Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sunny days in Brittany: Two out of three ain't bad

The Carnac countryside in southern Brittany is dotted with ancient megaliths.

When visiting Brittany in spring, one has to expect a little rain. During our first visit to this region (named Bretagne in French) in northwest France, we are lucky enough to have two sunny days. The third day it pours, causing us to cancel a planned visit to the Paimpont forest, but we console ourselves with scrumptious Kouign Amann (pastry oozing with butter) and getting acquainted with Paul Gauguin. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The seaside near our campground in Le Raguénès gives us our first
glimpse of the Brittany coast.

For this little road trip, we decide to (kinda) camp. We've booked a mobile home in a Eurocamp park, just a 10-minute walk from the sea. There are resorts like this throughout Europe. Since we're here so early in the season, we've snagged a bargain rate. Later in the summer, this place will be teeming with families making use of the water slide and outdoor pools, but for now it's quiet and nearly deserted.


Ken poses with a big anchor on the bridge to the walled city in Carcaneau.

First thing in the morning we set out for Carcaneau, France's third-most important fishing port. The main tourist attraction here is the old walled city — ville close. The well-preserved neighborhood is set on an island 1,150 yards across. The square and surrounding narrow cobbled streets are charming, and we enjoy pretty views from the top of the ramparts.

The main square in Carcaneau is nearly empty on the morning of our visit.

Boats are moored at the inner harbor in Carcaneau.

A stone man keeps watch on a wall in Carcaneau.

This window contains another little stone man in Carcaneau.

A horse sits on a rooftop in Carcaneau.


Quimper is the unofficial capital of Cornouaille, a historical region of Brittany steeped in culture, art and nature. The city stands at the confluence of the Odet, Steir and Jet rivers; appropriately enough, Quimper's Breton name is Kemper, which means "meeting place of three rivers."

A souvenir shop is adorned with ceramic bowls, a popular Quimper momento.

We spend a few hours exploring the city and have a great debate over where to eat lunch. I win, so the only thing left to do is choose from one of the dozens of crêperies here.

While in Quimper, we have to try authentic Brittany crêpes, and I choose the
picture-worthy smoked salmon with creamy leek sauce.

After lunch we wind up our visit to Quimper with a visit to Faïencerie de Quimper where the beautiful pottery for which this area is famous is created. Unlike the inexpensive knock-offs found in the local shops, this store (which also offers tours of its workshop) stocks the real thing ... lovely, but way out of my price range.

I develop a case of ceramic-envy in the Faïencerie de Quimper shop.

La Mise au Tombeau was installed in Quimper's Cathédrale Saint-Corentin in 1868.

I allow Ken to take my picture in Place Terre au Duc in Quimper.


Église Saint-Cornély de Carnac is a mixture of
architectural styles.

Tuesday turns out to be the best day (weather-wise) of our trip. With clear blue skies we've picked the perfect day to check out the Alignements de Carnac. This area offers an exceptional archaeological landscape. More than 3,000 menhirs dominate the surrounding fields and pastures.

A farmhouse sits at the edge of a field of megaliths in Carnac.

The Carnac alignments (rows of standing stones) were erected in the Neolithic era (between the fifth and third millennia B.C.). The megalithic landscape includes menhirs (lone stones), mounds (individual tombs), and dolmens (collective tombs). No one know for sure why the stones were erected and arranged this way. Through the ages, the megaliths were at various times believed to be Roman legionaries turned to stone, magical rocks, Celtic temples, or burial grounds. In the last century, efforts have been made to preserve the megaliths and the land surrounding them. Visitors can walk in the fields among the stones in the winter, but between May and September must be part of small guided groups in order to preserve the ecology of the land.

The Alignments of Carnac are a 6,000-year-old mystery. 

Stacked stones, or dolmens, in Carnac are believed to be ancient tombs.

Presqu'ile de Quiberon

Yes, the sea really is that blue on the day of our visit to Quiberon.

As mid-day approaches we head to the Quiberon Peninsula, once an offshore island. The two-lane road along the peninsula is narrow enough for us to see the calm sheltered waters of the Baie de Quiberon to our left (east) and the tempestuous Côte Sauvage of the Atlantic Ocean to our right.


Saint-Goustan in Auray was once a busy port.

Perhaps my favorite village we visit on this little trip to Brittany is Auray. After our requisite stop at the tourism office, we follow the suggested route that takes us by Église Saint-Gildas, named for a monk from Cornwall who founded an abbey near here in the 6th century. Half-timbered houses from the 16th century and narrow freestone mansions from the 17th century line Place de la République, Auray's economic center since the Middle Ages.

Auray's Saint-Gildas Church contains a magnificent sculpted wooden organ.

From the main part of town we head down a steep hill to the Saint-Goustan quarter. This port was once one of the region's busiest, but the development of the nearby Lorient port and the railroad diminished its importance.

In 1776, Auray had a visitor, one that is of particular interest to us. Benjamin Franklin set off across the Atlantic to Nantes, entrusted with the mission of asking for France's help in the upcoming War of Independence. Bad weather forced Franklin's ship to dock at Auray where he spent the night before continuing on by land to Nantes.

Auray's port, Saint-Goustan, contains a quay named in honor of Benjamin Franklin.

This little stone watcher on a building in Auray sits above a sundial.


From beneath my umbrella on the opposite bank of the Aven river, I spot
this lovely vine-covered house in Pont-Aven.

OK, so Pont-Aven may be our second choice for where to spend our third and final day here, but the little artists' colony turns out to be a charming consolation prize, even in the rain. In addition to galettes ( butter biscuits), the village is best known for its association with post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin. At the end of the 19th century, the artist and his contemporaries, including Émile Bernard, Paul Sérusier and Maurice Denis,  formed the École de Pont-Aven art movement, which focused on color and symbolism. Housed in an annex of L'Hôtel Julia (which has its own fascinating history) Musée de Pont-Aven contains an impressive collection of works by artists of the Pont-Aven School.

Paul Gauguin created this zincography entitled Les Dames de la mer, Bretagne
in 1889.

Musée de Pont-Aven contains around 200 paintings and graphic artworks
of the famous Pont-Aven School.

This W.C. (public restroom) in Pont-Aven has to be
one of the most unusual we've encountered.

As the summer heats up here in France, our travels cool down. For the next few months we'll be sticking close to home, enjoying local events, spending time with friends (especially those with swimming pools), and avoiding large crowds. While the next big trip won't be until fall, you can keep up with me via Lot of Livin', the blog I write for the AngloInfo website, which you can find by clicking here.

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