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Thursday, 14th May 2020
Brittany Blog : Discover the Nantes Brest canal
I have spent many afternoons walking along the Nantes Brest canal which runs through the heart of Brittany. When everywhere is so hot, the shady toll-paths are refreshingly cool and it is so so quiet. The canal paths take you to parts of the Breton countryside that you can’t possible access by car and every so often you stumble upon a little village or town.
The Nantes Brest canal is over 360 kilometres long and has 236 locks. Not only is the Nantes Brest canal good for walking, it is excellent for cycling. A huge plus is that there are no hills!. I once rather enthusiastically volunteered to go on a two day primary school cycling trip along the Nantes Brest canal. Sometimes I really should think things through…. Cycling all day with 30 primary school children, then sleeping in a tent with small children.
The sportiest cyclists will cycle the whole 360km in a week. Not me, we cycled from Malestroit to Josselin (about 25km) in 2 days and it almost killed me!..
It may have not been my finest moment but the children loved it. Cycling along the canal paths is safe, there are no cars to worry about. The views are stunning and you will probably see otters and kingfishers whist you enjoy the peace and tranquility of being close to the water.
Thursday, May 7th 2020
Brittany Blog Walking in Brittany
After being in confinement, we all need fresh air and open spaces. I don’t think that any of us will take for granted the ability we now have just to be outside for more than an hour at a time.
Brittany is made for walking. What better way to enjoy the fresh air and the Breton countryside.
France has a network of 6,0000km GR (Sentiers de Grande Randonnée) paths, and there is also a PR (Chemins de Petite Randonnée) network, the voie vert (tarmaced disused railway network) is huge and then of course the tow paths are perfect for flat walking (!). In addition to this most tourist information offices have walking packs, walking associations are keen to share their walks and most mairies maintain walks in their communes. With this amount of walks available social distancing is not a problem!.. You probably won’t meet a soul!
Now where to start!
The GR's are marked by a short red band above a matching white band, and the PR's with a yellow one, often painted on tress trunks or fence posts.
This massive network of paths across France means that there are walks for everyone!
Please ask for one of our free Walkers Packs which is crammed full of local walks.
By walking off the beaten track, you will discover the REAL France not the ‘Touristy’ France. You will eat like the French, in authentic restaurants and by walking you will stumble across unknown places, bars, shops and little museums.
The only decision you need to make is shall we stop here for our picnic or the next beauty stop?
For more information on Walks in Southern Brittany, see our webpage, Walking in Brittany
PS... In England, Kendall Mint Cake is the go-to snack food for hikers.... not in France, the French choose a hearty slice of dried saucisson to keep up energy levels!
Friday, 1st May 2020
Firstly, I hope that you are well.
I haven't been updating my blog for the last month or two. Holidays have been the last thing on our minds. But now, as the worst is now behind us and the blue skies return we can start to be more positive and plan a holiday!
The French governement have just announced the winding down of the Coronavirus restrictions. As of the 11th of May things will be starting to return to 'normal'. The shops will be opening as of that date and from the start of June the restaurants will also be up and running. As far as we are aware Brittany ferries will be operating again very shortly and Easy-Jet are planning on selling tickets to fly from the 18th of May onwards
Brittany is by far the least affected area of France and with a land area of over 13,000 square miles consisting mainly of wide open space that's not really surprising. Social distancing is surprisingly easy here! As of today's date (1/5/2020) there are a total of 391 people in hospital in Brittany with the virus (Brittany's population is over 3.3 million). That's against 26,283 hospitilisations currently across France as a whole. Brittany's death rate from the virus accounts for 0.86 (nought point eight six) percent of France's total hospital deaths. The French governemnt classify Brittany as a 'Green' zone using their traffic light system of risk accross the country. All of this information is obtained from the French government official coronavirus website... French Government's Update on the Coronavirus and we would encourage you to have a look at it yourself.
If you need space and fresh air, the Brittany can offer you this in abundance!...
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.