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The slow road to Brittany: How and why to visit this beautiful region of northern France

Christopher Wilson-Elmes Profile Image

Christopher Wilson-Elmes

Sawday's Expert

5 min read

Just over the channel, with miles of coastline and swathes of glorious countryside to ramble through, Brittany is a slow traveller’s dream. Fuelled by crêpes and salted caramel, you can go from forest and natural parks to golden sand in the course of a morning, let alone a day trip. After recent visits by a few of the team, we’ve put together a few tips on travelling in slow and sumptuous Brittany.

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Why would I love it?

Always a good question to ask about a potential destination, Brittany has plenty with which to reply. It’s often compared to Cornwall, and close cultural and even geological links mean there’s a definite familiarity to the countryside, coast and even the menus, except for Brittany’s infatuation with salted caramel.      

Choosing a region?

Your choice of where to visit within Brittany might well be decided by your point of entry (more on that later) and your fondness for long drives. Carolyn Boyd tends to sail into St Malo and enjoy morning coffee on the Place Chateaubriand and make an overnight stop at Cap Fréhel before heading west, whereas our copywriter, Chris swears by the Quiberon peninsula in the south, accessible most easily from Roscoff and Marketing Manager Ellen loves Quimper, Brittany’s cultural heart, for the beauty of its old town.  

Inland vs coast

This might seem like an odd question, as the beaches of Brittany are one of its big attractions, but staying slightly further inland can mean cheaper rates, more availability and a slightly different experience to squeezing yourself into crowded coastal towns, especially if you’re going in peak season. You’ll still be able to drive down to the beach for the day and you could find yourself the only visitors to a smaller town or village, giving you the chance to blend into local life. At least until you unleash your GCSE French. In terms of sea conditions, remember that, generally speaking, the west coast seas are rougher and those further east a little calmer. 

Choosing a boat…or train?

Brittany Ferries run services from three English ports to three in Brittany, with a rough alignment of departure and destination points from east to west. From Portsmouth you can sail to eastern Le Havre, Caen further west or Cherbourgh, roughly in the middle of Brittany. From Poole you only have the Cherbourg option, and from Plymouth you can only get to Roscoff, the most western port they serve. Portsmouth offers both overnight sailings and some that’ll land you in Brittany in the late afternoon. Plymouth to Roscoff is much the same, although an overnight ferry is probably preferable, with same-day trips arriving at 8pm. Poole to Cherbourg is the most “civilised” in terms of timing, always leaving at half eight in the morning and arriving at two in the afternoon.  

If you’re London based, then you might even consider the train. King’s Cross to Rennes involves a couple of changes to get you across Paris, but can take around six or seven hours, although it would mean not having a car to turn into a giant mobile cupboard. 

The importance of timing

On a recent visit, some locals told us that the French don’t tend to get out of the house early when on holiday, meaning that if you’re up and out in the morning, you’ll have clearer roads, easier parking and sometimes have a beach all to yourself. This can backfire later in the day when you’re ready for dinner by six and nowhere is busy or even open till nine, but you’ll adjust eventually. Another important chronological quirk is that supermarkets mostly don’t open on Sundays, so make sure you stocked up on Saturday.   

Following the signs

As you’re rambling round Brittany’s country roads, you’ll see a lot of signage about local events, especially in spring and summer. One of the best pieces of advice we can possibly give you is, follow them! On a recent trip one of our team ended up at a festivals for both music and crêpes, a medieval fair and a tiny cider barn, just by keeping their eyes open.   

Food to look out for

You’ll eat well in Brittany, especially if you like seafood, with everything from simple eateries to remote island restaurants, working with incredible fresh catch. You’ll also find it hard to avoid (but why would you try?) salt caramel crêpes and the surprising savoury variation, the galette, which is most commonly found wrapped round a sausage and filled with fried onions. For accompaniment, cider is more commonly associated with the region than wine, with the buttery softness of the mildly sparkling beverage giving anything from the southwest more than a run for its money.  

Local shopping

Markets in Brittany are much more than weekend events, they’re the way many people shop for bread, cheese, vegetables and a host of other, usually edible, basics. Although a supermarket stock up is tempting, hitting your local market really does help support farmers and producers in the local area, so save some space in the picnic bag and find your nearest one. It probably won’t be too far away and you can pick up anything from sandwich ingredients to a bag of cherries or a whole roast chicken before you head off on your day’s adventure. 

Explore all of our special places to stay in Brittany >

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Christopher Wilson-Elmes

Sawday's Expert

Chris is our in-house copywriter, with a flair for turning rough notes and travel tales into enticing articles. Raised in a tiny Wiltshire village, he was desperate to travel and has backpacked all over the world. Closer to home, he finds himself happiest in the most remote and rural places he can find, preferably with a host of animals to speak to, some waves to be smashed about in and the promise of a good pint somewhere in his future.
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