Brittany (Bretagne in French) is the north-westernmost province of France. It’s a land of prehistoric mysticism, proud tradition and culinary wealth, where locals celebrate Breton culture and Breton Language. Historical Brittany included the city of Nantes and the department of Loire-Atlantique, although these aren’t included in today’s Brittany province.
Brittany is the traditional homeland of the Breton people and is recognized by the Celtic League as one of the six Celtic nations, retaining a distinct cultural identity that reflects its history. In Brittany, It’s usual to see street signs in both French and Breton Languages.
In this post, we will share with you some of the best things to do in Brittany and convince you why this French province is a great tourist destination. From the historic town of Saint-Malo to the unique Granite Rose, Brittany has numerous points of interest and amazing things to do.
#1 Lose yourself in Saint-Malo
“Ni français, ni Breton, Malouin Suis”, “Neither French, nor Breton, Malouin I am” is the motto of the city and it reflects much of its culture and history.
Saint-Malo is also known to be the Corsaire town and the origin of many famous French explorers who left to open new maritime route, like Jacques Cartier and Robert Surcourf. The Corsairs of St Malo roamed the seas taking whatever they wanted from English, Dutch and Portuguese ships unfortunate enough to encounter them. One can easily imagine Saint-Malo was such a great hideaway for. The city was made to be almost impregnable. It had huge walls to protect people from the outside invaders and from the highest tides in Europe.
Saint-Malo is probably the biggest tourist attraction in Bretagne and these are the biggest points of interest in Saint-Malo.
Intra Muros is the heart and soul of Saint-Malo. This is where most of the historic buildings are and the place to lose yourself wandering around discovering the small alleys, the old historic buildings, the beautiful cobblestone streets… The buildings are higher, bigger and built with grey granite creating a distinguished air, we could even say severe, but beautiful.
St Malo Walls
The walls of Saint-Malo were built to protect the city from both the tides and from invaders. The ramparts protect the entirety of the old part of Saint-Malo and form a circuit of 1.75 kilometers. Today, the walls are probably the most famous feature of Saint-Malo and also the biggest tourist attraction. We strongly advise you to walk the whole circuit and enjoy the extremely scenic views to the several sides of the town.
Beaches of Saint-Malo
One of the top things to do in Saint-Malo is to enjoy its marvelous beaches. These are mostly sandy, yellow beaches with beautiful turquoise water. The rocks, islands, and islets give it an extra scenic feature. Although, please note that despite looking like Caribbean beaches the water is much much cooler :). After all, we are in northern Europe!
Fort National and the Bé Islands
There are three tidal islands in front of Saint-Malo, which means you can access them by foot during low tide from nearby beaches.
The Fort National was built in 1689 by the architect Vauban. One may visit the fort when the fort is flying the French flag. Normally, access is only possible at low tide on certain other days and between during the period from 1 June to 30 September.
In the Grand Bé (Big Bé) island, you can find the tomb of writer and politician François René Chateaubriand, who was born in Saint-Malo. His grave faces to the West, towards the sea as he requested in his will.
In the Petit Bé (Small Bé) island, you can find another interesting Defensive Fort. The fort was originally designed to protect the town from the British and Dutch.
#2 Discover the cute town of Dinan
Dinan is a small town in northeast Brittany with only 10 000 inhabitants. It’s certainly one of the most attractive and best preserved small towns in Brittany, making it one of the biggest points of interest in Brittany. It’s difficult to choose what is the most beautiful part of Dinan, the Port, the medieval old town with semi wooden houses, or Ramparts.
The Port of Dinan is lined with old stone houses, many of which are now waterside restaurants and chandlers’ shops. Take a walk along the old towpath or cross the 15th-century stone bridge to Lanvallay. Wherever you are, you won’t miss the huge 40-meter high viaduct. You can take a boat from Saint-Malo to Dinan and arrive at this beautiful scene.
The narrow cobblestone streets and squares lined with crooked half-timbered houses of Dinan’s old town are straight out of the Middle Ages. Place des Merciers is the quaintest part and where you’ll find the best examples of the town’s half-timbered houses. Don’t forget to visit the church of St Saviour’s Basilica and the gardens behind it. They are directly connected with the ramparts and provide an amazing view of the port and the 19th-century viaduct. You can and should take a walk on the Ramparts.
With its roughly 3 km long ramparts, half-timbered houses, attractive port and cobbled streets filled with art galleries and craft shops, Dinan is worth a day of travelers time!
#3 Enjoy the countryside and coastal views
The Breton coast is very indented, with many cliffs, rias, and capes. Even if you don’t stop in one of the major sites like Cap Frehel, Fort La Latte and the Pink Granite Coast, Brittany is the guarantee of magnificent landscapes, in a region loaded with history and authenticity.
One thing we can’t help noticing when traveling through the Breton countryside is the traditional Breton architecture with granite stone houses. These houses exist all over Brittany and give it a special charm, moreover, villages like Rochefort-en-Terre, Saint-Suliac, Moncontour, and Locronan are really special places where time seems to have stopped.
Visit Cap Fréhel and Fort la Latte
Almost all of Brittany’s coast is covered with rugged cliffs high above the water where the strong waves and wind constantly bash the cliffs. However, the wild and windswept area around the Cap Fréhel peninsula is probably where it is at its most beautiful and interesting.
In the small bays and coves where the water is still, turquoise and very inviting. Although, don’t forget that despite looking tropical it’s pretty cold water, even in summer 🙂
On the tip of Cap Fréhel, there are two lighthouses, one from the 17th century (built by Garangeau who worked for Vauban, the legendary military engineer of Louis XIV) and the other from 1950’s which you can visit for 2 Euros. Around the lighthouses there are a number of walking paths that allow doing small hikes, enjoy nature and the views.
About 5 km from the Cap Fréhel, it’s the imposing edifice of Fort La Latte. Built in the 14th century, the castle was fortified in the 17th century and restored in the 20th Century. Crossing the drawbridge and exploring the crenelations, turrets, and dungeons is a must. However, you should plan your visit very carefully as the Fort is privately owned and only open to visitors during a few hours on the weekends.
Soaring cliffs, attractive beaches, refreshing walks and stunning views over the Emerald Coast and the Channel Islands, a historic lighthouse and a fortified castle straight out of a fairy tale… what else do you need to have an incredible day?
#4 Hike the Côte de Granit Rose
If there’s any region of Bretagne that can compete with Cap Fréhel that’s the Côte de Granit Rose, or the Pink Granite Coast. This area stretches for more than 20 kilometers from Plestin-les-Grèves to Louannec, encompassing Trégastel. It’s notorious for the unusual pink sands and rock formations by and on the sea.
The best thing to do here is to park your car in one of the free parks and enjoy a small hike by the coast and through the pink rocks. Even without the weird pallet of colors, this place would be beautiful, though the pink rocks make it quite unique. Our favorite part is by far the lighthouse and surrounding area. This is also a great place to stop for a while and have a picnic by the sea, only relaxing and enjoying the views.
If you are looking for great beaches to sunbath we suggest two renown beaches of fine pink sand, Plage Trestraou and Plage Trestrignel both in Perros-Guirec. While Plage Trestraou is more sheltered from the sea breeze thus the ideal spot for a lazy day of swimming or sunbathing, Plage Trestrignel is indeed more exposed to the winds and therefore less busy and more “authentic”.
#5 Go to Cancale and eat the best oysters in the world
Cancale is a small picturesque village with a beautiful seaside. The village itself is worth visiting but its main attractions are the oysters, it is the “oyster capital” in Brittany. Cancale’s oyster fame goes back to Roman times when they were eaten by the Julius Caesar’s legions, while Louis XIV had them expressly delivered from this town every day.
The village is very close to San Michell, you even can see the mont of Saint Michel on the horizon on clear days. In Addition, it has the biggest oyster nurseries of the English Channel. It even has a museum, Le Farme marine, dedicated to oyster with guided tours in English.
Besides the museum, along the beachfront of Cancale, there are several spots to buy fresh oysters and restaurants to eat seafood. The coolest part is that you can buy 6 or a dozen oysters and a lemon and eat them by the sea. You will just have to choose the number of oysters you want and the size of the oyster. The oyster has a rating from 0 to 5, the biggest and best ones are number 0 to 2, and are more expensive. But overall it is very cheap, for 10 € you can eat a bunch of them. This was one of the coolest experience of the trip.
#6 Eat crepes in the original Crepes, in Bretagne
Everybody knows that crepes are a typical French dish, but did you know that they were created in Brittany?… Well at least according to the legend, that claims that the crepes were originated in Brittany when a farmer’s wife spilled buckwheat porridge into a hot flat stone in the fireplace. Therefore you have to eat crepes here, and you will find plenty of creperies in Brittany. Be aware that there are two types, the crepes, and the Galettes. The crepes are sweet, served with butter and are dessert. The Galettes are savory and made of buckwheat flour (darker than the wheat crepes), they can be served with cheese or sausage and they are slightly larger than the crepes.
#7 Try a Kouign-Amann
The Kouign-Amann is a traditional Britton cake, made of dough, butter, and sugar. It is a calory bomb but it is totally worth eating one (or two). Its name literally means cake and butter in the Breton language, and you can find them in every city of Brittany. We tried some (a box) in the city of Saint Maló, and they were very pleasant especially when they are hot. Traditionally they are a specialty from Douarnenez in Brittany.
Big Bonus Suggestion: Visiting the Mont Saint Michel
Before we get e-mails and comments complaining, we know Mont Saint Michel isn’t in Brittany but in Normandy! However, going to Saint-Malo and not going to the Mont Saint Michel doesn’t make any sense, it’s only 50 km (less than one hour by car)! Nevertheless, if you are an extremist and only want to go to Brittany you can always go to Point and Cancale (both in Brittany) and see Mont Saint Michel from afar. 🙂
Mont Saint Michel is a very small, rocky, tidal island located about 1 km off the coast, at the mouth of the Couesnon River. The abbey of Mont Saint Michel was built on top of it creating an incredible world famous monument. The bay around Saint Michel is also famous for its huge tides, the biggest in Europe creating as an even more interesting tourist destination.
The slender spires, stout ramparts and rocky slopes of Mont St-Michel rising dramatically from the sea, make it one of France’s most iconic images. Mont Saint Michel is one of the most visited attractions in France, with more than 3 million tourists per year. However, even with such huge numbers of tourists, Mont Saint Michel still manages to transport you back to the Middle Age. Particularly, if you manage to visit it in the off-peak season! 🙂
Want to discover more about Brittany?… We recommend you to read DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Brittany
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