- by Julien
Time flies, we’re already in Germany and about to take the ferry to Sweden. We spent a good three weeks travelling the French coastline and want to introduce you to one of our recent destinations there: la Bretagne – or Brittany in English.
Since I can remember, I was always a huge fan (and therefore avid reader) of comic books. And quite naturally for any French comic book fan, „Asterix“ was amongst the must-reads I collected from a very early age. But what has Asterix to do with Brittany you may ask, especially if you’ve never heard about the comic books? Well, everything actually! It was through these books that I first got to imagine Brittany, since most stories are either taking place in or are starting from Brittany. And scattered through the pages are tons and tons of references to big blocks of granite such as “menhirs” or “dolmens”. Nowadays all these man-made rocks are referred to as megaliths and they are certainly one of the most iconic thing Brittany has to offer!
So if you fancy seeing some of these bad boys, I suggest you go to Carnac. This place is mentioned in all travel guides or websites related to Brittany since it is definitely a must-see! There is no other place in the world like it! Seeing all these stones aligned with the knowledge that there was a time when humans made them and placed them here is seriously bemusing.
You can find menhirs, dolmens, cromlechs or tumuli in other parts of Brittany, too. Sometimes they appear in the most unexpected places. Like that time when we parked for the night at the entrance of a forest and as we stepped outside and walked 50 m, a perfect dolmen was there, just by itself, waiting to be admired by wanderers. Other times, we just looked into the garden of a house and there, out of the blue, a menhir between the salad and the beans! The funniest and probably the strangest occasion to spot them is when they are integrated into the walls of a house (true story).
The thing that struck me the most when we did the guided tour in Carnac (which I would recommend if you want to really “learn” about the megaliths) was simply that even today we do not know why these alignments or dolmens were made. We have generally a good idea why cromlechs (defensive walls) or tumuli (tomb of sorts) were built, but for dolmens and certainly for menhirs we’re still in the dark… All in all, the version chosen by Asterix still holds for me.
Brittany has also some more “natural” wonders to offer if you are ready to do some walking or cycling. Take for instance all the Islands, Pointes and Caps which give us such wonderful views over the Atlantic Ocean.
We went to see a few Caps and Pointes, most notably Pointe du Raz and Pointe de Pen-Hir. These were absolutely amazing when it comes to stunning views! I would not tell which one was our favourite between the two, even though the Pointe de Pen-Hir seemed to be more spectacular. And it made us aware of something we totally missed but that we should have known: You can climb in Brittany! And the Pointe de Pen-Hir seems like a great spot after we saw and chatted with a couple of climbers there. Needless to say that this is not an appropriate climbing spot when you have to keep an eye on your toddler… So we made a new entry on our climbing bucket list to come back once the children are older.
To continue on the topic of natural sites you should see, we totally recommend a visit to Huelgoat and its forest. This is truly a place where you get the feeling that myths and legends were born here. Such a magical place! Be aware though of the crowds if you are visiting in high season.
Brittany also has numerous hamlets, towns and cities worth visiting and we did only but a few of them. Mostly because we cannot really afford to stay in Brittany for ever (although it would be time well spent) and also because, in some cases, we felt they were too big for us (with the camper and the kids). In any case, we still stopped in Guérande, a small city most famous for its salt but whose old fortified town is really remarkable as well.
Then there is Pont-Aven, the City of Painters as they called it themselves. And to be fair, although it is a touristic sight, there is no wonder painters of different eras came here to get inspired. The town is absolutely pretty, with the old architecture, the river and the boulder field within.
Last but not least, Saint-Malo, one of the most iconic historical French ports! A city that breathes fishermen, battleships and pirates! Even if the “new” parts of the city are offering things to do for tourists, you must go see the old walled city. You must!
Speaking of must-does, there is one thing that Brittany is well-known for in France (and in the world): its food and drink culture!
Most importantly – crêpe. A crêpe, or krampouezh in Breton, is not your regular American pancake. It is not any sort of pancake at all. It has to be thin. It can be made with buckwheat (my personal favourite). And it can be savoury or sweet. Normally, these are not served with maple syrup. Instead, if you are looking for a sweet treat, put on some sauce Caramel Beurre Salé (caramel with salted butter) or have it “Suzette”! Once you’ve tasted that you really know what a crêpe is.
And speaking of beurre salé (and/or demi-sel), this is something you have to try if you visit Brittany. Most countries selling dairy products have butter on the shelves. But only a few offer salted butter. Trust me, once you tried it, it’s pretty hard to go back to your regular butter. And I am not even delving into the use and advantages of salted butter when it comes to cooking or baking!
Regarding the Breton pastries, it’s the land of buttery, sugary sweetness! Here’s the list of things to look for in a bakery or if you eat out in a Breton restaurant: Kouign Amann (pronounce [ˌkwiɲ aˈmãn]; a kind of roll made with wheat flour and loads of sugar and butter that’s basically dripping caramel – usually eaten warm), Gâteau Breton (plain buttery cake, sometimes filled with raspberry marmalade or lemon curd), Far Breton, Biscuits Bretons (crumbly, buttery biscuits with salted butter). In our opinion, the Gâteau Breton and the Kouign Amann are the best. But all the others are just as amazing. Eva didn’t know Kouign Amann before coming to Brittany… and she really liked it! But after she had her second, she said it was enough now. It’s that buttery sweet! But then she still had some more in order to be able to compare 🙂
I hope these lines have awakened the Celt within you and that you are already booking your holidays to Brittany or googling where to eat a real crêpe near you!