Brittany (French: Bretagne, Breton: Breizh) is a diverse region in northwestern France.
The region is subdivided into four administrative departments:
The department of Loire-Atlantique, which has been in Pays de la Loire since the 1950s, is historically and culturally related to Brittany, and the castle of Brittany's dukes is located in Nantes.
There are two different areas in Brittany, which are culturally different (language, habits, dances, food...):
- 47.5847-3.07781 Carnac — the megalithic menhirs - stones erected by the prehistoric peoples of Brittany
- 48.2042-3.052 Lac de Guerlédan — an artificial lake created by EDF, a scenic highlight of interior Brittany
- 48.6667-23 Côte d’Émeraude — verdant rocky coast stretching from St Malo to St Brieuc - bustling resorts, charming fishing villages
- Pays de Montfort — a natural and hiking destination between Rennes and the forest of Brocéliande
- 48.4333-3.91674 Monts d'Arrée — a mountainous area in Finistère, with heathland.
Brittany received its modern name when it was settled (in around 500 AD) by Britons, whom the Anglo-Saxons had driven from Britain. Breton history is one long struggle for independence: first from the Franks (5th to 9th centuries), then the Counts of Anjou and the Dukes of Normandy (10th to 12th centuries), and finally from England and France.
The Breton people maintain a fierce sense of independence to this day, as displayed by their local customs and traditions.
Since the 1970's, a resurgence of the regional identity has happened in Brittany. Breton art, music and culture are recognized across France.
Being a part of France, French is universally spoken and understood by almost all locals in Brittany.
In the western part of Brittany (Basse-Bretagne), many people also speak the regional Breton language, a Celtic language more closely related to Scottish Gaelic, Irish and Welsh than to French. While France tried to discourage the use of regional languages, their use is rebounding, bringing a stronger understanding of culture, contributions, and history. Through the local efforts of the Bretons and their Breton language schools (Diwan, Div Yezh, Dihun), children are being taught in the native language while they learn standard curriculum. The schools are supported by worldwide efforts through various groups, including the International Committee for the Defense of the Breton Language.
On the road you may notice sign in both French and Breton.
On the eastern Brittany, the Gallo language is sometimes spoken. That's a French variant language, influenced by Breton.
Due to its proximity to the UK, many people working in the tourism industry can also speak English. Some English people also live in Brittany, especially in the countryside.
Brittany Ferries operates the following regular services:
- Plymouth-Roscoff (Pont-L'Abbé, Pont-Aven, certain winter sailings operated by Bretagne)
- Poole-Cherbourg (Barfleur, Coutances, Normandie Vitesse (BF trading name for Condor Vitesse)
- Portsmouth-St Malo (Bretagne with winter service operated by Pont-Aven)
- Portsmouth-Ouistreham (Caen) (Mont St Michel, Normandie, Normandie Express, refit cover provided by Bretagne)
- Roscoff-Cork (Pont-Aven, occasionally Bretagne)
There are airports in Brittany:
The Nantes Atlantique Airport (NTE IATA) may also be used along the southern coast or Rennes to/from other European airports and for some transatlantic flights.
The TGV train runs almost hourly from Paris Montparnasse to Rennes, and then Brest, Quimper, Lannion and Saint-Malo. SNCF website
Regional trains also link Rennes to Nantes (via Redon) and Saint-Malo; Quimper to Brest.
The A11, the Océane Route, links Brittany to Paris. A dual carriageway runs from Rennes to Nantes, and there is a motorway from Nantes to Bordeaux and from Rennes to Normandy (A84)
Bus companies offer bus services from and to all major rail stations in Brittany.
In Brittany, all roads are free (no tolls).
Trains are an easy way to visit Brittany, except for the center of the peninsula. There is no difference between TGV high-speed train and regional trains (TER) in Brittany: both run at the same speed, and regional trains are usually cheaper and as comfortable as TGVs.
- Menhirs and Dolmens Brittany has a large number of megaliths, which simply means "big rocks". These menhirs (standing stones) and dolmens (stone tables) were sites for burials and worship. See some magnificent examples at the bay of Morlaix and the gulf of Morbihan. Museums at Vannes and Carnac detail the archaeological finds made at these sites.
- Gardens Brittany has exceptionally beautiful gardens. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remarkable_Gardens_of_France
- Participate to a fest-noz. Fest-noz (Breton for "night fest") are dancing sessions open to everyone, where people learn and dance traditional dances from Brittany, usually from 6pm to 2am. It will cost you from nothing to 8€ to participate to a fest-noz (most of them have a 6€ fee). More globally, Breton people tend to dance when they hear transactional music so you may see people dancing on streets.
- Music festivals. There are plenty of festivals in Brittany, some of them are huge and have an international audience, some others are just:
- Les Vieilles Charrues (in July in Carhaix) one of the biggest European festivals
- Festival interceltique de Lorient (first week of August in Lorient), one of the biggest festival in the world dedicated to Celtic musics
- Kig ha farz — meat and stuffing
- Coquilles Saint-Jacques — famous in Saint-Brieuc
- Oysters — famous in Cancale
- Crêpes and galettes are among the regional specialties, that you can eat on the numerous crêperies you can find in quite every places.
- crêpes are made from buckwheat flour (traditionally but rarely in crêperies) or wheat flour, they are eaten on Basse-Bretagne
- galettes are traditionally eaten in Haute-Bretagne, and are only made of buckwheat flour
- Galette-saucisse — a grilled sausage rolled onto a fresh galette, traditional snack in Ille-et-Vilaine, you can buy some in markets or at sportive events
- "Galette complète" — a galette filled with ham, cheese and an egg.
- Tourteaux (large crabs) and spider crabs
- Far breton — cake made with prunes and eggs
- Kouign amann — butter cake, served lukewarm
- Galette — butter sweet biscuit from Basse-Bretagne, not the same as galette from Haute-Bretagne
- Cider (cidre) — Like Normandy, Brittany is cider country. Much like wine, cider comes in different varieties that are intended for different purposes, so you should pay attention to the following words on the label. Doux indicates a sweet cider, with a strong apple flavour and low alcohol percentage (3% or below), that is best drunk with dessert or by itself. Demi-sec / brut is sharper and fresher, with an alcohol content of between three and five percent. This kind of cider is more common as an apéritif, or as an accompaniment to local cuisine, especially seafood. Unlike in certain other countries, notably the United States, cider in Brittany is always alcoholic and always sparkling (pétillant).
- Perry (poiré) — Similar to cider, but made from pears. Production is considerably limited compared to its apple-based counterpart.
- Chouchen — Breton mead, a sweet alcohol made from fermented honey, water and yeast
- Beer — there is a great variety (some of them are made with sea water)
- Whisky — There are Breton whiskies. Nevertheless, there are better ones in the Gaelic world...
- Kir Breton — the local adaptation of the kir. You pour Breton cider instead of white wine, preferably from the Rance valley. (Kir, for those uninitiated, is blackcurrant liqueur and white wine.)
When swimming in the sea, watch out for rips and undercurrents. Be mindful that the tide can come at a very fast pace so watch out or you might be stranded on an outlying island! Check the tides (marées) in your local tourist office. Ask for a table of the tides.
- Channel Islands
- Mont Saint Michel - in Normandie, but very close to the Brittany border; monastery and town built on a tiny outcrop of rock in the sand, which is cut off from the mainland at high tide (and then joined to the continent by a light bridge; cars and buses can no longer pass or park near the Mont, but there's a transport system with light buses). It is one of France's major tourist destinations, and as such gets very busy in high season. Check the times of the tides before you visit!
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Saint Malo - walled city
In this historic past, other Britons fled to the west and south west of their own island, to Wales and Cornwall; and so it is that today, Brittany shares a historic culture with the other Celtic regions of northwest Europe.
Today, the French administrative region of Brittany covers four "departments", the Côtes d'Armor (22) in the north, Finistère (29) in the far west, Morbihan (56) in the south, and Ille et Vilaine (35) in the east, bordering on Normandy and the Loire valley area. Another department used to belong to the historic province of Brittany, and this was the Loire Atlantique (44), the area round the city of Nantes which used once to be the Breton capital, but is today no longer in the region.
The capital city of the modern Brittany region is Rennes, located in the central eastern part of the region; most of the major lines of communication between Brittany and Paris pass through Rennes, which is a large industrial and university city. Other important cities in the region are Brest, one of the two most important French naval ports, St Malo, an imposing walled city on the north coast, and Vannes, the capital of the Morbihan, with an atractive old town centre. Quimper, the capital of the Finistère, and St. Brieuc, the capital of the Côtes d'Armor, are less important. Lorient, in the Morbihan, was once a major shipping port trading with - as its name suggests - the Orient; but its shipping and ship-building industries have largely declined, and like other ports on the south coast of Brittany, is better known today for its yachting and yacht-building industry. It is also the venue for Brittany's annual Interceltiques music and culture festival.
Prehistoric megaliths at Carnac
In cultural terms, Brittany is very distinctive, with its own language and Celtic cultural tradition that set it apart from the rest of France. The Breton language, though not much used in everyday life, and not understood by most of the modern population, has made a comeback in recent years, and is taught in a lot of schools. Celtic traditions are alive or recalled today in Breton folk music, its Celtic festivals, and its many prehistoric monuments.
Reaching Brittany:Train : by TGV from Paris Gare Montparnasse, train from many cities,
Car: Motorway from Paris, Lille, or Calais, via Rouen and / or Rennes
Plane: Regional airports: Rennes, Brest, St. Brieuc, Nantes.
Gites and holiday cottages in Brittany
Map of selected hotels on the Brittany coast
Main tourist attractions in Brittany
35 Ille et Vilaine
- Mont St. Michel. (Actually just in Normandy) Fairytale like mediaeval abbey and city perched on an offshore rock, off the north-east coast of Brittany. A UNESCO world heritage site. One of the most visited tourist attractions in France.
- St. Malo. The ancient city of pirates, historic St. Malo stands above the waves, encircled by its granite ramparts. Large aquarium. Also (most of the time) the Etoile du Roy, the replica of a frigate from 1745, originally built from the plans for HMS Blanford for the TV series Hornblower.
- Dinard. Classic tourist resort at the mouth of the river Rance, opposite Saint Malo.
- The tidal power-station on the Rance; unique tidal barrage generating electricity from the ebb and flow of the tide. Boat trips on the Rance.
- Fougères : mediaeval fortress city once part of the eastern defences of the duchy of Brittany. Ramparts, old town
- Vitré : great mediaeval fortress castle in the centre of this small historic town.
22 Côtes d'Armor
- The northern coast; dramatic rocky coastline with enchanting names like the Emerald coast and the Pink Granite coast, with small sandy beaches.
- Dinan - small town surrounded by ramparts, one of the most attractive towns in Brittany. Near Dinard.
- Treguier: old town with stone and half-timbered houses, mediaeval cathedral
- Brest: naval port city; Oceanopolis, one of the best aquariums in France
- Pointe du Raz : the western tip of Brittany, a rocky headland jutting out into the Atlantic breakers.
- Concarneau : major fishing port with old town
- The southern coast; many long sandy beaches, and inlets popular with yachtsmen.
- Carnac: the most famous megalithic site in France; several prehistoric stone alignments and dolmens.
- Quiberon: attractive fishing port and resort at the end of a long peninsula. Sandy beaches.
- The Nantes-Brest canal: those sections of it that survive are part of Brittany's popular inland waterway system, centered on the town of Redon
- Belle-Ile : attractive island off the south coast of Brittany. A place to escape from the cars. Citadel, beaches, hiking. Ferries from Quiberon and other ports.
- La Trinité sur mer : very popular yachting centre
- Lorient: once the port for the French East India company, the city now has a submarine base (guided visits) and submarine museum.
44 Loire Atlantique(which includes part of the historic province of Brittany)
- Guérande: lovely old medieval walled city, famous for its coastal salt pans. Lots of arts and craft boutiques.
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