When you think of France, the first place that probably pops into your mind is Paris. I mean, why wouldn’t it? Paris is the capital of love. It’s known for wines and cheeses and monuments galore. It has the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dam Cathedral, and… well… a ton of history.
But now that I live in Belgium and France is my neighboring country to the south, I can honestly tell you that the idea of Paris rarely comes up when I’m thinking of borrowing a cup of sugar. Maybe it’s because everyone who visits me wants to go to Paris and it’s become tedious, or maybe it’s because the rose colored glasses have come off, but I think there are waaaaay better places to visit if you’re going to make the trip to France. Namely, the Brittany region.
One of my co-workers, Frank, is from the Brittany, and he is constantly bragging about how great his home area is. In fact, he talked up the region so much that the first time I went to France, I made a point to stop by and have him show me around. As it turns out, Frank is anything but a liar. The Brittany region of France is gorgeous; it is surrounded by the English Channel, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Celtic Sea. The place we stayed, Baden, was also very close to the Gulf of Morbihan, which is a part of the Bay of Biscay.
And here’s some more (aqua)culture: Brittany is also known for water activities, oyster farming, and a quaint but beautiful lifestyle. Do you remember the opening sequence of the Disney movie “Beauty and the Beast”? Yeah, that has to be a scene taken straight out of the city of Vannes. The architecture was spot on, and the markets and friendly faces left you not wanting more than “this provincial life.” My friends and I spent a few days in Baden, hiking and exploring the little towns surrounding the Gulf of Morbihan. If you’re able, one thing I highly suggest you do is rent a paddle board and give the sport an afternoon. It’s a great work out and a wonderful way to explore the area, once you catch your balance and lose your fear of falling into the water. 🙂
STONES OF CARNAC
Okay, admittedly, this place isn’t as cool as I anticipated. I had heard the Stones of Carnac it was a phenomenon- that more than 3,000 stones were located there, but that their origin and reason behind placement were unknown. And when I heard “stone phenomenon in France,” I pictured a mini, less explored Stonehenge.
When we got there, it was more… well, exactly what it said it would be: rows and rows of large rocks. The myth behind the Stones of Carnac is that there was a large pagan army sent to attack Pope Cornelius and he asked God to turn them to stone and God obliged. (Power of prayer, y’all.) The French have a similar myth, but with less religion attached. They say that Roman soldiers were invading the area and Merlin turned them to stone. I had no idea that Merlin was French.
Regardless of whose myth is right, I think that we need to pay attention to the roots of the story. These stones are people.
But at least a rock feels no pain. (And an island never cries.)
This is my favorite place in France and, perhaps, the world. We went to Quiberon expecting a typical beach scene, and walked away completely amazed. For one, the terrain is absolutely gorgeous. It’s rugged, it’s wild, and yet at the same time it was extremely peaceful and serene. I think our group really lucked out, because we were the only people at the beach. (But don’t get your hopes up, because that amount of solitude certainly can’t be the norm for somewhere that beautiful.) Frank said on a typical weekend he likes to go to Quiberon with his family to wind-surf and hunt for sea crabs.
Anyway, I won’t bore you with specifics of the Quiberon beach. Instead I want to impress you with photos.
I wish I could’ve spent more time in St. Malo. My friends and I, on our road trip through Brittany, stopped briefly in St. Malo to have lunch and do a little city exploration. The buildings in the city itself are not that impressive, but the beaches on the outskirts of the city definitely are. Although, if I’m city bashing, I should be fair and say we didn’t look anything up about the city ahead of time so we weren’t sure where to go. Others have said that St. Malo is a great tourist attraction- there’s the walled city area (which is very fun to walk), the Cathedral of St. Vincent, the Privateer’s House (for pirate weaponry and ship models!), and the chateau of St. Malo, which is now a museum.
Anyway, what I’m getting at is, I’m going to have to make another trip to St. Malo so I can give a real description of the goodies the town has to offer.
Nothing brings my mortality to the forefront more than remembering those who fought for my rights and freedom. The Brittany region is well known for memorials to World War II, mostly because it is where many battles took place.
We were fortunate to be traveling around Normandy during the 70 year anniversary of the allies taking Normandy Beach, which was a major turning point in World War II. We started at Pegasus Bridge, the surprise attack point where the allies defeated the German’s from crossing on D-Day. The allies attacked in the middle of the night and took the bridge within 10 minutes.
Next, we traveled to Omaha Beach to pay our respects and check out the sculpture of Les Braves, a war memorial built on the shore in honor of those who lost their lives in the battle on June 6th, 1944. The memorial is comprised of three different steel sculptures: The Wings of Hope, Rise Freedom, and the Wings of Fraternity.
After Omaha Beach we went to the American Cemetery, which is one of the most harrowing places I have ever been. The official name is “The Brittany American Cemetery and Memorial” and is located in Saint-James, Normandy and very easily accessible. The cemetery has 4,410 American military personnel buried within the grounds, most who lost their lives during the war in 1944. There is also a retaining wall that has the names of around 500 soldiers who are still missing, though a rosette marks the names of the soldiers who have been found. The grounds themselves are very quiet and people from all over come to pay their respects. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that humbled in my life. It also makes you put your life into perspective. My grandfather, for instance, fought in the Korean-American War, which was only a few years after World War II. If he had been just a few years older, he might have had an entirely different life and war to fight.
There are, of course, so many more places in the Brittany region worth mentioning and I know I haven’t even come close to the tip of the iceberg (or mountain, if you want to be French Alps about it). Mont St. Michel or, as I like to call it, “Disney’s Inspiration Castle” is one of the most photographed and iconic areas outside of Paris. And if my description of Brittany isn’t enough to inspire you to travel, let me offer you this little tidbit: the symbol of Brittany is an ermine (a white weasel-like animal) wearing a scarf. Yeah, you heard me. IT’S WEARING A SCARF!
I guess what I’m getting at is, if you’re asking me to roadtrip to France, I’m going to give you a definite oui! I’ll bring the camera, you bring the cheese and the cork screw.
THE TRAVELIN’ SONG: Quelqu’un M’a Dit (Carla Bruni). The song never played on the trip(at least, that I recall), but it’s the first song that I ever heard in French, and I think it’s one of the most beautiful songs in any language.
BUDGET: 7 day road trip trip with two girl friends; approximately $1500 spent, including airfare and food. Housing was a combination of co-worker hospitality, credit card points, and a bit of moolah.
TIP FOR TRAVELERS: The Brittany region is not that large, but it still takes quite a while to travel from one end to the other because the Gulf of Morbihan separates a lot of the area. But the gulf also makes it a great place for paddle boarding, boating, etc.
DEFINITELY CHECK OUT: St. Malo. We only stopped there for lunch and a brief tour, but it really seemed like such a cosy and laid back town.