Today we’re thrilled to welcome a new contributor to MDK, Solène Le Roux. Having lived in France’s Brittany region for ten years, she knows this beautiful land well and is an experienced guide for small groups of knitters. Solène’s virtual tour of Brittany has us longing for the day when we can pack our bags again and explore together. Someday!
—Kay and Ann
Brittany is a vast region at the west of France, surrounded by the sea. It has wild coasts, little mountains, and forests. It is steeped in history and legends of mysterious creatures like korrigans (gnomes), water fairies, and the very frightening Ankou, a personification of death who stars in many stories. Brittany has a strong, rich local culture, with delicious food such as crêpes, which have become famous worldwide.
Brittany is my home region, and I’m excited to share with you a few of the things I love the most about it to help you plan a perfect weekend there.
Our tour will center on the Finistère. In the Breton language, Finistère is Penn-ar-Bed, which means “end of the world.”
It’s a great place to visit year-round, as the weather is pretty much always the same: mild and rainy. Don’t get too discouraged by the rain though, it rarely lasts for long and when it’s a bit rainy or foggy, just head straight for the coast as the wind washes it away and you will usually find big rays of sunshine there even though it’s raining just a few kilometers inland. If you want to enjoy the beach, you will get a better chance to take a swim during the warmer months, between June and September.
Lovely Harbor Towns
Brittany has many charming harbor towns that are worth a visit.
One of my favorites is Concarneau, in the South Finistère, with its ville close (walled town) built on the sea during the 15th century. Take some time to wander in its beautiful streets where you can see many local artisans’ shops. You can also visit the Musée de la Pêche to learn more about the history of fishing and its ties to this unique town.
Another town that I love is Douarnenez, a little farther west, where I learned to sail. Douarnenez has a rich fishing history and a beautiful town center, with beautiful boutiques and book shops.
Wild Landscapes and Sheep
Following the coast from Douarnenez, our next stop is the Crozon peninsula.
If you talk to Breton people, you will notice that they make a very strict division between South Finistère and North Finistère. Even though they share very similar cultures, they consider themselves pretty different from one another. For a South Finisterian, making a trip “north” is a big deal.
But right in the middle, between those two worlds, is the Crozon peninsula, beloved for its beautiful beaches, hiking paths along the wild coast, and small charming villages. You can spend a whole day exploring it.
You can go see the Lagatjar stone rows which gather an impressive collection of 65 menhirs. They are a beautiful example of the many menhirs that you can find in Brittany. The word menhir derives from Breton words meaning long stone. These standing stones date back from the Bronze Age; archaeologists still struggle to understand why people erected so many stones. You can wonder about this mystery while walking between these ancient stones filled with history.
If you’re into minerals and crystals, stop by the Maison des Minéraux, where you can learn about the geology and minerals of Brittany, and marvel at magical fluorescent rocks.
Finally, go for a hike on the Pointe de Dinan, and you might run into some lovely sheep grazing there in the Kergillé farm where Vincent and Emilie raise local sheep breeds: Roussin de la Hague and Landes de Bretagne, the original native breed of Brittany.
The sheep live outside year round, and graze the land of the whole Pointe de Dinan. They change pasture every few days as to not damage the land, so you never know exactly where you will find them!
If seeing sheep has gotten you in the mood for some local yarns, Brittany’s got you covered. Just a bit northeast from the Crozon peninsula, in the little town of Landerneau, is a lovely studio yarn shop called Bouclelaine.
Bouclelaine is owned and run by Brigitte and Clotilde, a mother-daughter duo of passionate local wool lovers who started their own yarn brand in 2016. They work closely with local farmers and go directly to the farm to collect the wool from their sheep and sort out the best fibers. They then create interesting blends of local yarns that are rustic yet soft enough for our knitters’ hands. They create gorgeous local palettes.
I am a huge fan of their yarns. My favorite is their Ouessant base, made with wool from sheep living on the island of Ouessant. Make sure to ask Clotilde and Brigitte about the stories behind their yarn.
Before visiting Bouclelaine, call or email to make sure that they will be there, because they sometimes are away, at farms or local wool festivals.
Brittany has a distinctive religious heritage. The region is Catholic, but many elements were borrowed and adapted from older Celtic customs. The worship of saints is particularly strong in Brittany, and can be seen through the many beautiful churches with unique sculptures on their enclos paroissiaux (Parish closes) that you can find mostly in the North Finistère, in the Monts d’Arrées. It can be worth dedicating an afternoon to visiting a few of them; if you only have time for one, the one in Guimilliau is probably the most beautiful.
If you are here in the summer, then you will probably see many announcements for “Pardons.” These are religious festivals, often turned into big village feasts where you will find food and traditional Breton games, and get to chat with the locals. They are usually paired with a Fest-noz (night festival), where you will get a chance to learn a few steps of Breton dance while listening to traditional Breton music played with instruments like the bombarde and the biniou (which is close to the Scottish bagpipe), and Kan ha diskan, the traditional a capella singing.
When you come to Brittany, you can’t miss crêpes. They are everywhere, and they deserve their delicious reputation.
There are two types of crêpes: Crêpes de Blé Noir (also called Galettes in the eastern part of Brittany), which are made with buckwheat and eaten with savory toppings such as eggs, ham, cheese, vegetables, and Crêpes de Froment, made with regular wheat and topped with sugar, salted butter, honey, chocolate, and jam. Both are delicious and a crêpes meal usually includes one or two crêpes of each type, depending on your appetite.
You can find crêpes made on a machine like this to take home with you after your trip, and head to one of the many crêperies that you can find on your way to eat lunch or dinner.
Here are two of my favorite crêperies:
Le Petit Chaperon Rouge in Concarneau is located in a lovely house facing the ville close. The staff is very welcoming and they’ve been making delicious crêpes for decades. Be sure to make a reservation because it is always full.
Crêperie de Saint Maurice in Clohars-Carnoët not only makes delicious crêpes but is also located in an idyllic setting, with its terrace facing the river and the Saint Maurice abbey. After lunch you can visit the abbey or take a walk in the beautiful natural park.
I hope that you enjoyed this little tour and that it will make you want to visit Brittany soon!
Here is a map of all places mentioned. If you know Brittany, feel free to use the comments to suggest your own favorite places, I would love to know what they are!