Welcome to our Brittany Blog
Thursday, 19th March 2020
La Côte Sauvage
We are very lucky in Brittany to have a good and varied coastline. Personally, I prefer the ‘cote sauvage’ (the wild coast). Usually I head for Quiberon.
The Quiberon Peninsula is connected to the mainland by a single spit of land. Surrounded by the Atlantic ocean, just a few metres (22m at the narrowest!) prevent it from being an island rather than a peninsula.
There are wonderful views of the sea to be had along the sole access road to the peninsula. Turn your head to the left or to the right and you will see nothing but blue right to the horizon! Welcome to the seaside!
Take a trip on the Corkscrew holiday train (a shuttle train service linking the peninsula with the mainland.) Large, coloured objects swoop in the sky: the kitesurfers are out, and the surfers and windsurfers will not be far away!
Further away in the distance stands Fort Penthièvre, acting as a reminder of its military history. Today it is the property of France's Ministry of Defence and is only open to the public on special occasions, but the view from the outside is still very impressive.
There are more than 40 kilometres of coastal paths enabling you to explore this "spit of land" on foot or by bike. Along its eastern coast, the peninsula is sheltered from the ocean and forms a magnificent bay curving around in front of the dunes. This bay is a member of the "Club of the Most Beautiful Bays in the World". The western side of the Quiberon Peninsula reveals a different kind of landscape altogether. A wilder coast, it consists of an alternating series of cliffs and coves shaped from the rock and washed by waves, which leave clouds of sea foam breaking on the rocky shoreline.
I think that it is fair to say that Quiberon has something for everyone!
Thursday, 12th March 2020
The Domaine de Kerguéhennec,
The Domaine de Kerguéhennec, (Yep, another one of those Breton words which is absolutely impossible to pronounce correctly or even incorrectly! We don’t even try, but simply call this place ‘the sculpture park’).
I really like this place, it is different. It is a huge park which you can roam round and every so often you come across an amazing sculpture. This place is different, the sculptures are made for the space and are often made in situ. In so many arty places, it is clear that the sculptures are made off site and there isn’t a clear idea where they will end up and then they are plonked in a space without any thought to their surroundings. The sculptures in the Domaine de Kerguéhennec are all carefully considered by their artists and they are built for the space and they ‘fit’. Sometimes they fit so well that you will miss them altogether. For years, I didn’t ‘see’ Giuseppe’s ‘Sentier de charme’ (1986), which is hidden in the trees to fully reflect the mythology of this sculpture.
It is also no mistake that ‘L’oiseau Phoenix’ created by Carel Visser is located so close to the chateau. The Phoenix is a monumental sculpture (large and easily seen). It is a metal assembly of which certain recovered parts refer to the agricultural world: a harvester chute or a cart. The Phoenix is an assembly of forms whose simplicity is accentuated by the colors - a monochrome (a gradient, colours of the same shade) of beige and brown which contrasts with the nearby castle.
The Phoenix bird is an Egyptian myth, it is a sacred creature, which, every five hundred years is reborn from the ashes.
The sculptor merged the phoenix bird with an agricultural machine. By showing that farming methods will change and evolve, humanity will always survive, just like the phoenix
In the past agricultural work was carried out by rather poor peasants and the wealthy bourgeois occupied the castle. Today everyone can access the castle and it is imperative that we modernise agricultural activities in order that we can feed a growing population. The Phoenix represents a fusion between an agricultural machine and the mythological Phoenix bird. Visser wanted to pay tribute to farmers who are continually renewing farming methods, just like the phoenix bird that rises from the ashes every five hundred years.
This sculpture also ‘dialogues’ with the nearby castle. This sculpture and the castle establish a contrast between the agricultural world and its prestige, the ease of the nobles and the poverty of the peasants in the past.
There are over 30 sculptures and some by very famous artists, Richard Long, Markus Ratez, Carel Visser and Étienne Hajdu to name a few.
The Domaine de Kerguéhennec was acquired by the Department of Morbihan in 1972 and classified as Historic Monuments in 1988. Located in the town of Bignan, it combines heritage and contemporary art.
It was not until the end of the 19th century that the 45 hectare park, of woods, ponds and meadows, were considerably remodelled by Denis Bühler.
The chateau in the centre of the part has been refurbished and now 8 rooms are open to the public where more art, paintings and sculptures can be discovered.
Throughout the year there are exhibitions, outside dance shows and activities for adults and children. Check out what is happening whilst you are on holiday
I would fully recommend a trip to The Domaine de Kerguéhennec!..
Friday, 6th March 2020
Guer - The hidden treasures
Guer, is our nearest town which is about 10km from our gites. Guer, is a functional town, full of banks, hairdressers and opticians. Great if you need a pint of milk but not the sort of place you want to visit on holiday!..
But, on the way back from buying your milk there are two destinations that are off the beaten ‘tourist’ trail but that are well worth a detour.
The first is the museum at Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan. This is a must for anyone interested in the military and its history. The museum at Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan has a collection of 5000 objects (personal objects, drawings, authentic documents, weapons, costumes and family relics) which retrace the glorious and sometimes tragic past of the officers and soldiers, from the old regime to the present day. Thus, de Gaulle, Lyautey, de Foucault, Napoléon and other humble or famous characters are evoked in this museum of remembrance where a majestic statue of Antoine Bourdelle stands at the entrance to the memorial.
The museum at Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan is the oldest of the Army museums.
Located in the heart of the Army Officier training school of Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan, the Musée du Souvenir traces the major events that built France.
Visitors are invited to explore the many exhibits which recalls the sacrifice of many soldiers and officers.
The second hidden treasure which is well worth a visit is the Saint-Etienne priory. Again, if you are interested in history or archeology then this thousand year chapel is right up your street!.
I visited the Saint-Etienne priory on a scorchingly hot July day. I would recommend visiting the priory when there is a guide present. This chapel doesn’t look much from the outside, but wow, the hidden stuff and its history simply blows you away.
The four buildings currently visible were built on a Gallo-Roman site.
The builders of this 10th or 11th century chapel reused the bricks from the old site to build the foundations of the chapel. As early as the 13th century, it depended on the Notre-Dame de Paimpont Abbey. The chapel underwent major restorations in the 17th century. You will be able to read on a stone on the wall of the chapel the inscription "1631", date of the works carried out ... During the Revolution, the priory was sold and fell into oblivion. It then became a simple barn.
In the 19th century, the chapel was rediscovered, but it was not until 1957 that its beauty was fully revealed! While a researcher was fishing in the Oyon, the river which borders the priory, it starts to rain and the researcher finds shelter in the chapel. He scratches the coating that covers the walls and discovers 15th century frescoes! Pure chance or intervention of fate? Anyway, the chapel regains all its majesty. In 1971, it was classified as a historic monument. The Association for the Preservation of the Chapel of Saint Etienne was created in 1977.
Sunday, 1st March 2020
The Bretons can’t make cakes.
The Bretons can’t make cakes, BUT they can make delicious bread and pastries. Over the last twenty years I have been on a mission to find the BEST pastry cake. It has been tricky but I’m up to the challenge. For years I searched for the best pain aux raisin….then I discovered Kouign amann (no, I can’t pronounce it either!!).
This ‘cake’ brings all the Breton bread / pastry making skills together. A kouign amann is a flaky caramelized cake made from bread dough, butter and sugar and is absolutely delicious especially when served warm. It is probably best not to dwell too long on its calorific content…
The origins of the kouign amann are uncertain. Did it stem from an unsuccessful batch of bread that was dusted with sugar and butter? Was it inspired by a Norwegian dessert, as the two countries were linked during the sardine fishing era? Or was it simply created during a family get together? It is said to have been invented by a Douarnenez baker during the 1860’s.
The kouign amann is not easy to make, and the old proverb, ‘make it if you want, successfully make it if you can’, particularly applies to this cake.
My challenge now, is to find the BEST kouign amann in Brittany. As it is very tricky to make, the quality varies enormously, but I promise you, one mouthful of a very very good kouign amann and you will be hooked!!…The best kouign amann so far has to go the boulangerie at Saint Martin sur Oust.
My quest continues, so if anyone has anyone has tasted an exceptionally good kouign amann please let me know.
Wednesday, 19th February 2020
Discover the legends of the Château de Suscino
If you are looking to visit a castle during your stay in Brittany, this is the one!
Built at the end of the Middle Ages, this is a most impressive castle.
The Duke that built this castle was a very clever man. This castle is set in 2,600 hectares which borders onto the sea. Within these 2,600 hectares are immense forests for hunting and wood for heating, the sea for fishing and salt beds.
Over time the Château de Suscino became a commercial agricultural center with vast fishing lakes, vines, flour mills and salt beds all of which contributed to the dukes wealth. As you approach Suscino you will pass through the villages Le Grand Bois (the Big Wood), Bon Bois (Good Wood) and le Vieux Bois (the Old Wood).
The Castle is pretty impressive but be prepared to climb some steps!.
Of course, a castle of this age is surrounded by myths and legends. Be enchanted by Merlin and the legends of King Arthur, the round table and their extraordinary adventures.
Legend has it that the Château se Suscino is home to the ghost of a very kind young boy and the the fairy ‘Mélusine’ uses the underground passageways from the Château de Suscino to get to the convent of the Trinitarians.
Thursday, 6th February 2020
Take a walk into the neolithic way of life, it is not what it may seem...
Step right back in time to the prehistoric days. Just a five minute drive from our gites takes you to the Standing Stones of Monteneuf. Our very own Stonehenge!, but children (and adults!) can climb on these stones!.
These stones date back to prehistoric times and are truly magical. The site is free to enter and whilst you are there you can discover the Neolithic house that has been reconstructed together with typical Neolithical garden (no bedding plants here!)
At the lower end of the site you can see how a stone block was moved and erected into a standing stone by our ancestors.
During the summer months workshops are held which I have attended when my children were younger. If they are running during your stay they are fun and our children thoroughly enjoyed learning how to make a fire with stone, making a clay pot, making a ‘necklace’ and then making a galette all using traditional neolithic methods and tools!.
Around the standing stones are marked pathways that lead off in all directions into the forest which now and again cross the Roman road. These paths take you deep into Brocéliande’s mystical world of folklore and legend. Reality and imagination merge into one when you reach the passage grave known as ‘La Morinais’, or the burial chamber called ‘La Maison Trouvé’, or walk around the lake of Chaperon Rouge (Little Red Riding Hood). Circular tours ranging from 1.5 to 15 km follow the line of the rocky outcrops that break through the grass-covered earth. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself in the company of a korrigan (the local name for a mischievous little elf). You’re on his land!
As you can tell I love it here!..and I regularly walk through these forests. I also know where the korrigans hang out, where they live and work. They make some truly magnificent forest art. If you can keep a secret I will give you a map so you too can discover the work of these clever elfs.
Thursday, 30th January 2020
Visit the Medieval town of Malestroit
I am sure that I’m not the only person that visits their local towns and takes it all for granted. The old buildings, cobbled streets, amazing tourist attractions. Well, my New Years Resolution is to explore all of our local towns and to whet your appetite for Brittany!..
We will start with Malestroit (yes, it is a bit tricky to say!), a small medieval town just 10km away.
Malestroit dates back to 987 and was formerly on the pilgrimage route to Compostela. However, Malestroit’s real claim to fame was it was in the Chapel of Madeleine the the Kings of France and England met to sign the truce of the Hundred Years War.
A trip to Malestroit should definitely be on you itinerary if you are visiting this corner of Brittany and I would allow a half / full day. So, what is there to do ?
1. First stop, the tourist information office and ask for their free guide to the town (they usually have this guide in English as well as French!). This guide takes you all around Malestoit and points out things that you will easily walk past. The Chapel de Madeleine is just on the outskirts of Malestroit and is now just a ruin and whilst of great historical importance it really isn’t worth the 20 minute walk.
2. Visit on a Thursday, it is market day! Eat hot crepes as you wonder through the stalls buy a baguette, a spit roasted chicken or a bowlful of Paella and head for the canal for your impromptu picnic
3. After lunch take a stroll up the canal and if you are feeling really energetic you can hire a canoe or two.
Malestroit is a typical Breton town. It hasn’t changed since we first arrived over 20 years ago, but that is precisely why we like it. Everything else around us moves so fast, but when you are strolling through the cobbled streets you can really imaging what it would have been like working for the resistance in World War II. What goes on behind the enormous shutters. The houses look so tall and dreary from the outside but if you manage to walk past one of the gated entrances where the gate is open, peer in, the gardens and courtyards are amazing.