Welcome to our Brittany Blog
Sunday, 2nd August 2020
Chateau de la Bourbansais
Yesterday we visited La Bourbansais, just north of Rennes in Southern Brittany.
A fantastic place, a zoo set in the grounds of a chateau. I am usually not keen on zoos, large animals kept in concrete compounds seems very cruel. At La Bourbansais the animals have large areas to roam, there isn’t any concrete and fences are kept to a minimum, the animals are housed on islands. The ‘moats’ surrounding their islands prevents them from escaping!
Not only are there all the animals you would expect, lions, tigers, energetic gibbons, screeching monkeys, pacing wolves, sleep panthers, grumpy camels and leggy giraffes but there is also a spectacular chateau. The chateau is still lived in by a family today, and it is nice to see their children’s bikes discarded in the courtyard and a their sullen teenaged son throwing a basketball through a hoop which has been secured to the chateau wall! Parts of the chateau are open to the public and it is well worth a visit.
There are also shows throughout the day. We watched the giraffes having ‘afternoon tea! A show demonstrating the hunting skills of big birds such as eagles, falcons and big owls. Amazing.
Saturday 25th July 2020
Les Machines de L’Île, Nantes
Les Machines de l’île is a totally unprecedented project. It is completely unique. It is the only place where you’ll find Jules Verne’s “Invented Worlds,” and the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci.
Some strange machines populate the Île de Nantes. First it was just the Grand éléphant, now a Manta Ray, a Sea Snake and of all kinds of incredible machines join the Grand Elephant. These uncommon machines were created by François Delaroziere and Pierre Orefice.
All of the machines are built in full view of the public. The two designers also chose to put the entire creative process on display, from the very first sketches drawn by François Delarozière. The materials are all in their natural state, and the mechanisms are all visible. The building process can be seen for all the sculptures, whether they are made from steel or wood.
Being able to watch the machines being created in the workshop enhances this unprecedented tour / performance and this makes it both entertaining and educational.
The machinists bring the machines to life and explain how the mechanisms work and how they were developed. During the tour / performance the Machines periodically awaken, suddenly turning into animals or monsters.
The Grand elephant is 12m high and is made out of 48 tons of steel and wood. Several times a day, you can climb abord the elephant and enjoy a 30 minute elephant ride! I would recommend that you book the elephant ride in advance.
Les Machines de l’Île can be enjoyed by all generations and is perfect for the whole family. I actually think that the parents enjoy these machines more than the children!
Friday, 17th July 2020
Car museum, Lohéac.
If cars are your thing, then this is definitely the place for you!.
And, if you aren’t really that interested in cars, this is a very interesting museum. I do not know a thing about cars, but I quite happily spent 3 hours looking at them!.
This is one of the finest museums in Europe dedicated to the history of the automobile. 15,000 m2 of exhibition space in a seventeenth-century mansion. More than 400 vehicles (including 30 horse-drawn vehicles, 50 motorcycles and bicycles) of all types, ages and nationalities, illustrate a century of automobile.
There are rooms and rooms full of old F1 and Le Mans cars. If racing is your thing, then for one day each month, the race track is open and you can race your own car!
The car museum at Lohéac also hosts an annual car flea market with over 400 exhibitors. Car enthusiasts gather to admire the cars on display, buy sought after car and motorcycle parts, reduced car models, toy cars, books… anything really that is car related!.
There are also demonstrations on the circuit.
Thursday, 9th July 2020
Rochefort-en-Terre is a designated “Petite Cité de Caractère”.
Rochefort was put on the map in the early 20th century after a wealthy French-born American painter called Alfred Klotz bought the local château in 1907. Dating back to the 12th century, the château was destroyed by Republicans in 1793 and only the façade remains; the current building was constructed by Klotz. His son Trafford Klots inherited the chateau and continued to paint there and entertain other visiting artists. After his death his wife donated the building to the French government.The château is open from May to September and houses some of Klotz’s paintings as well as a collection of objects from rural life in times past.
In the grounds of the chateau there is a museum dedicated to an early twentieth century witch who lived in the town. It houses a small collection of fantasy and kinetic art and sculpture.
Klotz encouraged the local residents to dress their houses with geraniums, a tradition which continues, leading to Rochefort winning many awards for being one of France’s most beautiful villages in bloom.
The best way to explore Rochefort is to wander around its attractive streets admiring the mix of architectural styles, which range from 16th-century half-timbered buildings like the Café de la Pente to symmetrical stone-built Renaissance structures like the Post Office in Rue Notre Dame de la Tronchaye.
From April to September, the streets are illuminated from dusk until midnight.
As you’d expect from a ‘little town of character’ with an arty past, the streets are dotted with artists and craftspeople: potters, a candle maker, a toymaker… but don’t leave town without visiting one of the artisan biscuit makers like Le Rucher Fleuri in Rue du Porche, which is highly regarded throughout the region for its pain d’épices. Whichever shop you visit look upwards: Rochefort is known for its unusual and colourful signs.
It was therefore not a surprise when in 2016, Rochefort-en-Terre was voted « Village préféré des Français ».
Wednesday, 1st July 2020
Carnac has it all, lots of history and culture, good restaurants and a great beach!
Carnac is a town in Brittany, northwest France. It’s best known for the Carnac stones, thousands of prehistoric standing stones spread across three alignments: Ménec, Kermario and Kerlescan. Nearby, the Saint-Michel tumulus is a millennia-old burial mound crowned by a small chapel. In town, the Museum of Prehistory has artifacts from the area’s Neolithic period.
Carnac is also probably Brittany's most well known seaside town and like Damgan all the beaches have a pale yellow soft sand. They are clean and well looked after and the children love them. There is also a nice promenade if you fancy a stroll to find somewhere to eat or a cool drink.
You can take a trip on the fifty minute tour on the little train that takes you round the mysterious neolithic megaliths that make Carnac world famous. Also check out the Megalithic Museum which is packed full of fascinating artifacts
Tuesday 23rd June 2020
All ciders are definitely not the same!
Cider etiquette is a minefield, as I discovered to my embarrassement several years ago. I was invited to a friends house for Gallette de Rois (a french pastry and frangipane cake eaten in early january). I did my reasearch and discovered that the invitee (me!) should take a bottle of cidre to eat with the cake. When I gave my bottle of cidre to my friend, she burst out laughing and asked if I had come for apperitiffs ?
It appears that there are four types of cidre :-
- Le cidre doux : light and sweet and low in alcohol (less than 3%) and best with desserts and cakes.
- Le cidre demi-sec : Semi sweet with an alcohol content of between 4 - 5% and best eaten with sweet/savory foods like game, chicken or maybe a very ripe camembert
- Le cidre brut : Quite dry with an alcohol content of arount 5% and best eaten with seafood or fish
- Le cidre traditionnel : Very dry with an alcohol content of above 5% and best eaten with charcuterie and red meat.
Of course I had bought cidre traditionnel.
France is the largest cider producing country in the world! With that etiquette I am not surprised!
And it's been producing some of the world's finest ciders for a very long time.
Cider has been made in France since as early as the Celtic Gauls (1st century BC) and also under Roman rule (100 to 300 AD). There are historical references in the 9th century about Charlemagne ordering the planting of apple trees in Northern France so that he could always have a supply of cider. It is also mentioned during the time of William the Conqueror, the Norman duke who claimed the throne of England after the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Cider was widely consumed by these early Normans, because grapes didn't (and still don't) grow so well in the cool, cloudy Normandy climate. The abundance of apples made cider easier to come by on a daily basis.
Cider was the main drink in France during Medieval times. Water was impure and often unfit to drink in most towns and villages. And when plague struck between 1400 and 1700, many frightened villagers in France gave up water and drank cider instead. Even the kids drank cider since it was much safer than drinking the water.
From the 1800's to the 1940's, cider-making was very popular in Northern France. The 1929 agricultural census gives an idea of the area formerly covered by traditional orchards: 100 million apple and pear trees. During this time, cider was mainly produced by each family as a drink for the farm laborers ....with some occasionally making its way to the village cafe for sale to the public. This cider was put into Champagne-style bottles and corked for transport and came to be called Cidre Bouché (cider stopped with a cork!)
During World War II, many cider apple and pear orchards in Normandy were destroyed. After the war, Normandy farmers began an intensive effort to rejuvenate the orchard economy. It was at this time, that the famous Pays d'Auge Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) status was granted by the French government to the tiny Pays d'Auge region nestled in the heart of the Calvados department in Normandy.
At the peak of traditional orchard farming, in the early 1960s, France had the most extensive fruit orchard meadows in Europe, with one million hectars (about 2.5 million acres). However, due to a weakened economy from 1960-2000, traditional orchards largely declined as farmers cut down the orchards to make way for more profitable crops. In 2002, the remaining traditional orchards covered about 146,000 hectars (about 360,000 acres) with 5 million trees.
Despite the decrease in cider orchards in the last 50 years, the tradition of cider making is alive and well in France - and making a come-back - as the adult children start to return to the orchards of their parents and grandparents to rejuvenate this important part of French culture. There are about 11,000 small farms in Normandy that grow cider apples and produce cider today, making most of it for a local clientele. You'll find cider producers in the Normandy, Brittany and Hauts de France regions.
In Brittany cidre is always drunk with galettes (savory pancakes). I have no idea which type of cidre you would drink with a galette, would it depend on what you had inside the galette?. Anyway, cidre in Brittany is always drunk from a cup, never a glass. I have no idea why. I have so much more to learn about cidre.
Wednesday, 17th June 2020
This 'Metal Worker Extraordinaire' is located near Lizio and must be seen. Using recycled materials this local artisan creates moving, musical and even aquatic sculptures. He's also quite keen on building weird moving machines and bizarre games. There's over sixty moving works of art. Children can push buttons, pedal things, turn odd looking handles and the 'sculptures' all come to life. It really is amazing.
We have visited ‘Poète Ferrailleur’ several times and each time I am amazed by the sculptures, they are beautiful, magical and very very clever. He uses broken machines, games, music and the wind to create the most extraordinary sculptures.
Take time to see the film about the ‘Poète”, Robert Coudray. I watch it every time!
Here is a short video to show you some of the 60 sculptures you will discover at