Considered by the French to be ideal for a seaside holiday, it is almost unparalleled for beauty along its rocky coasts. Brittany is not well known by foreign tourists- with the Cote d’Azur in heralded competition, but its islands are idyllic and quaint ( a wonderful combination) and there is much of the historic and even pre-historic to absorb. Belle-Ile, Ile Tristan, Ile de Brehat and Mont St. Michel are four of such islands. Mont St. Michel, which is also a castle, is the most famous- with countrymen and tourists alike. You can see a grand view of Mont St. Michel on my official web site www.ilovecastles.com !
Belle-Ile-en-mer, the largest island at 20 kilometers, and seventy-one meters above sea level offers bus tours by Taol Mor, the public transportation, and it is reached by ferry from Quiberan. Bicycle tours of your own can be done and doing the island this way will give you many breathtaking views of fishing ports and beaches. Le Palais, on the mid-northeast side, is the captial city and offers one castle, the Citadelle Vauban ( 02 97 31 84 17) at the mouth of the port. Fortified by Sebastien Vauban circa 1400 to halt invasions, the "breast plate of the Atlantic" houses a museum which recounts the history of Belle-Ile and offers temporary exhibitions and concerts. It is also adding hotel accomodations soon. If you tour Belle-Ile, be sure to check out The House of Nature, the city wall of Le Palais, the Notre Dame in Locmaria and remains of forts at Poulins (once owned by actress Sarah Bernhardt), Port Andro, La Biche, Pointe du Bugul, Pointe de Gros Rocher, Pointe de Taillefer, Port Fouquet et Pointe du Cardinal. The south coast (Cote Sauvage) offers views that were painted by Claude Monet and structured walking paths. Chateau Vitre
Medieval castles abound in Brittany with surprising historical connections. Chateau Vitre near the Rennes Forest overlooks the Vilaine Valley and the medieval chateau with it’s steep turrets and triangular base was rebuilt during the 14th and 15th centuries. A few ramparts are open to view the city. This chateau was not the property of Mme Sevigne, however, as her property, the Chateau des Rochers-Sevigne was southeast of Vitre and was the main residence of the famous chronicler of Louis XIV’s court. Many areas are open to the public.
Chateau de Fougeres sits in a fortified town not far away to the north and is close to the Breton/Loire border. It overlooks the Nancon River and ancient ramparts link the chateau to the city. If you stroll the outer fortifications its size will amaze you. It has thirteen towers with walls ten feet thick. Les Chouans, Balzac’s 1829 novel was based on the town and its castle.
Chateaugiron an imposing chateau is a charming preserved medieval village as well. It is sixteen kilometres southeast of Rennes and definitely worth a look.
Dinan, a beautiful river port town, boasts a gothic bridge, the fifteenth century Tour d’Horloge and the chateau museum which is the chateau of Duchess Anne (02 96 39 45 20). The museum showcases the local history and next to it is a fifteenth century tower Coetquen. There are pleasant walks along the ramparts and the Grands and Petites Fosses.
North of Rennes the Chateau de Combourg in the Rue des Princes was the boyhood home of author Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand, best known for his "Memoires d’Outre-Tombe" which described his melancholic childhood. Empty after the Revolution, the chateau was restored in the late nineteenth century and is now open for guided tours. (02 99 73 22 95)
In Quimper, the old part (once called Cornouaille) is still mostly pedestrianized and contains many shops, creperies and half-timbered dwellings. The cathedral dominates it and gives it a jenesaisquoi enigma. Quimper is a Breton word which has been "frenched", it came from the word Kemper which means a confluence of two rivers. Here, the confluence is the Steir and Odet Rivers.
The Ile d’Ouessant (or Ushant in Breton), Brest and Douarnenez in Finistere (Land’s End) offer museums, beautiful rocky cliffs and museums including the Chateau de Brest which dates back from the twelfth century. It offers a naval museum with an impressive nautical collection. Brest is France’s best naval port with a heavy military history. Douarnenez is closest to the miniscule Ile Tristan, which is connected with the absolutely true story of Tristan and Isolde. (Any of you who are curious, can obtain a copy of the libretto of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, or failing that, tell me you want a copy in the comments with an e-mail address or your blog contact page and I’ll send you the story.)
The former religious fervor of the Bretons is manifest in some architecturally stunning Parish Closes in the Elorn Valley 25 kilometers east of Brest the most beautiful and interesting being Guimiliau (four KM south of Landivisiau.)
Morbihan’s prehistoric megaliths along the upper part of the gulf are not to be missed. These sites in and around Carnac make up one of the world’s greatest prehistoric sites with nearly 3,000 menhirs (upright stones) in place.
North of the gulf and overlooking the Oust River, Chateau Josselin, a medieval castle, stands proudly and is in wonderful condition. It has been owned by the Rohan family since the thirteenth century. Tours are available to see the nineteenth century interior. Only four of the original nine towers remain, and the inner granite facing incorporates the letter "A", which is a tributary gesture to Duchess Anne of Brittany who reigned during Brittany’s "Golden Age" in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. A doll museum is quartered in the former stables.
Between Chateau Josselin and Rennes, Paimpont Forest (once known as Broceliande) is all that remains of dense primeval woods which covered most of Armorica and stretched further west than Brest! This forest has been associated for many centuries with King Arthur, the sorcerer Merlin who first met Viviane, the Lady of the Lake, in these woods. The story is considered myth, of course, but visitors still search for the magical spring where they met.
Last but not least, is Chateau de Kerjean which is not far from where a good friend of mine lives. I haven’t found out a lot about this castle but I will include its photo below and maybe dear Florent will do some research for us and find out some history about this little gem which gives wonderful day school excursions for the children! It is located in the Pays de Leon region a little bit north of where Guimiliau is situated.
There are no less than eight chateau hotels in Brittany and if you are interested in learning more about them leave a comment or send me a message. In the mean time you can check out the map for them in the photo album made especially for Brittany. Just click on the general Photos tab up above to see a complete list of all my photos. Enjoy !
Ciao for now!
The Castle Lady
Chateau de Kerjean
There are more views of Brittany to see in a special photo album on this blog.
Just click on Photos at the top of the page to gain access to all my photo albums.