Top Towns in Brittany
Auray, based in Morbihan, holds a special place in Brittany's history where the War of
Succession ended with the Battle of Auray in 1364. It is also the home of a very brave farmer's son, Georges
Cadoudal, who played a critical part in the Chouannerie movement during the Vendée war in the 18th century, so
glorious that Napoléon Bonarparte offered him the rank of General which he refused and tried to kipnap him instead.
We recommend to visit Auray's Saint-Goustan Port, a very picturesque medieval small harbour, full of charm as pictured.
Situated in North Finistère, on the shores of an impressive natural roadstead (Rade de Brest) of over 15m deep, Brest was destinated to become a naval harbour of strategical importance. From Cardinal Richelieu's time to the 2nd World's War as a Germans' submarine base, Brest's history is centred around military activities. For naval enthusiasts, we recommend you visit Brest's Château, its ramparts (Cours Dajot), a long promenade that will provide fine views over the roadstead and of the commercial port, and of course its excellent Musée de la Marine.
The city itself was heavily bombarded during the last war and was rebuilt in a modern style. Its Fine Arts Museum (Musée des Beaux-Arts) held a fine collection of Pont-Aven artists worth a look. Brest is also well known in the region for being the home of the impressive Scientific Research Marine Centre, Océanopolis, which aims to educate on marine life and its environment. It is a major tourist stop which will provide plenty of information and activities for all the family, perfect for a rainy day.
Every four years, Brest holds its Tall Ships Festival, where thousands of beautiful ships as pictured come to celebrate this major gathering. The next one is due in 2012.
Brest is also known for its annual electro and sonic music festival, ASTROPOLIS during the summer. Check this year's date on our What's On page.
Carnac, in Morbihan département, is famously known for its very rich prehistoric past which you can discover just outside the town. The Alignements, rows of megalithic monumental standing stones, also known as Menhirs in French, are spread out over nearly 4 km, over 3000 in total. Today the access is very restricted to protect them and their environment from being damaged. The small town itself does not have much to offer but families will enjoy Carnac's seaside resort, Carnac-Plage, where you find long fine sand beaches and great sailing sports with lots of hotels and restaurants.
Located on a plateau above the Rance valley, 30km south of Saint-Malo, Dinan is a stunning medieval town that
will enchant as soon you as you lay foot in its old Town. There is just so much to see that you can just go and wander the streets of its old colourfull half-timbered houses but try to include the Place des Merciers, the cobbled street of Rue du Jerzual, the St-Sauveur Basilique where the heart of Dinan's great warrior defender during the 14th C, Du Guesclin, lays. Nearby, panaromic views over the Rance river, the ramparts, the viaduct and the port can be enjoyed from the terraced garden of Jardin Anglais.
Take a stroll along the ramparts to reach the Château which houses Dinan's museum of history, arts and local crafts.
14km away, you will find the zoo of Château de la Bourbansais to entertain the young families.
Lorient, based in Morbihan, is a very active and bustling modern harbour city with its well known annual
interceltic festival (Festival Interceltique) during the first two weeks of August. Check this year's date on our What's On page.
During Cardinal Richelieu's reign, Lorient became a florishing trading harbour with Asia until it went into decline and Napoléon turned it into a naval base. Like many Brittany cities, it was occupied by the Germans and totally destroyed. However, you can still visit its dockyards and old large submarine base with a capacity of 30.
Today, Lorient is a very busy commercial fishing port that it is best to visit in the morning as the trawlers return with their catch. Go the Port Keroman to absorb the atmosphere of its large market hall (crié). Families will also enjoy visiting one of Ifremer's retired vessels, La Thalassa, formerly used for scientific research of the sea.
You can also tour the coastal area by "boat bus" (Batobus) as they call them and visit the Île of Groix.
You cannot remain untouched by the breathtaking beauty of this spot with its abbey at the summit of a granite mount, 75 m above the sea. For centuries, it has been a Christian place of pilgrimage and worship after the abbey was founded according to legend after the appearance of the archangel Saint Michael. The monastery then grew from the 10th to the 15th century. Located near Saint-Malo on the Emerald Coast, Mont Saint-Michel boots several marvels of medieval architecture with small passages, stairways, many leading to spots with beautiful views over the sandy bay. Before reaching for the abbey, you will though have to pass first through arrows of shops selling tatty tourists gifts. Luckily if you look above your heads at that time, you will notice some very nice medieval streets with signs. There was a time when you had to travel with the tides, nowadays it is fully accessible by road and you can park below the defensive walls. However, it is a very dangerous place with quicksands when the tide is out and very fast waters. It is strongly recommended not to adventure yourself in the surroundings at low tide. In 1979, Mont Saint-Michel and its bay were the first French site to be enrolled on the Unesco's World Heritage List.
Once Brittany's capital, Nantes is a very affluent city situated on the Loire river in Loire-Altantique département, and marks the south border of Brittany. Technically, it is now the capital of the Pays de la Loire region. A vibrant city, which many tourists tend to drive through on their way to the South of France.
First Gallic and then Roman, Nantes has a very rich historical past, to then become the well known Duchy of Brittany for several centuries in medieval times. You can visit its imposing Château des Ducs de Bretagne first built by Duke François II in 1466 where his daughter Anne later joined Brittany to France by becoming Queen of France by marriage to Louis XII. From 16C, Nantes became France's largest port unfamously from its very active slave and sugar trading where rich merchants built their very fine mansions on Feydeau Ile and Quai de la Fosse that you can still see today.
Next to the castle, lies the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre, a magnificient two towered white stone monument started in 1434 and where Anne de Bretagne's parents are buried. From the Cathedral, walk in the pedestrian streets of the medieval Bouffay Quarter where you will find numerous crêperies, pizzeria restaurants and interesting design and craft shops niched into half-timbered houses. For shopping, go to the upmarket fashionable street of Rue Crébillon and take the unusual yet sumptuous 19th century Passage Pommeraye, a three level shopping arcade in neoclassical style with statues and wooden stairs, leading down into Rue de la Fosse where the most beautiful Chocolate Shop, Chocolaterie Gautier-Debotté, at No 9 is based. Continuing along this road will lead you into the magnificient staturial fontain of Place Royale.
Nantes, in occupied France, was also painfully marked by the events and named one of its longest avenues, "Cours des 50 Otages", where 50 French hostages have been killed.
Nantes is also a regional platform for the Arts. You can enjoy performances of music, dance and theatre at Nantes' main theatre in Place Graslin, its Palais des Congrès or even in one of its reconversion projects like Le Lieu Unique, an art and theatre centre created in the old biscuits factory LU opposed its castle.
Its Fine Arts museum, Musée des Beaux-Arts puts on display to the public a collection of 13C to 20C paintings and contemporary art. Nantes is a city of integration where past mixes with contemporary design with landmarks like the Cité Radieuse from Le Corbusier in Rezé or the more recent Palais de Justice by Jean Nouvel in Beaulieu, Île de Nantes.
Nantes hosts several festivals during the year, the most popular one being its annual night Carnaval, "La Mi-Carême" usually during March-April. Check this year's dates of all festivals on our What's On page. Another main attraction is its well known street theater company, Royal de Luxe, where they parade a few times a year the streets of their home town on return from their world's journeys with their latest articulated characters.
Once a major naval ship building harbour, Nantes' industrial fortunes have since reconverted into industries of services and telecommunications but you can still visit the old shipyards in the Chantenay quarter and Butte St-Anne. Nearby are located the Planetarium and Jules Vernes' Musée, a museum dedicated to his work, Nantes being the birthplace of this famous visionary author.
The region is well known for its exceptional gastronomy with specialities like "escargots", "beurre-blanc" and "anguilles". All which can be tasted into one of France's most beautiful brasseries of La Cigale, a national listed building located Place Graslin, renowed for its cuisine just as much as for its sumptuous Art Nouveau decoration. Dining on one of Nantes' cruise boats along the Erdre river is also highly recommended.
Nantes has a very good public transport system with an exemplary tramway network. It is also easily reachable by motorways, high speed trains from Paris in 2 hours and by plane with an International airport flying direct to London Gatwick, Stansted and Manchester.
Quimper, headquarters of the Finistère Département and former capital of Cornouaille, is a charming and bustling city of two rivers, Steir and Odet, that has plenty to offer for one day visit. Highlights include its 15th century Gothic Cathedral St-Corentin built for its first bishop, Saint Corentin, its Musée Départemental Breton, a fine history museum of Brittany homed in the former bishop's palace and its Musée des Beaux-Arts for its collection of Breton paintings. Wander around the old town by the Cathedral to appreciate the architecture of the old houses with slated roofs, half-timbered walls and carved figurines.
Quimper is also known for its distinctive Faïence of blue, yellow and green colours, dating back 17th century and still in production today. To find out more about this Breton pottery, visit the Musée de la Faïence and its Factory, Faïenceries de Quimper HB Henriot.
Don't miss out on the Festival of Cornouaille, a major folk festival of concerts, dancing, celtic games and tasings, lasting for 9 days at the end of July and its classical & baroque music festival, Semaines Musicales, in August.
Rennes, today's Brittany's capital, is found 40 minutes drive south of Saint-Malo, in the Ile et Villaine department. Enjoy the architecture of its elegant old town centre of half-timbered old houses that have escaped the Great fire of 1720 next to its rebuilt classical stone buildings. Sites of importance include Saint-Pierre Cathedral, its fine arts museum (Musée des Beaux-Arts), and its two squares (Place de l'Hotel de Ville and Place du Palais). Alongside its rich architectural and historical past, Rennes is
a vibrant and cultural Breton city with a university and where you can enjoy its summer music festivals,
like "Les Tombées de la Nuit" during July. Check this year's date on our What's On page.
Rennes has an international airport with direct flights to Southampton for instance.
Situated in North Finistère, Roscoff is a harbour town of multiple facets and not just a car ferry terminal. It is a port with a rich historical maritime past which can be seen by just wondering into the old town streets where corsairs' carved granite front houses stand next to its Gothic Church, Notre-Dame-de-Croas-Batz. Today, Roscoff has become a busy seaside resort with a thalassotherapy which lives from its seaweed and fishing industries and vegetables exports. Roscoff is also well known for its onions and to find out more about the Johnnies, go and visit the Johnnies Museum. A special festival will also take place in August to celebrate these famous pink onions. Check this year's exact date on our What's On page. Outside town on Roch-Hievec, is a beautiful subtropical garden of more than 1000 different species, for interest check for the Jardin Exotique de Roscoff.Auray, 65km from Brest, 206km from Carnac, 172km from Dinan, 164km from Lorient, 182km from Mont Saint Michel, 315km from Nantes, 101km from Quimper, 211km from Rennes, 202km from Saint-Malo, 191km from Vannes
If Saint-Malo, situated on the Emerald coast, is your port of arrival to Brittany,
you will be greeted by magnifient original ramparts which are the only survivors from heavy bombing during the second world's war.
The inner city has fortunately been attractively rebuilt and provides plenty to see for half a day visit. Leave your car behind
and go and walk along the ramparts to fully appreciate the beautiful views of the coast and surroundings. Main spots of attraction
include its Château, Saint-Vincent Cathedral and the Town History Museum.
The town is also the birth place of the 19th century poet, Francois-René Chateaubriand, and was also the port of departure of Jacques
Cartier in 1534 when he is discovered Canada, later on to retire in the area.
If you are a music festival fan, you will know Saint-Malo's major rock music event, "La Route du Rock" at Fort Saint-Père in the summer. Check this year's date on our What's On page.
Based in Morbihan département, Vannes, which once held the title of capital of Brittany along Nantes and Rennes during the Middle Ages, is a very attractive and lively city with a picturesque fortified old town. As you wonder within the Vieux Vannes streets, you will enjoy the half timbered town houses dated from the 15th centuries, decorated stone buildings and slated roofs. Not to be missed are its beautiful lavoirs as pictured. Vannes was also the place where the Treaty of Union with France was signed in 1532. Vannes is also a good base for boat trips within the Gulf of Morbihan.
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