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Last updated : Nov 2009
Brittany
Brittany - TravelPuppy.com
Brittany is a region of France that boasts a fiercely independent culture that dates back to its Celtic past.

Brittany comprises the départements of Côtes d’Armor, Finistère, Ille-et-Villaine and Morbihan. Fishing has long been the most important industry and the rocky Atlantic coastline, high tides and strong, treacherous currents demand high standards of seamanship. At Finistère, the Atlantic swell can drive spouts of water up to 30m (100ft) into the air. The coastal scenery is particularly spectacular at Pointe du Raz and Perros-Guirec. The Gauls arrived on the peninsula in about 600 BC. Little is known about their way of life or why they constructed the countless stone monuments to be found throughout Brittany, cromlechs, altars, menhirs and dolmens, Carnac is the supreme example of this. They were displaced by the Romans during the reign of Julius Caesar and who in turn were displaced by Celts arriving from Britain in AD 460. The Celts named their new land Brittanica Minor and divided it into the coastal area, l’Ar Mor (the country of the sea), and the inland highlands, l’Ar Coat (the country of the woods). The two areas in Brittany are still referred to as l’Armor and l’Argoat. The Celts were master stonemasons, as may be seen by the many surviving calvaires, or elaborately carved stone crosses. Brittany emerged from the Dark Ages as an independent duchy. A series of royal marriages eventually brought Brittany into France and by 1532 the perpetual union of the Duchy of Brittany with France was proclaimed. Despite the rugged coastline, it is possible to enjoy a conventional beach holiday in Brittany.

The Emerald Coast, a region of northern Brittany centred on Dinard, has many fine bathing beaches. The beach resorts are often named after little-known saints, St Enogat, St Laumore, St Brill, St Jacut, St Cast, and so on. There are also bathing beaches in the bay of St Brieuc, including Val André, Etables and St Quay. Brittany’s main attractions are her wild beauty and the unique Bretn culture.

In general, coastal areas have retained a more characteristically Breton way of life than in the hills inland, though much of the coastline is blighted by the holiday homes which seem to occupy every possible space. Elaborate Breton head-dresses are still worn in some parts, the style varying slightly from village to village. Breton religious processions and the ceremonies of the pardons take place in a number of communities at various times of the year may have changed little since the Celtic times. In the region around Plouha, many of the inhabitants still speak Breton, a language evolved from Celtic dialects, and Celtic music and cultural performances are also popular. The coast from Paimpol consists of colossal chunks of rock, perilous to shipping, as the many lighthouses suggest. The very pleasant villages and beaches of Perros-Guirec, Trégastel or Trébeurden contrast with the wild and rocky shoreline.

At Aber Vrac’h and Aber Benoit, the ocean is caught and churned up in deep, winding chasms penetrating far inland. Along the coast is the huge and sprawling port of Brest, possessing one of Europe’s finest natural harbours which has a 13th-century castle. The canal running from Brest to Nantes makes a very pleasant journey either by hired boat or walking or on horseback. The interior consists of wooded hills and farms, buttes (knolls) with fine views, short rivers and narrow valleys. Many of the so-called mountains are merely undulating verdant dunes, barely 300m (1000ft) high. They are nonetheless remnants of the oldest mountain chain on the planet. Breton architecture is perhaps more humble than in other parts of France.

Inland, there are several impressive castles and many walled towns and villages. The churches are small and simple. For the most part, Brittany benefits from the warmth of the Gulf Stream all the year round and the tourist season runs from June to September. The countryside blazes with flowers in the spring, attracting many varieties of birdlife.

The city of Rennes, the ancient capital of Brittany, is a good base from which to explore the highlands, sights include the Palais de Justice, the castle, the Musée des Beaux-Arts and the Musée de Bretagne, which seeks to preserve and foster all things Breton. Some of Brittany’s most productive farms are close to the northern shore. Fertilised with seaweed, they produce fine potatoes, artichokes, cabbage, cauliflower, peas, string beans and strawberries. The quality of locally produced ingredients lends itself to the simple Breton cuisine, which brings out natural flavours rather than concealing them with elaborate sauces. Raw shellfish (including oysters), lobster, lamb and partridge are particularly good. The salt meadows of lower Brittany add a distinctive flavour to Breton livestock and game.

Crêpes are a regional speciality and there are two distinct varieties, a sweet dessert crêpe served with sugar, honey, jam, jelly or a combination (eg suzette), and the savoury sarrasin variety, made from buckwheat flour and served with eggs, cheese, bacon or a combination of several of these (the crêpe is folded over the ingredients and reheated). They can be bought ready-made in the local shops. Little or no cheese is produced in Brittany, but some of the finest butter in the world comes from here, it is slightly salted, unlike the butter from the other regions of France. Cider is frequently drunk with food, as well as wine. The popular wine, Muscadet, comes from the extreme southern point of Brittany, at the head of the Loire Estuary, near Nantes. It is a dry, fruity white wine that goes very well with shellfish, especially oysters.