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Brittany (Bretagne)

Bretagne

One of the first experiences of France for UK holiday-makers is this unique region with its legendary camp-sites! Easily accessible from the UK via Brittany Ferry sailings to Roscoff and St Malo, Brittany offers a stunning coastline and a wealth of cultural and historic attractions for people of all ages.

Geographically a peninsula, the Province of Brittany was officially united with the rest of France in 1532. It occupies the far north-western corner of the country and is surrounded by the sea on three sides. Nowadays it consists of four of its original departments.

Being Celtic in origin, the region still retains its distinctive culture and, to some degree, language. Breton, similar to Welsh and Cornish, is still spoken by some of the population and can be found in place names and road signs.
The Inter-Celtic Festival held every August in Lorient is a major celebration of Breton culture in all its forms and is attended by people of Celtic origin from several countries.

Its climate is similar to that of Cornwall, particularly around the north coast. There is regular rainfall throughout the summer months but it is generally mild. The south has more days of sunshine but although it can become quite hot, sea breezes tend to keep conditions comfortable.

Around the coast-line several species of sea bird can be observed, notably cormorant, razorbill and puffin. The waters surrounding the region are home to creatures such as the basking shark, grey sea,l porpoise and dolphin making the shores a delight for naturalists.

One of the wealthier regions of France, its economy is based largely on fishing, agriculture and tourism. The main forms of farming are cattle, pigs and poultry rearing and the growing of a wide range of vegetables. Everyone will be familiar with the Brittany King cauliflower and the archetypal onion seller complete with beret and stripy top!

The fishing industry, which is the largest in France, employs around 9000 people. The most common catches are crab, lobster and shell fish of all types which form the basis of the area’s cuisine.

There are other developing industries now adding to the region’s economic growth. In the largest city, Rennes, there is a sizeable Peugeot plant and other industries such as aircraft and shipbuilding, plus food processing are carried out in towns throughout the region.

As far as transport is concerned, there has been a massive road building programme post 1970, improving communications between the main towns and cities with a number of good routes. Even better, there are no toll roads. Rail links with the capital are also good.

Religion remains a strong focus of local life and evidence of the predominate Catholicism can be seen in the ‘Calvaries’ and crucifixes which are a common sight in many villages and also through the festivals such as the ‘Pardons’ when processions are held to commemorate the feast day of the parish saint.

Other features of interest are connected to the region’s Neolithic past. Standing stones such as the ones at Carnac on the Gulf of Morhiban are immensely popular with visitors. This French equivalent of Stonehenge, the alignments consist of 2792 menhirs, hugh stones which arranged in an intricate formation. The town also has a Mussee de Prehistoire. Single-chamber megalithic tombs known as Dolmens are dotted widely throughout the region.

For art lovers, the ancient capital, Quimper is a place of great interest. Its gothic cathedral contains amazing 15th century stained glass windows. The city is also famous for the production of faience ceramics dating back to the 17th century.
The pretty riverside market town of Pont-Aven with its white houses was the home of Paul Gauguin and the location for his ‘School of Pont-Aven’, an artists’ colony. Examples of their work can be found in the town’s Musee de Pont-Aven.
Brittany also has castles, churches and buildings of historical interest far too numerous to mention.

The region’s extensive coastline is a major attraction for tourists both from other regions of France and abroad. It is second only to the Cote d’Azur in this respect.

The area around St Malo, known as the Cote d’Emeraude, has some lovely beach resorts which are popular with families, especially for camping holidays. St Malo itself is the most visited place in Brittany. The intra-muros area with its lively streets full of bars, shops and restaurants is well-worth exploring.

Further along the coast is the Cote de Granit Rose with its characteristic pink granite boulders and on the south coast you will find the popular family resort of Benodet.

As regards gastronomy, Brittany is the second largest cider producer in France and here you will find it served traditionally in a cup or bowl. It is drunk with most types of food.

Traditional Breton treats include galettes which are made from buckwheat and served with sausage and cheese, for example, and the sweeter pancakes which make a delicious snack. Salt from the Guerande area, combined with butter, is used in the manufacture of the famous biscuits of the region- galettes bretonnes.

Lobster in a variety of sauces and shell fish dishes are regional specialities and a sea food platter (assiette de fruits de mer) composed of several types of fresh, local shell fish is a great treat.

Markets abound throughout Brittany and it would be hard to find a town or village without its own food market. There is one on every day of the week, a good example being the Saturday market in Dol de Bretagne, a major general market which extends along the length of the main street of the town.

Clearly, the region as a whole is very protective of its natural and cultural heritage and the traditional Breton costume is frequently worn. For visitors from the UK it is strangely near yet most definitely foreign in ambience.

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