10 best steps in Brittany

destinations tips | French culture | French holidays
May 12, 2022
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What are the impressions of an American traveller discovering the Breton land and folklore?

Let’s follow in the footsteps of Ava, a French as a Foreign Language (FFL) student from Philadelphia who landed on northern Breton soil, exploring from the Côtes d’Armor to Finistère with the Vacances Actives team. What are her favorites throughout this journey? How does she see her trip?

Let’s read Ava’s travel diary, and its 10 best steps in Brittany !

Visit Brittany with Ava : her travel diary in 10 steps 

château fort Blandy-les-Tours

Here is my travel journal dedicated to northern Brittany, from Saint Malo to Brest.

I share with you the best moments of this wonderful week spent with my class of students in French as a Foreign Language, guided by Valérie and our teachers. A trip in 10 favourite stages, to describe this wonderful, very gourmet and fascinating getaway, during our Summer Camp in Brittany !

1. Saint-Malo : Boarding !

After a fantastic week spent in Paris, where I discovered the most beautiful museums and mythical monuments of the French capital, the trip of my French as a Foreign Language group continues in Brittany, on the north coast of the region. Our bus took us directly from Paris to Saint Malo. The change of scenery was guaranteed!

Arrival in Saint Malo.

We started by exploring the historic center and its ramparts, built in the Middle Ages. The history of this city is worthy of an adventure and pirate novel! In the 17th century, the port of Saint Malo housed privateer ships appointed by the king to hunt, pillage and sink enemy ships, mainly English and Spanish. 

It is here that our guide introduced us to the life of Jacques Cartier, a navigator and great explorer born in Saint Malo. It was he who made the discovery of Canada and part of the Great Lakes!

chateau-vaux-le-vicomte-dome
chateau-vaux-le-vicomte-dome

2. Falling in love with a kouign amann

At tea time, I fell in love with a kouign amann : a typically Breton pastry made with butter, butter and… sugar! It is said that this cake was invented by mistake by a Breton baker… He would have missed the realization of his famous croissants. By not respecting the croissant recipe, he invented the kouign amann!

This cake is so crunchy, melting, delicious and comforting after our walk in the city under a little rain! So irresistible… If only I could take it in my luggage…

3. The sculpted faces of Rothéneuf: worth Mount Rushmore!

In the afternoon, we walked along the coast to Rothéneuf, following the “customs trail”. I particularly remember this unusual place: the granite rocks by the sea are sculpted and form faces and characters! This work was carried out by one man, a Breton priest, who spent 14 years sculpting a total of nearly 300 works! Unbelievable ! It reminded me a bit of Mount Rushmore…

The next day, we spent a whole day at the so famous Mont Saint Michel ! But I will devote a chapter of my travel journal to it soon, because a few lines would not be enough to describe this experience!

4. Cap Fréhel: the hallucinating lighthouse

After visiting Dinard (so chic!), On the way to the West, along the coast road, we stopped at the Cap Fréhel lighthouse. Lighthouses are monuments that I find really fascinating. I imagine the extraordinary life of the guards alone in their tower facing the sea…  

This work is impressive with its square tower and its powerful architecture. Its lantern dominates us from more than 30 m! When the sky is clear, you can see the island of Bréhat off the coast. The island of Bréhat…. our next destination!

5. The island of Bréhat: a flowered haven of peace

We were able to access the island of Bréhat only by bicycle: farewell to  the bus! The whole group got on bicycles and we followed the guide. What an experience! We went all around the island, in single file, and discovered its very unspoiled landscapes and its citadel.

The island is a huge protected nature reserve, and the few inhabitants are very respectful of their environment. No car on the island! Thanks to our guide, we were able to observe many species of colorful flowers, sometimes exotic. I discovered a lot of flowers that I had never seen in my life! Mimosa, camellia… and especially agapanthus, a blue-purple flower that is very common on the archipelago.

Then we visited the glass factory of  Bréhat located in the heart of a fort in the citadel. There I discovered the work of glassblowers and their very fine and delicate creations. I took the opportunity to buy some souvenirs to take back to my family.

6. The port of Paimpol and its timber framed houses

The next morning, after the hot breakfast croissants (yummm), we took a tour of the old town and the fishing port of Paimpol. The old center is so charming! Strolling through its picturesque streets, we discover a number of well-preserved timber framed houses, while in the port, the architecture changes: it is the fishermen’s houses that dominate.

Around a small square, we stopped in front of the Jézéquel house, an old 15th century building classified as a Historic Monument. You have to enter into it out of curiosity! Because behind its timber framing walls, it has housed a hardware store and a family cutlery since 1886. Inside, it’s a Prévert-style universe: all kinds of objects, handles, door knobs, endless kitchen utensils, knives and scissors! I don’t know how they manage to put things in order…

At 12 noon, I was not very enthusiastic about the oyster tasting : I tasted them for the first time without being totally convinced… The appearance is weird but it’s still refreshing !!!

7. The Pink Granite Coast: view from my paddle board on the sea!

The pink granite coast takes its name from its more or less smooth massive rocks that outline this part of the Breton coast. 

The rocks, the Celtic crosses and the lighthouses define a marvelous setting that can be admired by the coastal path or from the sea! We were very lucky that day because the sun was with us.

Our group was split into two teams: one went in a kayak to explore the contours of the coast with a paddle, and the other group, of which I was a part, embarked on the stand up paddle board ! An opportunity to try a new sport and have a good laugh. Half the group ended up in the water, luckily it was not freezing!

8. Perros Guirec, a city of artists

The pink granite coast of Brittany shows its most beautiful profile from Perros Guirec. I found this city particularly photogenic! As proof, it has collected a large number of famous painters. I, who studied art history, felt very inspired there!

Perros Guirec is the stronghold of the Nabi painter Maurice Denis, who settled in the Villa Silencio. This neo-medieval style residence overlooking the sea was built in 1894. The painter was undoubtedly inspired by the panoramas offered from his window, to paint splendid pictures of the landscapes of the Breton coast. We stayed there until sunset: the atmosphere was magical!

9. Brest, and the traces of History

The journey ends in the big city of Brest, located at the tip of Brittany. This region is called Finistère : the end of the earth … The closest continent on the opposite side is America! 

The visit to Brest, a city completely destroyed by the Allies during the Second World War, was a shock. Its architecture is so different, modern, massive, geometric … The port and the military activities occupy a large part of the coast and the city: huge boats, liners, shipowners are present in the arsenal. This atmosphere really impressed me, it is really a city apart and rich in history. 

10. Crêpes, sausage buckwheat pancakes and cider

In the evening, on the port, we had the best tasting pancakes (crepes) and buckwheat pancakes! We already knew well about pancakes with Nutella! But the local specialty is the savory salted pancake, or galette, made with a very tasty flour: buckwheat. The most typical is stuffed with sausage: the whole group loved this recipe !!!! I think I can reproduce it at home. 

Traditionally, crepes and buckwheat pancakes are accompanied by a glass of cider that is drunk out of a bowl. This sparkling drink, made from apples, is low in alcohol, and super fresh! For our last evening, it was perfect!

Are you inspired by Ava’s trip?

Do you fancy a linguistic and cultural stay in a French region to improve your French and discover the most beautiful sites in the country? 

Contact VAL and let’s organize your stay in groups, schools and adults!

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