Early in the morning we left Saint Cast-le-Guildo and headed off to our next stop, Barfleur, up on the Cotentin Peninsula.
On the way we came upon the historic little city of Dol de Bretagne (just 5,600 inhabitants). Not too far from the English Channel, Dol de Bretagne sits on the coastal plain some 25 kms from St Malo in the east and Mont St Michel in the west.
We parked up in a motorhome aire near the town centre and made our way along first the Grand Rue des Stuarts (this city is reputed to be the home of the Royal House of Stuart and where the Scottish Kings of that name originate from) and then the Rue Lejamptel, past some exceptionally old (some say, 11th century) and very beautiful half timbered houses.
The most prominent building in this small city is the hulking 12th century gothic cathedral of Saint Samson which is built entirely of granite and/but, sorry to say, is not one of the best looking churches I have ever seen. It holds the relics of Saint Samson who originally came from Gwent in Wales.
Close to the cathedral is the Cathedraloscope which serves to explain various construction techniques used to build and decorate many of the magnificent medieval churches that can be found across Europe. Ordinarily I would have stayed on to learn more of this but the cathedral bells had been pealing for well over a quarter of an hour and showed absolutely no signs of ceasing. It was time to get something to eat and move on.
On the way out of the city, some 3 kilometres to the north, is a rocky outcrop with the fanciful title of Mount Dol. The outcrop is only 65 metres high with a small stone chapel and a windmill on top but it provides great views across the marshland towards Mont St Michel.
We are on our way back to England although we probably have another week in France. Our next overnight stop is at Saint Cast le Guildo and the route from Quimper took us through the pretty little Bretagne town of Landernau which a friend, living in Bretagne, suggested we visit – Thanks Ivan.
Landernau is a town of some 15,000 people situated approximately 20 kms north east of Brest. As much as anything it is famous for its association with the Tour de France cycle race. Indeed, it is the finishing point of the opening stage of the race (Brest to Landerneau) and there is much about the town (especially at the Hotel de Ville) which reflects this particular connection. I recall this year the opening stage of the race received considerable media attention after a placard waving female spectator stepped back into the road and caused a pile up of some 20 riders. Last I heard she was going to be prosecuted.
The race was some weeks past as we arrived in the centre of Landernau. It was early afternoon and the town market on the Place de Gaulle was just finishing -shame because both Vanya and I enjoy wandering local markets. No matter, Plan B was to make our way to the Pont de Rohan (bridge) which, to be fair, competes with the Tour de France as the town’s most important feature; and then we would find somewhere to take a spot lunch.
The Pont de Rohan spans the River Elorn and was built in 1510 (on the site of an earlier bridge). It is the buildings on the bridge, most of which date back to the 17th and 18th centuries, that make the bridge famous. The Pont de Rohan is the only bridge in Europe with people still living on it.
There are a couple of bar restaurants on the bridge and it was in one of these that I sampled the local beers. I can confirm there is nothing at all wrong with Breton beer and the bar and the proprietor were full of character. They are very proud of their celtic heritage here.
After a short but pleasant stop in the bar on the bridge (just two small glasses) there was enough time for us to enjoy a last wander around the town. It’s very pretty. One place we missed out on was a small shop opened in 1949 by a certain Monsieur Leclerc. This was his first shop and the start of the giant Leclerc Hypermarket chain which is now to be found throughout France and even Spain.
And so to Saint Cast-le-Guildo…
There is absolutely nothing wrong with the camp site Vanya found. We could only stay the one night but the views from our pitch were as good as we have enjoyed anywhere on this tour. Nice one Van!
We were heading for Quimper and actually parked up in the municipal campsite near the town centre but, because the reception was closed for lunch and on a total whim, we decided to move on a few kilometres to the Chateau de Lanniron. Anyway, I’ve seen Quimper.
In 1969, for financial reasons, the owners of the Chateau de Lanniron decided to turn their 38 hectare estate into a leisure complex. A luxury campsite complete with restaurant, swimming pools, waterpark, various playgrounds, a golf course and driving range, etc were built around the 17th century chateau (and it’s garden terraces which drop down to the River Odet) and some of the outlying buildings on the estate were converted to gites. We booked in for the one night but stayed on for a second and were sorely tempted to stay for a third. Leaving aside all the facilities it is a great place to rest up. The pitches are huge and set in some lovely grounds. It is probably one of the best 5 star campsites in France (or anywhere for that matter).
Originally owned and used as a residence by the Bishops of Quimper the 15th century chateau was extended in the 17th century to resemble something like the existing property although; it was plundered and fell into considerable disrepair during the French Revolution and had to be restored. The property is quite beautiful and full of interesting history.
And all for 20 euros a night! September is out of the high season
What a place! A sizeable town of 52,000 people, near the Gulf of Morbihan on the southern coast of Brittany, Vannes is one of the most charming towns we have visited during this tour. We only had the one day in Vannes and it would take considerably more than a single day to do this town justice but, we’ll be back.
We parked up close to the town centre and walked northwards down the long ‘finger like’ harbour (plenty of boats moored along both sides) towards the old town.
We passed into the mostly walled off, pedestrianised old town through the 16th century baroque gate of Porte St Vincent (which is named after the Spanish Dominican friar, Vincent Ferrer, who died here in 1419 and subsequently became Vannes’ patron saint) and entered a wholly enchanting world of cobbled streets and pastel coloured half timbered 16th century buildings
I read that there are no less than 170 listed half timbered buildings in the old town centre and although the ground floors of many have been converted into modern shops, boutiques and cafe bars it was easy to imagine we had been transported back into the 16th century.
The Porte Saint Vincent gate took us directly on to the Rue St Vincent which in turn brought us to the Place des Lices. There used to be jousting tournaments on the Place des Lices but, that was a long time ago and as we arrived, a street market was in full swing.
It was a most complete market with the widest range of goods and produce, full of colour and wonderful aromas not just from the many local fruit & vegetable stalls but from traders selling spices, flowers and various differently scented handmade soaps. The market stretched across numerous streets and seemed to have almost everything. There were carpets & furniture, craft ornaments and jewellery and food & drink stalls. There’s also a fish market on the Place de la Poissonnerie.
Of course the street market is surrounded by plenty of cafes and bars and it wasn’t long before we were seated at a table outside of one of them while I tucked into some really delicious local oysters and a glass of muscadet. It was almost noon and it was either that or we would have to visit one of the many Michelin Star restaurants in the town. Next time?
There is so much to see in Vannes. We could have carried on to the Jardin des Remparts with it’s geometric lawns and flowerbeds and topiaries and it’s views of the Garenne Bastion and three towers but Vanya was looking for something to eat (she doesn’t do oysters) and so we turned back to the harbour where she had seen a menu she liked.
On the way we paused at the granite Cathedrale St Pierre. This cathedral took some 700 years to complete and is a real mix of styles (romanesque, gothic, Italian renaissance, etc) with the oldest original feature being the 13th century bell tower. I went inside the cathedral but a service was underway and while that was on I was never going to feel comfortable looking for the tomb of St Vincent which is housed in in one of the Cathedral Chapels. Anyway, there was a pretty good harpist busking outside the cathedral and Vanya wouldn’t mind me listening to just one song.
From the cathedral we left the old town via it’s north west corner; walking past the impressive Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) on our way to the harbour for Vanya’s brunch and for me to finish my lunch. Vanya’s chosen restaurant was right on the harbour – a great place to eat, drink, people watch and admire some of the boats in the harbour. A couple of the boats have some stories to tell too.
Except for the harbour we didn’t really get to see much outside of the town walls; which is a pity because heading south from the harbour (just beyond where we had parked the Van) is the large Parc du Golfe where there’s the Jardin aux Papillons (a glass dome housing hundreds of butterflies) and an aquarium with a huge collection, more than 50 tanks, of mostly tropical fish. Again, maybe next time.
We parked up at Flower Camping Conleau just outside of Vannes for a couple of days. Flower is not a bad campsite chain and staying in Conleau allowed us to both take advantage of the Region’s good weather and visit Vannes.
Conleau on the Gulf of Morbihan (Gulfe du Morbihan) is one of Europe’s, if not the world’s, most beautiful bays. ‘Mor bihan’ is Breton for ‘little sea’. It is separated from the Atlantic Ocean by a one kilometre wide bottleneck and yet covers an area of about 100 square kilometres (between Vannes and Auray to the north and Arzon and Sarzeau to the south). In different circumstances we would have stayed longer and taken a boat trip around the forty or so islands and islets which fill the bay. The Gulf is a listed Regional Nature Park and the whole area is beautiful.
After checking out the small peninsula next to the campsite for a suitable bar or restaurant for the evening (easy – there are only two and one had shut down because of Covid), I paused to watch a game of Palet Breton that four local guys were playing. The game is played with contestants taking turns to throw cast iron palets (discs), from a distance of 5 metres, at a maitre or jack which sits on a poplar board (measuring 70 cms x 70 cms). The individual or team getting closest to the maitre wins the round and receives one point for every palet which is closer to the maitre than their opponent(s). First to 12 points wins the match. This is not an easy game to play but these guys were seriously good, hardly ever missing the board. Could be a great lockdown game.
Having been suitably impressed by the Palet Breton players I decided to work up a thirst with a long walk. The area is full of walks and the one I chose took me through some beautiful marshland along the banks of the River Vincin almost all the way into Vannes (and back). This is an area of incredible natural beauty full of assorted plant and animal life, especially birds.
That evening we enjoyed a couple of drinks at the restaurant I found earlier in the day but we didn’t eat there – they had run out of oysters! No matter, we drank and reserved a table for the next evening, leaving specific instructions with the “Maitre D” to keep some of the local oysters back for me.