Tuesday, August 27, 2013

BRETAGNE (BRITTANY) FRANCE

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.  
Roscoff
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.