5 years ago, the thought of visiting a quiet village in a region where brown people are a rarity wasn't something that I'd have wanted to do. But, as I get older, the moments away from packed beaches and big cities are actually quite nice.
I've written a post on Brittany (which you can read here), and a detailed post on Ploumanac'h, the most beautiful village in the region (which you can read here). I've tried to take the best of both articles and cover my favourite things in this article. I haven't included Mont Saint-Michel (because technically it's in Normandy) but you can read about it in my detailed Brittany article linked to above. Here are 5 things I loved about Brittany.
5. The Black Madonna
The Basilica of Notre Dame de Bon Secours in Guingamp is an impressive place of worship for a town of only 7,000 odd people. What makes it even more special is that it is home to one of less than 1,000 Black Madonnas globally.
If you don't know, a Black Madonna is a dark skinned depiction of the Virgin Mary, and this 11th century basilica has one right in the entrance way, framed by candles lit by worshippers.
The basilica is one of many surprises that this small town has, and I really enjoyed the afternoon that I spent there.
4. The open greenery of the French countryside
Drive an hour or so out of any big city in most countries and you end up in the countryside, so what's so special about the countryside in Brittany?
Well, it's everywhere and there's just so much of it. While the rest of France began industrialising in the 19th century, Brittany resisted quite heavily, and so what you have now is a region where farming and agriculture makes up a large part of the local economy.
You can go for miles without seeing anything close to a settlement, and when you do it's beautiful small hamlets like Bourbriac and Pont Melvez. Cars and lorries are replaced by traffic slowing tractors, and it genuinely feels like a step back in time.
3. The village most preferred by the French
This won't be for everyone, especially if you're looking for a lively place to visit. The village closes early, and if you haven't eaten by a certain time, you're not eating that night!
I loved Ploumanac'h, a village voted as 'most preferred by Parisians'. It's not hard to see why they like it so much; the village is beautiful and although it does get busy with day trippers, it has a beautiful little port that looks like it's from a postcard, a very nice beach, and restaurants that serve good food.
At night, when the day trippers leave, the streets are deserted, and the light pollution is so low that you can clearly see the night sky, with thousands of stars lighting in up, and you might find yourself as the only person walking the streets.
2. Stepping back in time in Rennes
Rennes is a much larger city, and the capital of Brittany. It's a functional city which means there are parts of it that aren't much different than your normal mid-sized British city.
But there are also parts that look like they're straight out of a fairytale. Take the cathedral, the current site being a place of worship since at least the 6th century. From the outside, it's an imposing building that dominates its surrounding - from the inside, it's as beautiful as any cathedral that I've visited (and I'm including all the ones I visited in Rome, the Vatican, and Naples).
And then there's Rue de Chapitre, home of the half-timbered houses dating back many hundreds of years. There's 300 such houses dotted around Rennes, but Rue de Chapitre is home to the largest number. Walking through the narrow cobblestoned streets with half-timber framed houses pushing out into the street is a pretty special feeling.
1. The walk from Ploumanac'h to Perros-Guirec
There aren't many ways to better spend an hour than to do a walk along the Cote de Granit Rose, or the Pink Granite Coast that connects the village of Ploumanac'h with the town of Perros-Guirec.
In my detailed review (which you can read here), I described the landscape as something out of the Flintstones. It's honestly incredible, and I felt as though I might have been on another planet!
On one side you have the beautiful blues of the sea, on the other side you have the deep green of vegetation, broken up by the pink of rocks that have also been used to make buildings. The Ploumanac'h Lighthouse is an excellent example of the practical use of this pink granite rock, as it stands imposingly watching the sea.
Every time I turned a corner, my jaw would drop at whatever new landscape would be waiting for me, and it felt like the shortest hour ever - I'm just glad I got to do the return journey at the end of the day.
Brittany is a nice place to visit, and given the proximity to England, it's fairly cheap too. You can either fly in, or catch the ferry across (with your car!).
Here's the catch. It's a fairly insular place, so you won't find too many people that aren't white - and I didn't see a single Sikh. Some of the towns and villages run on tourism, so they'll be nice to you for your money, but the vibe I got was that was the only reason. Enjoy it, visit it, but keep your wits about you. The stares you get aren't as aggressively focused as the ones I got in Vienna, but they exist and I won't hide that from you.
I couldn't ever live in Brittany, but I'd definitely visit again - if only to spend a little more time in Rennes, and a lot more time in Ploumanac'h. I never really had myself as a laid back 'small village' type of person, but there's definitely something nice about picturesque landscapes and being a world away from the noise and pollution you get in big cities. I don't know, maybe I'm just getting old.
British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.