Tuesday, August 27, 2013


The town of Dinard has several beautiful beaches 
Beach tents in Dinard
Our 'villa' was in the white building, 2nd from right

Villas atop Dinard's cliff overlooking the coastal walkway
During the Dark Ages, Irish, Welsh and English immigrants crossed the sea to settle on a peninsula in the northwest of France.  It wasn't France way back then and didn't become part of that country until 1532. The settlers called it Brittany meaning Little Britain (Bretagne in French).  Today it is a popular vacation area frequented mostly by the French but in the 19th century, it was a favorite of wealthy businessmen, celebrities and European royalty.   

View from our terrace
In fact, Dinard, the first Breton town we stayed in, was France's #1 summer resort until the 1930s when the French Riviera usurped that spot.  Still known as the 'Cannes of the North,' people are drawn here by white, sandy beaches, a magnificent walkway around the rocky coast and a temperate climate.  The wealthy visitors of Brittany's belle-epoque era built magnificent villas atop the cliffs. The town boasts over 400 of them and reminded us of Newport, Rhode Island.  
St. Malo
Our 'villa' was a charming studio apartment with windows on 3 sides, two facing the water.  The walls surrounding the city rise from the sea and one can follow a pathway along the water for miles -- and we did. 

The ramparts surrounding the city of St. Malo

Directly across the water from Dinard is the medieval, walled city of St. Malo.   We boarded the water taxi from a dock right below our window for the short ride over.   Built in the 12th century as a walled citadel at the mouth of the Rance River, it was once the home of feared pirates as well as the birthplace of Jacques Cartier who explored Canada, claimed much of it for France and gave the country its name. Today St. Malo is Brittany's most visited destination.

After Dinard, we traveled up the coast to Perros-Guirrec, named after a saint who came here from Wales in the 7th century.  It is renowned for its place on the 18 mile Pink Granite Coast. We followed the walking path from one part of town to another for about 3 miles, fascinated by the various rock formations carved over thousands of years by wind and waves. This particular type of rock is found in only two other places in the world - Corsica and China.  
Boarding the tourist train for a ride around Roscoff

Roscoff, our next stop, was one of the cutest towns we have visited.  It is renowned for its beautiful 16th century homes, colorful fishing boats in the harbor, and uniquely flavorful onions.  It proudly bears the title "Small town of character."

Roscoff has rich seaweed beds
Roscoff has rich seaweed beds and we visited the factory that harvests it to create a wide array of products.  The many varieties of seaweed (more properly known as marine algae) fall into 3 main categories: green, brown and red.  We could see quite a few different types from the Roscoff pier.  Seaweed is recognized as having beneficial medicinal, nutritional and cosmetic qualities.  

Various types of dried seaweed
Finister: Crozon Peninsula
Completing our tour of Brittany, we spent a few days in the Finistere area on the west coast of Brittany.  The name Finistere is derived from Latin words meaning end of the earth.  It certainly feels that way on the Crozon peninsula which is surrounded by steep cliffs and ancient, craggy rocks facing endless vistas of ocean.  

Brittany has a unique flavor and we greatly enjoyed our time here.  Now we will follow the French coast south along the Atlantic Ocean.  


Saturday, August 10, 2013


Joan of Arc statue
Reim's Notre Dame
On our way to the north coast of France, we stopped in Reims for a couple of days.  The city's Cathedral of Notre Dame is to France what Westminster Abbey is to England.   Begun in 1211, the cathedral was the site of the coronation of French kings until 1825; most notably the crowning of Charles VII In 1429 with Joan of Arc at his side.  The teenage girl led the French Army to several victories during the Hundred Years' War.  She was responsible for freeing Reims from the English enabling Charles to be crowned king. Unfortunately, France did not return the favor and free her from the English who burned Joan at the stake in 1431.  She was 19.

Our first stop on the north coast was the charming French
resort of Le Touquet. Created in 1876 by the owner of the Paris newspaper, the town became known as 'Paris By The Sea.' Being in such close proximity to England, it also attracts the Brits.  In days gone by, Noel Coward and the so-called 'smart set' spent weekends here.  
Etretat looking west 
 Looking east from our hotel on the cliff in Etretat
Monet painting of Etretat
Continuing west along the coast, we spent a few days at Etretat.  The charming little town is nestled between two towering cliffs, both of which we climbed (376 steps up one) and hiked along. Between the two cliffs, a small beach curves around clear water. 
The Elephant Arch Etretat

The white, limestone cliffs share the same geological origins as the white cliffs of Dover on the other side of the English Channel (think Charles Dickens and David Copperfield). Interesting, natural archways jut out into the sea drawing the attention of many artists including Claude Monet who painted here in the late 1800s. 
St. Catherine Bell Tower Honfleur
Le Vieux Bassin (Old Port) of Honfleur

Honfleur: Many old buildings have been converted to museums. 

At the mouth of the Seine River sits the quaint town of Honfleur, our next stop.   Originally a strategic defense port, it now attracts tourists as well as sailors and fishermen. Flemish buildings and cobblestone streets surround the Vieux Bassin - the old port. Popular sites in Honfleur include St. Catherine's Church, the largest wooden church in France. The bell tower had to be built separately because the church could not support the weight of the bells. It was from Honfleur that Samuel Champlain returned to the New World to establish French settlements on Canada's St.Lawrence River. He is credited with founding Quebec in 1608. 

It seems that the entire population of France  is on vacation during the month of August.  Seeking a brief respite from the crowds we traveled slightly inland to the city of St. Lo for a couple of days. Our hotel was situated on the River Vire and across from the ancient ramparts that were originally built to defend against invading Norsemen. The Church of Notre Dame sits in the center of the old town.  Partially destroyed during World War II, it was reconstructed by blending modern architecture with the old.  
St. Lo church with pre-war and post-war construction
Entrance walls of St. Lo's fortification

  A particularly charming aspect of St. Lo is the abundance of colorful flowers.  No boring, cement roundabouts here.  The circles overflow with brilliant colors and varieties of flowers.  
The River Vire runs through St. Lo
        Now it is on to Brittany.                         

TRAVEL TIP:  Mercure is a chain of reliable 3 and 4 star hotels throughout Europe.  A nice perk they offer is free breakfast for people over 60.