Brittany is a rustic and impetuous region. This wild aspect, forged through the rhythm of tides, has spread through the land and its inhabitants. From East to West, it overflows with unique places, contrasted colors and stories to hear. A human life would not suffice to know it and neither would a hundred more to tame it.
Here are some landmarks and pieces of advice to help you comprehend better this ancient land during your trip.
Brittany on a bike
Brittany is committed to promoting the practice of cycling on its territory. This commitment takes the shape of eight itineraries conceived among more than 1300 km of cycle paths. But that is not all since a set of “Green paths” spreads over the region as well. The cycle paths connect major sites with one another and allow you to discover them safely.
Click on the map hereinafter to access the list of eight paths on the cycling tourism official website in Brittany or on this this link to visit the website of Green paths in France.
This list is far from exhaustive as there are so many unique places and sceneries. Our wisest advice would be to roam the entire region meticulously. However, unless you decide to move in the region for good, you need to make a choice. Anyhow here is a list of historical or mythical places that you must consider when you plan your journey.
You will find each of the hereinafter sites on the Brittany tourism official website. You will also find their excellent tourist map (towns and sites) in PDF format available for download here.
Some essential sites of Brittany date as far back as prehistoric time, such as Carnac or The Great Menhir of Er Grah, but its true rise started with the Romans. After 400 years populating this Celtic region and the island of Brittany, they left the way for the invasions of the Angles, Saxons, Scots and Picts, which caused a massive exodus of Bretons to Armorica. Among them were the seven bishops and future holy founders of the country who played a leading role in the evangelism of Brittany: Saint Patern, Saint Malo, Saint Corentin, Saint Tugdual, Saint Brieuc, Saint Pol Aurélien and Saint Samson.
Thus, “Little Brittany” was born, divided in Low Brittany (Western Brittany part) and High Brittany (Eastern Gallo part).
Even though they were under the Franks’ domination, of whom they recognized the supremacy in exchange for their first privileges (recognition of the Duchy and relative independence), Bretons will keep gaining lands over their neighbors.
A military buffer zone was created in the 8th century, the first March of Brittany, which will soon be annexed. In the 9th century, Nominoe, the leader of Vannes who was put in place by Louis the Pious, gained strength and had himself crowned with the approval of Pope Leo IV.He defeated the second March and therefore extended the realm territory until Angers.
While the tensions with the Franks had started again, a new threat came in the end the 9th century: the Normans disembarked on the banks of The Loire, conquering Brittany little by little. In the first third of the 10th century, they had been driven back and the Duchy could rise again.
Even though it was not really a time of peace, internal struggles experienced a truce and a thousand men joined William the Conqueror’s banner in Great Britain in 1066.
Gradually, the Duchy had lost its strength and Henry II of England inherited Brittany in 1168.
However, Philip II of France could not stand the stranglehold of England over Brittany and imposed the wedding of a French prince, Peter of Dreux, and the Duchess Alix of Thouars in 1213. Thus, the Duchy became a King of France’s fiefdom but kept its autonomy.
The middle of the 14th century saw the break out of a War of Succession between Joan of Penthièvre, supported by France, and John of Montfort, supported by England. A 20-year civil war ensued and led to the advent of John IV, John of Monfort’s son, as the new Duke in 1365.
Brittany took advantage of that stability and prospered especially in the maritime trade since it was ideally situated on the road which started in Spain and Portugal and went to England and particularly to the Port of Antwerp.
Nevertheless, that wealth attracted much interest and Charles VIII fought the Breton army in 1488. His victory marked the end of the Breton independence.
The Duchess Anne, only heir to Brittany, tried to resist but was finally forced to marry Charles VIII in 1491 and his successor, Louis XII, in 1499. When Anne died, her daughter, Claude, became a Duchess and married Francis of Angoulême, future Francis I, who became Duke of Brittany.
In 1532 the Union of Brittany and France was established. It definitely united them and the liberties and privileges of Brittany were guaranteed.
From that moment on, the History of Brittany has become intertwined with that of France but still did not die. While keeping its specific culture and accumulating privileges, Brittany will still play a significant part over centuries until today.
In order for you to go into depth about the events concisely mentioned hereinabove and discover the modern period, we strongly advise you to visit the Museum of Brittany in Rennes. You will find the practical information on this page.
It is unconceivable to talk about Brittany without evoking its coastline. With almost 2700 km of steep coasts (about a third of the French coastline), no town is located further than 80 km from the sea. However, beyond the dunes and cliffs, the Breton landscape is filled with forests, moors and peat bogs, which are characteristics of a terrestrial region.
That perpetual union between land and sea is also to be found along the numerous rivers travelling the region and the mounts eroded by the rain which are not taller than 400 m.
At the administrative level, Brittany gathers 4,475,295 inhabitants and comprises four departments: Morbihan (56), Finistère (29), Côtes d’Armor (22) and Ille-et-Vilaine (35). Rennes is its capital.
Let us end with a tricky question: is the Mont-Saint-Michel Breton? Some consider that it belongs to the “usurped” cultural heritage, in the same way as Nantes or Guérande. This claim is based on the fact that the Mont became Breton between the 9th and the 11th century thanks to the Treaty of Compiègne. Besides, the Couesnon, the river which was a geographical limit between the Duchy of Brittany and the Duchy of Normandy, had its estuary frequently modified and thus sometimes the Mont belonged to a Duchy, sometimes to the other. However, it would more accurate to say that, apart from these 150 Breton years, the Mont is Avranchin. Indeed, its name, abbey and inhabitants have always been Norman. Moreover, the current separation between the regions leaves no room for doubt: the Mont is Norman and any Breton contestation would be nothing but folklore.
Brittany offers a wide range of climates. The map hereinafter places them over the 34,000km² of the Breton region.
But let us cut the legend short: Brittany is not as rainy as some like to point out. It is true that precipitation is frequent but, however, it rarely lasts longer than a few minutes and is not intense. All in all, it is more or less equivalent to the French average level.
As to the temperatures, Brittany enjoys an oceanic soft climate, especially along the coasts where the differences of average temperatures between winter and summer come close to 15°C. Likewise, the difference between day and night temperatures is clearly less important than in other regions of France (Dordogne, for example).
It should be mentioned that this softness is a little bit disrupted by frequent winds which may sometimes be strong in winter.
With such a contrasted and plural land, Bretons cannot be but singular. Tinged with the exceptions from which they always benefited, they are firmly committed to their culture. Whether you speak their language or not, wherever you come from, you will have the strong feeling that you mix with a unique community. Still, Bretons are very open-minded and friendly. Catholic religion, which is more present than in the rest of the country probably has something to do with it.
Often caricatured as boorish man who has always been proud of his difference and autonomy and who tortures Normans by reflex, the Breton man turns out to be a modern citizen with a sincere love for his origins. Whatever your condition and origin, you will get the best of him as long as you do the same.
A few words about the language: From Celtic origin, Breton is still used today. Although it has been threatened with death over the last three centuries, the last twenty years have showed a renewed interest, especially among the youth aged from 15 to 19. You will run into it on road signs or restaurants and other touristic places.
Like many other regions in France, Brittany has a rich culinary heritage. An agricultural land par excellence, it places the emphasis on cured meats, dairy products – especially salted butter – and seafood products. Here are the culinary specialties that you must not miss:
Andouille of Guéméné
Galettes and crepes
Brittany is the land of crêpe, whether it is salted or with sugar. As a main course, you will be able to discover the buckwheat crepe with its subtle and strong flavor. In order to savor it, you can go in one of the numerous creperies or try the itinerant crepe-seller or the famous « galette-saucisse » on market days. As to the desert, the wheat crepe accompanied by salted butter caramel is a sure value.
The salted butter caramel
An ancient desert, the Breton Far was served in religious and family celebrations and has gradually become better throughout centuries. Originally containing nothing more than wheat, every generation has brought their touch and that has led to the cake we know today. Maybe you will find a genuine cooker who will allow you to go back home with the good recipe.
Palets and biscuits
That ancestral drink was considered as the elixir of the gods by the Celts of the region. The Chouchen is a mixture of water, honey and apple juice. The purpose of the apple juice is to trigger fermentation. It distinguishes itself from the Hydromel since the latter only comprises water and honey. Different proportions and types of honey allow to obtain a taste which can go from sweet to raw and a color that can be clear or dark. As to the percentage of water, it directly influences the final degree of alcohol which is between 8° and 16°.
Festivals & co.
Bretons are very keen on celebrations, to the extent that the region overflows with festivals and other cultural events. The most typical is without any doubt the Fest-noz. These traditional dancing celebrations are really a part of the Breton culture. At a crossroads, the Inter-Celtic Festival of Lorient, a real delight for young and old.
In order not to miss any seasonal event, we suggest that you click on the link which will direct you to the Routard website where they are listed almost exhaustively for all Brittany.