A Perfect Weekend in Brittany, Land of Culture & Medieval Towns

18 Jul 2018
Le Mont St Michel by Journographie a Sustainable Travel Blog

We spent a perfect weekend in the Brittany towns of Rennes, Mont St Michel, St Malo, Dinan & Cancale - with local friends. Read on to get inspired!
I've been obsessed with medieval castles for as long as I can remember. So when our friends in Rennes invited us over for a weekend getaway, we replied with a quick and resounding YES.

Brittany lies on the Southern side of the English Channel. During Roman occupation it was known as Armorica ("place by the sea"). Since then, it has been both an independent kingdom and a feudal state before becoming part of France in the 16th Century.

Part of the beauty of Brittany's rich heritage is that much of it is still well-preserved. Today, Brittany retains its own language (or two). It's also home to many of the world's oldest architectural sites. To top it all, it's scattered with Romanesque and French Gothic medieval buildings. It's a region of legends and fairytales - King Arthur and Merlin are both associated with Brittany, as is Ys - the city that the ocean swallowed.

Easing into Rennes

We start our trip by heading out into the little town. It's a dream.

You can walk everywhere and the place is peppered with ancient roads and half-timbered buildings. The first night is all about socialising and getting to know a very important side of the town - the pubs! We meet our friends' friends and the night progresses we visit more and more pubs and meet more and more people.

The next morning we get to an early start as we hit the Saturday farmer’s market. As a cheese-lover this is the perfect opportunity to buy the smelliest cheese possible. We spend the morning buying olives, cheeses, saucisson, bread and wines. We even try traditional sausage crepes - these delicious, soft and perfectly savoury pancakes.

When our bags are heaving with smelly stuff, we head towards a pub. Here we sit, warming our faces under the winter sun. Our friends and their friends join us and together we make a for a typical French scene. We're eating bread and cheese alfresco.

Saint-Malo Historic Port & Walled City

That afternoon we drive to Saint Malo. This historic port and fortified city has a long history of piracy. It's also amongst the most beautiful cities in the world.

The sky is deep blue with a golden haze. The light makes everything crisp. We walk by the marina and Yacht club through the beach to get to the fortress.

The walk around the walls of the fortress is out of this world. As the sun begins to kiss the horizon, the colours intensify and burst. The sky is now partly grey in an ominous sign of the rain to come. The mix between rays of sun and the heavy clouds is eerie.

We don't fancy getting wet, and as it's getting colder, we nip back in and find some sweet treats.

Here comes one of my top 10 travel foods. As we walk through stalls, our friends point at rolls made of butter, sugar and flour. I don't normally like super sweet things, and this doesn't even sound like out of the ordinary. But we give these things a go. They’re called Kouign Amman.

They’re the food of the Gods! Warm, buttery rolls from heaven, melts in your mouth – delicious.

We ended the stay in Saint Malo with a good couple of pints of the good stuff at a pub decorated like a jungle. They were playing Christmas reggae carols. Sweet.

There’s always room for trying new things. And so, an hour or two later when we were back in Rennes, we went to try some more savoury crepes. I decided to be brave and try one made of pork’s insides. No specifics about what “insides” may entail. Well what I got looked like this:

It stunk of cat food but tasted quite nice. It was a complex situation as I smelled it and went… peugh!! And then ate it and went… Hmmmmm! It was kind of a peugh-mmmm situation (like cheese).

Cancale: Oysters & Wine!

The third day was my favourite. There was  sensory overload of things I love. We started with a road-trip to the picturesque fishing town of Cancale, just east of Saint-Malo.

As we arrived I noticed stands next to the sea selling mussels and Oysters! Since Cancale is the Oyster capital of Brittany, we had to stop and taste these first-hand.

We bought a dozen and sat by the lighthouse taking in the washed-out horizon. Today it was hazy and foggy. But we imagined it looked amazing in the sunshine. We could make out the silhouette of Mount St Michel through the haze.

Throughout the short trip our mates introduced us to countless of their mates, and we’d hung out together. It was no different today. BonBon (let’s call him that) sat there teaching me how to shackle Oysters before drizzling them in lemon juice and slurping them down!

We then hit one of the seaside restaurants for classic mussels and chips (Moules-Frites) before setting off to Mount Saint Michel.

Now I kid you not, we saw kangaroos on the fields on our way from Cancales to Mount Saint Michel. If anyone can explain that, that would be fantastic.

Sunset in Le Mont Saint Michel

Freshly arrived at the area around Le Mont Saint Michel, we started walking towards it. It was impressive beyond belief. As a child, one hears of things like these in fairy-tales and films of princesses and castles. But one never imagines they’re real, and they’re standing right before one’s eyes.

If you are visiting Paris, you must at least give yourself a day to visit Le Mont Saint Michel. It would be completely ludicrous not to.

You can only reach the island when the sea is in low tide. It was built this way so that pilgrims could reach it, yet it would be easy to defend it from attack. It has stood this way since the 8th Century!

No day would be complete without cheese and bread, so when we got back home that's what we dined on. Throw in some more oysters (which I’d run back to buy before we left Cancale) and full red French wine. By the way - if you tip your wine into a decanter an hour before serving it, it tastes much, much better.

On our last day we spent a few hours walking around Rennes before heading to Dinan.

Fairtytale Town: Dinan

On our way to the airport we stopped in a town called Dinan that was just the cutest little thing. I felt transported to the medieval times – I felt like Drew Barrymore in Ever After (i.e. Cinderella).

During this weekend we've already seen pretty impressive medieval fortresses. But this is a whole town that's older than your granddad's long johns!

Dinan is an attractive small fortress town perched on a hillside that overlooks the river Rance. There are obvious fantastic sights like towers and castles. But the true joy comes from exploring the cobbled streets and alleyways, the cosy bars and crêperies.

Less than an hour later we are back in London. After this whirlwind romance with Brittany I don't want to go back to real life. But can I tell you a secret? It feels good living somewhere where, no matter where in the world you’ve been, you’re still amazed by how green, lush and beautiful your home town is. The perfect homecoming to the perfect weekend.

Did we miss your favourite Bretton spot? I'd love to hear it. Share it in the comments below!

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