Much of Brittany's history dates back to its Celtic roots. The landscape is littered with ancient and mysterious standing stones and the local language (sadly in danger of dying out) is based on Celtic, more closely resembling Welsh than French. The Celts came from Britain in around the 6th century with their culture, traditions and folklore that still reign supreme in the region today, particularly in the rather arid interior, lending Brittany a touch of mystery and enchantment. Keep your eyes open and you may even imagine you spy a Cornish pixie in the underbrush. The Bretons maintained an independent state until the 16th century in this northwest corner of France, which protrudes into the Atlantic with an irregular coastline featuring inlets, cliffs, offshore islands and stretches of white, sandy beach.
It is the coastline that has made Brittany the most popular summer holiday destination in France, next to the Côte d'Azur, for both French and foreign visitors. The coast is liberally sprinkled with resorts and campsites, always full during the summer season.
On the west coast of France and warmed by the gulf stream, Brittany has a warm, temperate climate. It rains frequently, keeping the countryside green, but sunny days are more common than rainy ones.In summer, Brittany’s temperatures are in the mid-20s (Celsius), yet it never feels scorching hot. Winter temperatures rarely fall below freezing and it rarely snows.
When to fly to Brittany
Brittany’s high season is July and August. Second in popularity only to the Côte d'Azur, the Breton coast is the most popular summer resort area in France. Hotels and campsites are filled from mid-June to the end of August.
Festivals and pardons (religious festivals) start in May and run through the summer, with late summer being the most festive time. July 26 is the Ste. Anne d'Auray pardon, and the last Sunday in August is the Ste. Anne la Palud pardon. The Celtic Festival de Cornouaille is held in late July and the Festival Interceltique in early August.
The damp winters attract few visitors; many hotels and resorts are closed during the off season and do not open until Easter.
June, September, and early October are excellent times to visit. There are fewer crowds and the weather is pleasant.
Getting around Brittany
The most popular way to get around Brittany is by bus. There are several bus services, resulting in bus routes to almost every town, even the small villages. Buying books of bus tickets in advance usually gets you a discounted price. Trains are another way around the region, but the bus routes are better.
Bikes and motorcycles are also a popular way to explore Brittany, and bicycles can be rented at most train stations. Driving is also an option in Brittany. The motorways are well-maintained and there is not a single toll road in the region.
To get to the islands, take a ferry or rent a boat. There is regular ferry service to most islands — several ferries a day take visitors to and from Belle Ile.
Brittany insider information
- The beautiful walled city Saint Malo is one of the most popular tourist spots in Brittany. Built from the same grey stone as Mont-St-Michel, the city was originally a fortified island in the Middle Ages. Today, it is attached to the mainland and receives the most visitors in the region. It is also home to one of the ferry ports, making it the first stop for many visitors from the UK.
- Brest is located on the far western tip of Brittany, jutting out into the sea and is an important port. Its Maritime Museum (Musee de la Marine de Brest) is housed in a stunning medieval castle, from the 17th century, the oldest building in the city. Find out about the maritime tradition as well as a history of the town.
- Dinard is a popular destination for families because of its numerous beaches. Its soubriquet as the “Cannes of the North” is slightly misleading these days as there is little to do but relax, eat ice-cream and talk long walks through the town or along the beaches. In the past however, the town attracted many celebrities: Winston Churchill holidayed here, as did Joan Collins and Alfred Hitchcock. The house in Psycho is supposed to have been based on a villa overlooking the beach.
- Quimper is a pretty and compact town, filled with half-gabled houses. It is also home to one Brittany’s many potteries. The region is known for its distinctive pottery and the Quimper faience style originated in the town.
- Local Breton food has become popular throughout the world. Crepes are a speciality and can be sampled in restaurants, creperies and often from stalls at the side of the street. Sea food is good throughout the region, thanks to the vast expanse of coastline and shellfish and crustaceans such as lobster are a particular delicacy. Eat at a restaurant with a sign saying “l'authentique plateau de fruits de mer frais Bretons” displayed in the window and you are guaranteed a good quality meal.
- Follow in the footsteps of Gaugin in Pont Aven, the city of painters. As well as looking round the 50 art galleries and the museum which describes Gaugin’s time here, you might be inspired to pick up a paintbrush.