Top 12 Awesome Things to do in Brittany

I love the lovely region of Brittany. It’s one of the great historic provinces of France, located in the northwest. It’s my most favorite place in France for so many reasons – great diversity and unique with its remarkable history and Celtic heritage, spectacular natural landscape, gorgeous beaches, and excellent cuisine. To me, even the most idyllic postcard perfect picture of Brittany does not do justice to the place.

Brittany

Typical flower in Brittany

There are so many activities for visitors to enjoy during a stay in Finisterre – meander through the countryside or organize a tour of any of the region’s historic place. Brittany is all about living the good life – nature, heritage, good food and cider, and incredible people. Personally, after a month of stay in Brittany, I found it incredibly difficult to leave.

Love this garden in Roscoff

Since Brittany is a popular location for family holidays in France, here’s my top 12 awesome things to see and do when you visit this impressive region:

1.Wander along Carnac’s long and mysterious rows of standing stones.

The magnificent collection of Standing Stones in Carnac is one of the most extraordinary sites of Brittany. While you can find isolated manmade standing stones scattered throughout the whole region, Carnac features miles and miles of aligned standing stone. It has been protected by UNESCO World Heritage since 1996. We went there with our friends to see the exceptional 6000 years old Neolithic sites and the largest megalithic sites in the world.

Carnac

Carnac

2. Visit the 2nd oldest manmade  monument in the world.

The great Cairn de Barnenez is truly amazing – big pile of stones (75m long, 28m wide, 8m high) and very old (about 7,000 years old) as it was built between 4,800 and 4,000 B.C on a hill overlooking the Bay of Morlaix. It is known as the oldest and largest megalithic burial chamber in Europe, and the second oldest manmade monument in the world.
Did you know? It is about 2,000 years older than the first step pyramid of Egypt and it is much bigger than Stonehenge in the UK.

Cairn de Barnenez

Cairn de Barnenez

3. Explore the beautiful castles.

If you are tired of laying in the sunshine, there are quite a few beautiful castles in Brittany to explore and enjoy. We have visited the following: The Château de Brest (Castle of Brest), which has about 1700 years of history, and considered as the oldest castle in the world still in use. The Château du Taureau (Castle of the Bull), a 16th century defensive castle (about 500 year old castle) which has a messy past but also had lots of different uses in its history. The 16th century Château de Kerjean (Castle of Kerjean), which was originally built as a home for the Barbier family. It was open to the public in 2005 after being restored in the early 21st century.

The Castle of Brest

The Castle of the Bull

The Castle of Kerjean

4. Discover the amazing churches and abbeys.

In Brittany, I love the ancient, massive and elaborately embellished Catholic parish churches. We have visited at least 6 parishes: The Le Folgoet Notre Dame Basilica of the Virgin Mary is a gem of Gothic Flamboyant architecture as it has stunning beautiful Gothic style towers and stunning stained glasses. The Saint Thegonnec Church is famous for its funerary chapel and triumphal arch. The Guimiliau church in the village of Guimiliau is populary known for having the largest calvaries in the region, which are sculpted with about 200 figures. The Chapelle Notre Dame de Bonne Nouvelle in the little town of Locronan is one of the 12 stages along the pilgrimage route called Grande Troménie. The 16th century Notre Dame de Croaz Batz in Roscoff is well-known for its unique elegant Renaissance style bell tower.  The Cathedrale of St Corentin in Quimper is lauded to be the most beautiful gothic building in Brittany with its majestic stained glass windows.

Le Folgoet Notre Dame Basilica of the Virgin Mary

Saint Thegonnec Church

Chapelle Notre Dame de Bonne Nouvelle

Notre Dame de Croaz Batz

Cathedrale of St Corentin

5. Amble in the medieval towns.

There are so many medieval towns scattered everywhere in Brittany. Walking through the narrow, winding medieval lanes is all part and parcel of Brittany’s charms. In fact, we had a beautiful walk in the famous town of Locronan which has been listed as a Historic Monument in 1924 and has been awarded the title of most beautiful village in France. Landerneau is another gorgeous medieval town known for its remarkable architectural heritage most specifically the Rohan Bridge, built in the 16th century and inhabited for more than 500 years.
Did you know? Rohan Bridge is the only bridge in Europe that has still people living on it up to these days.

The little town of Locronan

Behind me is the Rohan Bridge in Landerneau.

6. Stroll in Foret de Huelgoat.

I love the stunning landscape and enchanting views in Foret de Huelgoat. It is a charming place to visit for an easy good walk or a picnic. Just time it right with the weather and stroll around the forest for a wonderfully enchanting excursion. In there you can find a great “chaos”, a large collection of huge boulders left after a glacier has melted.

Huelgoat

Huelgoat

7. Hill walking in the Moors of Cragou.

Are you fed up with seaside views but still up for a walk? In a beautiful area in Brittany, not far away from the ocean and with a fabulous climate, lies the wild Moors of Cragou. It is a Reserve area and serves as a haven for the wildlife so that the animals and plants can reproduce. In this area, people are forbidden to build houses, buildings or roads. The rocks stand 282 m above the sea level and remain untouched by mankind, with the exception of a few brave hill-walkers.

Moors of Cragou

Moors of Cragou

8. Day trip to Brittany’s islands.

Apart from its quaint villages, historic towns and breathtaking countryside, Brittany is also known for its pretty islands where you can have a perfect and peaceful break. While we were in Brittany, we hopped to Ile de Batz, one of its beautiful islands. We had a fantastic time there and one of the activities that I would never forget was when we leisurely walked around the whole island while enjoying its superb landscape. Indeed, it’s an exotic gem.

The island of Batz

The island of Batz

The island of Batz

9. Enjoy the magnificent coastal scenery.

Who wouldn’t love wonderful coastal scenery with rich flora and fauna, solitary lighthouses, pretty harbors, dramatic cliffs, amazing rock formations sculpted by the waves? There, the Channel sea meets the Atlantic ocean. The coastal area around Pointe Saint Mathieu provides a splendid views of the coast and a walking area for those who are nature lovers. The extraordinary coastal hamlet of Meneham is notable for its 17th century coastguard’s cottage with a stone roof surrounded by great boulders that are also scattered along the Kerlouan coastline. I am sure you’ll be bewitched by the serene landscapes because everywhere you turn the view is beautiful.

Pointe Saint Mathieu

Kerlouan

Hamlet of Meneham

10. Laze at Brittany’s lovely beaches.

Brittany has loads of great sandy beaches. I noticed that they are rarely really crowded because the water is so cold. Personally, I love the beach, though! We usually go to the Pontusval and Keremma. In Pontusval you can see a lighthouse, the water is very clear and many rocks that have formed intriguing shapes are scattered everywhere, while in Keremma there’s a 6km line of sand dunes (slowly disappearing though L) and translucent water. There are many seaside activities and watersports to enjoy – sunbathing, swimming, fishing, shellfish gathering, diving, sailing, kayaking, etc. The beaches in Brittany are simply a must see!

Pontusval Beach

Pontusval

Keremma Beach

Kerlouan Beach

11. Smack Breton luscious food.

Another thing that you should not miss when you are in Brittany is to try their delicious food – oysters, crepe, Breton butter cake and many more. If you are an oyster lover you can find great oysters in Cancale, a small town in Brittany. Crepe is a traditional Breton food. There are sweet crepes which are made with wheat flour and savory crepes made with buckwheat flour. The Breton butter cake (Kouign Amann) is a rich, mouth-watering dessert made of dough, butter and sugar.

Crêpe Flambée

Breton butter cake (Kouign Amann)

12. Don’t forget to taste Cider.

Even though Brittany does not produce wine, it produces Cider which is considered as Breton’s traditional drink. It is usually drank from clay cups to bring out the earthy flavor of the cider.

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France: Exploring the Elaborate Parish Closes (Catholic Parishes) of Bretagne

One of the things we like in Brittany is the ancient, massive and elaborately embellished parish closes (Catholic parish churches), dating back from the 16th and 17th century.

I just love the place

A parish close is a distinctive feature of Breton culture, a completely enclosed area around the parish church, religious architecture particular to Brittany in north western France. I have learned that there are about 70 magnificently decorated Catholic Parishes which are predominantly found in Finistere.

Impressive! 🙂

The parish close is surrounded by a wall which contains a parish church and other religious buildings and structures such as:

  • A monumental archway or gate giving access to the parish close.
  • A calvary which represents Jesus on the cross and some includes elaborate scenes from the bible.
  • An ossuary which a container or room in which the bones of dead people are placed.
  • A porch often decorated with statues of the apostles and local saints.
  • A cemetery.

1. Saint Thegonnec Church

Saint Thegonnec Church

Saint Thegonnec church is located in the village of Saint Thegonnec which has a total population of about 3,000. It is famous for its superb calvary or crucifix at the church yard, funerary chapel, triumphal arch and church. It has a large ceremonial entrance which emphasizes the significance of the close as a focus for pilgrimage and pardons.

Outside the church, there is a charnel house where you can see the ossuary with a life-sized tableau of the Entombment of Christ and the souvenir sections, prayer books, guides and other religious materials.I noticed that the interior of the church is exemplary of the local version of Baroque style with a large quantity of polychrome and sculpture and spectacular decoration such as a pulpit which was built in 1683 and is considered as one of the masterpieces of Breton sculpture.

2. Guimiliau Church

The largest calvary in the church yard of Guimiliau Church

Guimiliau church is located in the village of Gumiliau which is named after St Miliau and has a population of about 1,000. Guimiliau is popularly known by its impressive parish close dating back from the 16th century.

I have learned that Saint Miliau was a good Breton prince who was invoked for healing ulcers and rheumatism. He was put to death on the orders of his brother because of a dynastic quarrel in the 6th or 9th century. It is also known as the birthplace of Saint Herve who was an ascetic in the 6th century and one of the most famous Breton saints.

The magnificent Calvary or crucifix is the center piece in the church yard. I have learned that it is one of the largest calvaries in the region which is sculpted with about 200 figures.Upon entering the church, it was hard to miss the polychrome statues of the twelve apostles.The church contains many fine examples of polychrome sculpture from the sixteenth century onwards such as octagonal baptistery, several large stables, a carved pulpit, and collection of banners used in religious processions at pardons.

3. Notre Dame de Croaz Batz in Roscoff

The beautiful Renaissance style bell tower of Notre Dame de Croaz-Batz in Roscoff 🙂

The 16th century Church of Notre Dame de Croaz-Batz (Our Lady of Croaz Batz), in the centre of the town, is considered as the most important monument in Roscoff. It is a Renaissance and Gothic church which was built by the sea in 1520. The church was named after a cross on quay, the “Croaz-Batz” in Breton. It is known because of its unique elegant Renaissance style bell tower in Brittany that dominates the skyline and has several interesting features.

In the churchyard, we saw two ossuaries which can only be accessed through a strangely arched door on the outside of the enclosure wall. When you enter the parish close, the ossuary on your left, which is wonderfully decorated by an elaborate double row of balusters, was built in the 17th century while the ossuary on the right was built in the 16th century.

While we were exploring inside the church, I noticed that the main altar has two side doors which both lead to the sacristy and above the doors are semi-circular panels with carved dolphins, I also saw high spirited putti or cherubic children along with Saint Peter and Saint Paul at both sides.I noticed that all churches in Brittany have a statue of a cockerel at the very top of their tower. It turns with the wind just to point the direction of the wind to everybody especially to fishermen. At 7pm, the bells ring 12 times twice to announce the end of the day of work, a custom dating back to the 19th century and before.

at the entrance of Notre Dame

These parish churches captured my senses because each village in Brittany may it be a small or a big village has a huge and well decorated parish close when compared to its population. It is just amazing. I have learned that the locals financed the construction and procured all the stunning decoration of each church. It seemed that on the 16th and 17th century, one way to show off that their village was powerful and wealthy was by building a bigger church than the rest of the villages in Brittany, as during this time Breton people were enthusiastic Catholics.

I love the atmosphere that always seems to surround the parish closes in Brittany. To me, I find it well worth seeking out as all of them have a different character. I look forward to seeing a few more next time we go back to France.

Have you visited any churches in Bretagne, France? Which church would you recommend to visit next time?