old centre is largely pedestrianized, and the narrow streets flanked by many old half-timbered houses. The cathedral dates from the 12th and 19th centuries. Art gallery.

44 Loire Atlantique

(which includes part of the historic province of Brittany)
  • Guérande: lovely old medieval walled city, famous for its coastal salt pans. Lots of arts and craft boutiques.
  • Nantes : largest city in western France. Chateau of the Dukes of Brittany, cathedral, art gallery, impressive old city centre.
Gites and cottages  in Cotes d'Armor and in Finistere Gites and cottages in Morbihan and Ille & Vilaine
B & in Brittany
Small hotels in Brittany Small campsites in Brittany

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Brittany, lying in the northwest corner of France, is one of the great historic provinces of France. The most Atlantic of France's regions, Brittany is proud of its Celtic heritage, that sets it apart from the rest of France. It it enjoys a mild climate somewhat warmer though not necessarily drier than the climate of the southwest of England.
breton coast
The west Brittany coast

Map of France


Rocky coast of Brittany

The rocky coast of Brittany

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