Medieval towns, island jaunts, and fishing villages: A regional guide to Brittany

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Carolyn Boyd

Guest Expert

5 min read

If you’re thinking about a visit to Brittany but aren’t sure where to start, then here’s travel journalist and Francophile Carolyn Boyd’s regional Brittany breakdown. She gives you the whys and where-to-eats of her favourite regions, so you can go straight to a part of Brittany you’ll love.

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Getting to Brittany by ferry is so easy, but as soon as you disembark you feel a world away. Its glorious coastline is incredibly varied, too. The Emerald Coast takes its name from the green hue of the sea there, while just west there is the Pink Granite Coast and the Sandy Coast. Finistère varies enormously from north to south too, while the Gulf of Morbihan is different again, a huge inland sea dotted with islands. Inland, Rennes is a vibrant city with a fantastic food and drink scene.  

Mont Saint Michel Bay 

If you’re coming into Brittany, you don’t have to venture far from the ferry port at Saint Malo to see some of the region’s best features. The iconic Mont-Saint-Michel is less than an hour away and you can access this historic site via the causeway at high tide or take a guided tour and walk barefoot across the sand, just as pilgrims have for centuries. Saint Malo is a good spot for food shopping, so fill up on artisanal butter, fresh fish and local cider and take your haul back to your gîte to enjoy it. Nearby is Le Fournil, a 17th-century bakehouse converted into a cottage that is ideal for couples. Families can book into the cottage Le Bois Coudrais that even has a swimming pool. The Emerald Coast is west of Saint Malo, with its elegant, late-19th century resorts of Dinard and Saint-Lunaire overlooking some extraordinary beaches. Venture inland by following the idyllic River Rance down to the medieval town of Dinan, to wander the cobbled streets and stop in a creperie for the local speciality – a buckwheat galette.      

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Pink Granite Coast  

Brittany has some idyllic islands along its coast and the Ile de Bréhat is one of the easiest to reach, being just a ten-minute ferry ride from L’Arcouest. Explore the two sides of the island, linked by a small bridge. In summer, it abounds with bright flowers and its stonewalled lined lanes lead down to pretty coves. It also marks the start of the Pink Granite Coast, which stretches from here to Tregastel. Hikers can follow the coastal paths to admire how the wind and sea has whittled the rose-hued boulders into wonderful shapes. The seasidey town of Perros-Guirec has a wonderful broad beach and good restaurants. A good place to relax at the end of a day exploring is the Chambres d’Hotes Kergroaz Maner, where the hosts’ bounteous breakfasts will set you up well for the next. If you prefer a hotel stay, then check into the Ti al Lannec and gaze out to its extraordinary view, from its comfortable, floral-décor rooms.  

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The Bay of Morlaix  

Further west, the area around Locquirec perches between two coastlines with distinct identities: to the east is the Pink Granite Coast, but to the west, the coastline is dotted with dramatic headlands to ideal for walkers and the pretty harbour town of Roscoff, famous for its history of onion sellers. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the so-called ‘Onion Johnnies’ would cross the Channel and sell door-to-door across Britain, there’s a little museum in the town that tells their story, and the August Fete de l’Oignon Rose is a lively festival with traditional dancing and much to eat. West of Roscoff is the Côte des Sables, which has earned its name – the sandy coast – from its sweeping sandy beaches. Food lovers will love this area, too. Not only is it known for those famous pink onions, you can tuck into dishes with globe artichokes, crunchy cauliflowers and a host of other vegetables that thrive in the ozone-infused soil; add to that its fish and seafood, and the area’s chefs – many of them proud to hold a Michelin star – are spoiled for choice in what they can cook. A good base for exploring this area is the Manoir de Keranna, a self-catering manor house at Carentec.  

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The Crozon Peninsula and southern Finistère  

The Crozon Peninsula juts into the Atlantic and is home to the Parc Régional d’Armorique. Its wild headlands are ideal for hiking. If you travel out as far as Camaret-sur-Mer stop for a drink and sip a bol of cider on the harbourfront. Book a stay at Ty Anna, a self-catering cabin for five that makes a good base for wandering the area’s pretty villages and hidden creeks.    

Out past Douarnenez, the Pointe du Raz headland makes for a bracing walk, while the town itself is famous for its sardine fishing – you can even see where the Romans made their sardine paste garum. It’s also the birthplace of the region’s much-adored butter pastry the kouign-amann. For an unusual place to stay on this part of Brittany, stay at the Semaphore de Lervily, a contemporarily decorated former semaphore station set out on the headlands overlooking the ferocious waves where the surfers are in their element.  

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Quimper and around  

As the main town in Finistère, Quimper is the place to learn about Breton culture. The Musée Départmentale Breton is set in a stately episcopal palace in Quimper and has a beautiful collection of Breton ceramics and costumes. For even more of these exquisite costumes, pay a visit to costume-designer Pascal Jouen’s embroidery workshop, which holds exhibitions and even offers embroidery classes. Meanwhile, the thoughtfully curated Musée Bigouden in Pont L’Abbé shows the extraordinary tall lace ‘bigouden’ bonnets that are traditional in this corner of Finistère known as the Pays Cornouaille. 

Down on the south coast, there are long blond beaches such as Plage des Sables Blancs and the Plage de L’Île Tudy. Not far from this beach is the chambres d’hotes La Ferme de Kerscuntec, set in a restored cider farm.   

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Gulf of Morbihan  

For island-hopping adventures, there’s nowhere better than the Gulf of Morbihan. This vast inland sea is dotted with islands and islets that are a joy to explore by hopping on and off the ferries that ply back and forth. The cross-shaped Ile des Moines is a joy to explore by bike, pedalling through its pretty cottages to each headland; the Ile d’Arz meanwhile is a quieter, wilder island where you feel closer to nature. A good base to stay is the chambres d’hotes Mane Braz, which is also near the delightful harbour town of La Trinité-sur-Mer and Carnac. This is the world’s largest megalithic site, where 3000 standing stones are arranged in impressive rows. Explore the museum and then take a tour to learn more about their 4000-year-old history. On the other side of the gulf, is Vannes. A buzzing town with colourful timber-framed architecture and good restaurants. To explore this area, and gentle rolling countryside nearby, check into Domaine de Coët Bihan, a friendly B&B.  

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As far as regional capitals go, you can’t beat Rennes; it’s lively, friendly and has much to see and do. Its architecture has some grand attractions, such as the opera house, the parliament building, which were all built after a fire devasted half the city in 1720. You can also admire the buildings that the survived the fire, it’s crooked, colourful timber-framed buildings stand tall near the city’s famous market in the Place des Lices. There are fantastic restaurants, with many crammed into the same street – the Rue Nantaise – where the chefs work together to share the same suppliers for maximum efficiency. And if you’re in need of a drink – a Breton cider perhaps – then head along to the Rue Saint-Michel which is nicknamed Rue de la Soif (thirsty street) on account of having a bar every seven metres. After all the pavement pounding, though, a quiet and calm place to stay makes for a welcome retreat, so check into the Chateau du Quengo, where life is a bit slower paced.

Explore all our places to stay in Rennes >

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Carolyn Boyd

Guest Expert

Carolyn is one of the UK’s leading food and travel writers and an expert on France. She likes nothing more than telling a good story, packed with expert insight and inspirational recommendations. Her writing for The Guardian, The Times, National Geographic Traveller and many more has seen her cycle across France, seeking out its beauty, culture and delectable produce in search of some of the most delicious and exciting experiences in travel.
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