Bringing everyone together – the Brittany trip that all three generations loved

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Nicky deBouille

Sawday's Expert

5 min read

Nicky de Bouille, our France specialist, ventures north to Brittany from her home in the Loire, in the company of her parents, her teens and Vespa – the Jack Russell. On a mission to please everyone in a tricky balancing act, she’s delighted to find plants, beaches, bikes and food that bring them all together. There are even a few cats for Vespa to argue with and a shop with a restorative supply of rosé.

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The southern coast of Brittany has an inland sea called the Gulf de Morbihan. The French have loved it for generations as, beside the picturesque coves and islands, the climate is gentle, and the sea is warm for bathing and wonderful for sailing. It’s a national park too, so a protected area where developers have not been allowed to ruin the landscape.  

My parents are over from New Zealand, escaping a fierce winter to be with me and my two teenagers. As my son has just finished his Baccalauréat and is heading off on a gap year, this is a precious chance to all be together. We decide that southern Brittany is the perfect place for some family time.   

After lunching on sea bass in Vannes, the Morbihan region’s handsome capital, to break up the journey, we take the ferry to our destination, Ile aux Moines, in the middle of the Gulf. We’ve packed carefully (or so I thought), as cars are forbidden on the island and our gîte is a fair walk from the port. I can’t expect my parents to do much more than roll their suitcases, so my son and I load ourselves with everything else. We must look a sight as we make our slow way across the island to our accommodation. My abiding thought, as the handle of the shopping bag bites into my shoulder, is “we definitely don’t need all this cheese”. 

The island is crisscrossed by tiny streets and the lovely granite houses have good gardens. Mum is a keen plantswoman, so she stops to admire every bloom, surprised to find tropical plants flourishing in Brittany. The microclimate here is astounding. The gîte has a stone wall around its garden which is knee-high and surrounded by hydrangeas. It probably won’t hold Vespa if she really wants to get out, but I hope it’s a decent mental boundary. Inside, we find that the stairs to the bedrooms are quite steep, but otherwise it’s perfect.  

An after-dinner stroll down to discover the nearest beach reveals a low tide seascape with small sailboats marooned on mud flats, lime green with seaweed and dotted with clumps of escapee oysters from the nearby farms. A few of the little yachts are traditional and locally made and have Bordeaux red sails. They’re our favourite.  

Food is thought about a lot. The markets are full of fruit in summer. Strawberries and cherries are still in season, yet nectarines and peaches are now ripe and cantaloupe melons perfume the air tantalizingly. I can’t believe how huge everyone’s appetites are. We discover a small shop on the island, so I could have spared my shoulders the day we arrived. The cheese we bought with us disappeared on day two, but I discover with some joy that the shop has a good supply of rosé.  

My teens are unused to holidays where the main activity is strolls with constant stops to admire views, plants and buildings, but they find ways to keep entertained. A few sleepy cats basking on sunny walls are made friends with, until Vespa, part Jack Russell, realizes what’s on the wall and the brief friendship ends with hissing and loo-brush tails.  

To keep the teens happy, I rent e-bikes. This allows us to adventure to the farthest reaches of the island at the speed of light compared to the grandparental pace. The teens are amused by a house they found named “Breizxert”, which was decided wouldn’t be found in any dictionary but was a witty play on the Breton word for Brittany “Breizh, and “Brexit”. They also chatter away in high-speed French which their grandparents can’t keep up with when they feel the need. It’s their secret code. I understand.  

The weather is balmy, about 23 degrees each day, and only dropping to 15 at night, so everyone lives in shorts and t-shirts, except for my father who has always refused to wear either. I suspect this has more to do with my mother’s insistence that he does, than any fashion decision. I can recall the exact same conversation when I was a girl. How extraordinary that neither has given up this particular battle after all these years! 

The island has one of the most ancient stone circles in Europe. Unlike Stonehenge, this is semicircular, and the stones are smaller, but it’s vast and the little museum beside it is full of fascinating information. The lady in the museum looked surprised to see English-speaking visitors walk up, but as I have dragged my two to visit anything neolithic since they were small, she quickly found her audience. 

On the way back home to the Loire we make a detour to visit Rochefort-en-Terre. This village is so well-preserved that it has had countless costume dramas filmed in its flawless streets. We delight at the rugged granite facades and dormer windows set high on the rooftops, engraved with dates like 1556. There’s consensus that the town’s gardeners had gone a bit overboard with the window boxes and hanging baskets, as there are bright multi-coloured annuals absolutely everywhere you look. With that agreement, particularly one over my mum’s favourite subject, I officially label the holiday a success, making mental notes for next time about checking upstairs bedrooms and going easy on the cheese.  

Featured places to stay in Brittany

Le Sémaphore de Lervily

Audierne, Finistère

  • From €343 p/n
  • Self-catering
  • 4 rooms for 8

La Ferme de Kerscuntec

Combrit, Finistère

  • From €90 p/n
  • Bed & Breakfast
  • 5 rooms for 2

Château de La Villedubois

Mordelles, Ille-et-Vilaine

  • From €170 p/n
  • Bed & Breakfast
  • 5 rooms for 2 - 4

Hotel les Charmettes

Saint-Malo, Ille-et-Vilaine

  • From €95 p/n
  • Hotel
  • 16 rooms for 2 - 4

Manoir Du Vau d'Arz B&B

Malansac, Morbihan

  • From €165 p/n
  • Bed & Breakfast
  • 2 rooms for 2 - 4

Hauts de Kergaire

Erdeven, Morbihan

  • From €224 p/n
  • Self-catering
  • 4 rooms for 10

Browse all of our places to stay in Brittany >

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Nicky deBouille

Sawday's Expert

Nicky has gone from roots in the mountains of New Zealand to her home in an 18th century merchant's house on the banks of the Loire. Armed with an eccentric soundtrack from Bach to Radiohead via Beirut and Herbie Hancock, she goes on the road for weeks at a time, in search of new special places. What matters most to her is connecting with the owner, because it's the person that creates the place. She loves that she can give them an alternative to, and they love the fact that she's "gone native".
View more articles by this author

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