Since France annexed the Principality of Brittany during the 16th century, Rennes has been the capital city of Brittany. In 1720, for 8 days, a huge fire took place burning down around 1.000 houses. Then during the Second World War, the city was badly damaged. Unfortunately, during those two periods, many old buildings were destroyed. The part of the city which escaped the fire is called the old town and you can still admire wooden houses dating from the Middle Ages.
Rennes has two Universities with about 40.000 students. Thus, around Ste-Anne Place or the Place des Lices, you can find numerous bars, restaurants and designer shops.
From the Mont-Saint-Michel to the Loire river, fortresses from the Middle Ages are scattered all over the region. Among those fortresses, there is the Castle of Fougères built by the Duke of Brittany, Raoul II. This castle was built on a hill to look down on the Nançon river and to guard against any attack by enemies. It is recognised as being one of the biggest Middle Ages in Western Europe. Due to many battles, several parts of the castle were destroyed, however, 13 towers still remain as well as the three-meter high ramparts. This shows us the excellent building techniques used in those days.
Close to the castle, ranges of medieval houses can also be found around the Place du Marchix as well as a Gothic church, St-Sulpice.
Fougères is also the city where Balzac set his novel, "Les Chouans".
Located along the Rance river, Saint-Malo is proud to have been, during the 17th and 18th centuries, the biggest French harbour for merchants as well as for corsaires (private armed ships which were authorised by the King of France to intercept foreign ships and to seize the loot aboard). In 1944, about 80% of the old town was destroyed during the bombing by the German army. As a souvenir of the past, some historical buildings were restored exactly as they used to be before the bombing, but most of the houses were reconstructed in the 17th-18th century style. However, the ramparts surrounding the old town and which were built between the 12th and the 18th centuries, escaped the devastation of the war and still remain today as they used to be many centuries ago.
Located in Mont-Saint-Michel Bay, Cancale is a small harbour famous for its oysters. The speciality of Cancale is the so-called "Pied de Cheval" (horse foot) oysters. The round, flat shape of the oysters looks like a horse's hoof. In Cancale, oyster beds cover about 200 acres. The high percentage of plankton in the bay gives those oysters their unique taste.
The cultivation of mussels is also important in this region and many wooden pillars wrapped with nets containing mussels can be seen in the Bay at low tide.
You can enjoy oysters and mussels in one of the restaurants along the Quai Gambetta.
Walking on the Sentier des Douaniers, which goes along the sea-front, you can admire the beautiful landscape and contemplate the whole Mont-Saint-Michel Bay.
Quimper, now a centre of prefectural government in Finistère, grew around St-Corentin Church during the Middle Ages, and you can still admire rows of houses along the streets as a reminder of those days. Quimper is actually a great historical and artistic place. Its narrow streets covered in paving-stones, the rows of old houses and the ramparts are reminiscent of the Middle Ages. If you stroll around the town, you will be able to feel the heritage of European history and tradition. Ceramics from Quimper and the firing technique used are famous worldwide. The pottery decorated with flowers or animals drawn inside yellow or blue lines which used to be offered as wedding gifts or kept as family treasures, are now exported around the world.
This part of Brittany called "the end of the land" (Finistère) is characterised by its saw-toothed coastline, where the Atlantic Ocean comes and breaks with force against the rocks. You can also feel the strength of the nature inland, among the woods, wide moors and craggy landscape. Being the meeting point of the Atlantic Ocean and the Channel, this region keeps a large heritage from the Breton culture and is an important tourist spot.
During the Second World War, as Brest was a French naval base, much damage was caused to the city. Nowadays, the city does not look the same as it used to be, but Brest developed around the fishing industry and cargo boats, becoming the main city of western Brittany.
Mont Saint-Michel is often described as an island of World Heritage, located in the inner part of Mont Saint-Michel Bay. Arriving on the embankments, following the path through "The Porte de l'Avancée" the main gate, then the Grande Rue lined with hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops will guide you to the monastery.
The Christian pilgrimage is said to be at the origin of the construction of a chapel on this island by the bishop of Avranches, who had a revelation from St. Michel in AD 708. Before then, the island was a Celtic sanctuary called Mont Tombe (mountain of tomb). Despite an important flood disaster over this area in AD 709 according to the legend, pilgrims have been coming to worship to this catholic holy place continually for 1300 years to our era. You may find the historical remains like cannons and bullets abandoned by English armies around the main entrance during The Hundred Years' War, a period when the whole island was fortified. At the end of 18th century, the monastery was closed and converted into a prison at the time of the French Revolution, and it had to wait until 1865 for it to be restored by Napoléon III thanks to the efforts of Victor Hugo. Now the great view from the forecourt of the chapel and the silence of the cloister where the monks prayed make a beautiful contrast that will take your breath away.
It was also known as a difficult pilgrimage destination to reach because it has the biggest tidal range in Europe. The only access to the island used to be flooded at high tide that is said to arrive "at the speed of four wheeler" and many pilgrims were caught in the waves. The construction of the embankment in the 19th century made this site a popular destination for tourists, and now the restoration of the bank continues for a smoother oceanic flow.
The main street is not the only way to discover this island. It is also recommended you make time for walking around the wall, getting into a maze of stairs, and looking out from the hidden paths there.
The surrounding area of the island - the ocean, tideland and grassland with rich ecosystem is a registered site under the Ramsar Convention. At high tide, the tideland vanishes under water, then at low tide, it appears and shows a whole round path around the bottom of the island. To avoid quicksand zones, guided tours are offered for you to take a safe walk in the tideland.
It's important to know the times and ranges of tide, here is the information for visitors.[Times of the tides -Le Mont Saint Michel]
The ecosystem of the tideland is alive enough to make plankton flourish in the water of the Mont Saint-Michel bay. The coastline along the bay to Cancale has been renowned for shellfish aquafarming. In the city of Vivier-sur-Mer, you can visit the traditional mussel farm using ropes, or take the sightseeing bus to see around the boundless wetland.
Lean more about Mont Saint-Michel by video produced by Brittany Regional Tourist Center.[Movie of Mont St-Michel]
The Duchy of Brittany has held Nantes as its capital, a city located at the mouth of Loire river that runs into the Atlantic Ocean from the 10th to the 16th century. In that city, Henry IV of France promulgated the Edict of Nantes which guaranteed religious liberties to end the Wars of Religion between Catholics and Protestants in 1598. The city remained the centre of maritime trade for a long time, even after it merged into France. The ship owners of Nantes gathered great wealth from triangle trade between the Antilles (West Indies) and Africa dealing with sugar and spices at that time. Nantes represented 40% of the overall volume of trading in France in the 18th century, and it is now still playing an important role as one of the biggest city of trading port.
The abundance of historical landmarks - such as Château des Ducs de Bretagne (Castle of Dukes of Brittany), the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul (Nantes Cathedral), the Passage Pommeraye, said to be the most beautiful arcade in France - are indeed the heritage of prosperous days of Nantes. When cruising down the river Erdre, the scenery of castles coming out one by one along the banks in the daytime, and the night view of illuminated castles reflected on the water are both splendid.
To visit the famous salt fields in Guérande or the marshland of rich ecosystem, you just need to hop on the bus.
From the Fine Arts Museum of Nantes (Musée des Beaux Arts), Jules Verne Museum to open-air exhibitions, the area around the isle of Nantes is always filled with inspirations of art. It held the "Estuaire Biennale", a contemporary art exhibition that took place along the Loire estuary to Saint-Nazaire, "The Festival of the Three Continents" in November - December which are both well known, and there is more, an annual classical music festival "La Folle Journée" and the performance and installations of "La Machine" are also globally introduced from this city.
Thinking about your dinner in Nantes, an estuary city, great seafood from the Atlantic coast will be served on your table as well as white wine from the Loire valley and game from the forests. For wine lovers, Nantes is a good place to start a tasting tour, followed by a visit to the Châteaux in the forests of the Loire valley.
-By the way… Why is Nantes NOT included in Brittany?
The Celts were the first to settle in the land of Nantes. The city is named after Namnetes, a Gallic tribe that built a town there around BC 70. After the occupation by Julius Caesar, Nantes became the capital city of the Loire valley, and then the forces stationed there from the Britain to defend against the Saxons, who arrived around AC 280. That is said to be the origin of the remaining Brittany names of cities beside Erdre river.
The successive dukes and duchesses of Brittany have been buried in the Nantes Cathedral or in other monasteries nearby.
In 1789, at the time of the French Revolution, Nantes became part of the current Loire-Atlantique département when all the traditional provinces were restructured and the country divided in départements. During the Second World War, the Vichy France separated this département from Brittany to create a new region named Pays-de-la-Loire with other regions, former Maine, Anjou and Vendée.