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Brittany A Week in Brittany


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We are here! In my planning threads I talked about how nervous I was about driving our UK car in France. It was easy! On the ferry I spent some time visualising how the driving would be, driving on the right while sitting on the right side of the car, entering a roundabout and going right. It helped. I drove us onto the ferry in Dorset, off and on again in Guernsey, then off in Brittany.

I decided to drive because I would have been a nervous wreck in the passenger seat and would have made Steve crazy. Instead I paid attention to driving and Steve talked me through it. Driving in France is always easier than in the UK because the roads are not as crowded. It felt very natural to be driving on the right, because that is the side I have driven on for most of my life. And it didn't seem to matter that I was sitting on the right. It was odd going thru passport control and having the passenger talk to the officials.

This was an easy 30 minute drive. We'll do more driving this week.

One thing with the car - it started having some problems as we were driving to the ferry this morning. Our 9 yr old VW Golf suddenly lost all power and would only drive very slow. Things on the menu screen were flashing. I stopped, turned it off, turned it on again and it was okay. We drove around a bit before getting on the ferry and it was okay. Fingers crossed that it keeps going!

I did not like the ferry. We took Condor Ferries from Poole to St Malo, changing ferries in Guernsey. These are smaller ferries, not like the huge Brittany Ferries. They go fast and I felt sea sick for much of the first part. Luckily I was beside a chatty guy from London and we talked most of the way so it took my mind off it. Also we spent the night at a Premier Inn in Poole (cheapish, chain hotel) so we wouldn't have to get up so early but we still had to get up at 6:30 and the very loud people in nearby rooms kept us awake. We might as well have taken an overnight ferry.

We found our vacation rental easily. It is in the upper town, in a residential area a few blocks from the church where shops, cafes and restaurants are. It is an attached annex of a lovely old large house in a beautiful garden. The French owners live in the house. We can see the sea through the trees. We can walk down to the water in five minutes. A pretty and comfortable house with a nice place to sit outside.

It is going to be hot the next few days. There is a good beach nearby so we will go swimming.

We are almost directly south of where we live in Dorset. Cancale is a pretty town with a busy and touristy port area (several blocks of restaurants).

The wifi sucks here and I can't get data to work on my phone, so am having problems uploading photos. Steve's phone is getting data so I tethered to it.


Big Brittany Ferry and small Condor on the left.


Coming in to Saint Malo.


Oyster beds and sailboats in Cancale.


The port in Cancale. This is one part. The longer street is behind me. Tide is out.
We seem to be here for a heatwave. The house keeps cool and our outside area has big trees with shade. It was high 70s today, but into the 80s next week, peaking on Wednesday at 88. My plan is to go somewhere each morning then for a swim in the afternoon.

Today was the Cancale Sunday market. It was spread out along several blocks from the church, ending a block from the house we are staying in. They always hide the organic/bio tables at the end of the market, so they were closest to us. We walked the whole market and it was fabulous! Lots of local fruits and vegetables. Strawberries, cherries, melon from Provence. Cheese, meat, shellfish stalls. Half the market was clothes and household goods.

We walked through it all then had coffee at a cafe on the church square. We wanted croissants and the waiter pointed to the bakery next door. I lined up for croissants. A long line and fun to watch everyone order. I also got a baguette since everyone else got one.

Then back into the market to get things for the week. Fava beans, fresh peas, zucchini, carrots, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, melon, strawberries, sheep cheese, eggs. We took everything back to the house then went for a walk on the coast path. We headed away from Cancale. They path was dry and a bit rocky, with lots of up and down a nice views of the water. You see Mont St Micheal in the distance from the coast. Trees on much of the path so it was cool. We circled back walking on the suburban streets with a mix of old houses and new, some very modern.

Lunch at home then some time sitting in the garden.

We took the car out with Steve driving but the roads I picked were narrow and lined with parked cars. Everyone was out at the beach. We got back on the main road and drove to Pointe du Grouin where we parked and walked a bit. Lots of people.

Back home for a nice dinner - fava beans, peas, carrots, zucchini and rice - perfect for a hot evening. After posting this we will walk down to the Port.

Photos in next post.
Hotter today and sunny. 80F. We went to a different cafe in the morning and again got croissants from the bakery next door. This has happened on previous trips, but usually some cafes have croissants. Different from Italy where the cafes usually have cornetto.

Cancale is a delightful town. It is small, population 5000, with the main part on top of the cliffs and a road (and many pathways) down to the port.

Last night we took the coast path from where we are staying to the port area instead of walking on streets. We had a good view of the oyster beds. We saw an open saltwater swimming pool beside the sea that looked like it might be a good place to swim. We saw another one like this in Saint Malo.

The port is the touristy area, one long road along the sea with solid restaurants on the land side. There are two streets of houses behind the restaurants and then a high cliff. The houses are attached stone cottages.

When planning this trip we almost rented one of them because it was beautifully decorated, but on closer inspection of the photos I realised it was small with windows only on the front and no outside area. I am very happy that we ended up where we are. This area is peaceful and quiet but only a few blocks from shops and cafes. I love the garden and am sitting out there now writing this. The living room could use one more comfortable chair and the pots are odd (a stack of pots with two detachable handles shared between them) and the wifi is weak, but other than that it is very nice.

I was trying to work out how we ended up in Cancale. I wanted to rent in Dinan because several travelers that I know love it. I looked at a lot of rentals but the ones I liked were booked. Then I searched for Saint Malo and that pretty Cancale listing came up, then I saw this one and it had 6 nights free (all other nights booked) right when I wanted to go. It is funny how things work out.

How can French towns on the channel be so different from towns in Dorset? In Dorset they built stone cottages, huddled into each other, protected by thick thatch roofs. In Brittany the streets are wide, the houses stand tall with big windows and shutters. The roofs are interesting with a square look.

This must be an expensive town. The houses are beautiful. Some must be second homes. In the centre there are a few antique shops, two or three bakeries, one vegetable shop that is open three days a week, a small Carrefour supermarket, a few beach things shop, a newsagent, three or four cafes, and a couple of restaurants.

Heading inland you come to modern suburbs, a college, and a large supermarket with other shops.

The countryside is flat with fields of cows and crops. There is a main road to Saint Malo (30 min drive) or you can drive along the coast.

This morning we drove along the coast and into Saint Malo, which is a large town (150,000 pop). The historic centre is called "Intra Muros", inside the walls. It reminded me of La Cite in Carcassonne, a preserved medieval area for tourists in the middle of a regular town. Intra Muros sits right on the sea and is separated from the town by a harbour. We parked in one of the lots by the visitor centre at the main gate. We got a map from the visitor centre and they told us to first walk around the town on top of the ramparts, which we did. It was close to noon when we started and getting hot but there was a breeze up on the ramparts. We heard British and American tourists for the first time on the trip. People were walk g the ramparts but it wasn't crowded. It was a good way to see the town with sea on one side and town on the other.

Most of this medieval town was destroyed by the Americans in WWII but was rebuilt. It looked old. The ramparts, built in the Middle Ages and extended in 18th century, were not destroyed. Many of the streets are lined with shops and restaurants, but you can see that people live there too. It is not large, about 11 blocks by 5 blocks.

I recently read "All the Light you Cannot See" which features Saint Malo but I could not see where the scenes were set. We leave from Saint Malo on Friday afternoon and the ferry dock is beside the walled city so may do another visit.

We walked around the town, dropped into the church, then had lunch at a sandwich shop. There were many crepe restaurants and many sandwich shops.

After lunch it was about 1:30 and getting hot, so we went to a beach in between Saint Malo and Cancale. There was an almost full parking area right at the beach, but the beach was not crowded. We changed into our bathing suits making a changing room out of the side of the car and a towel.

That water was incredible! This side of the channel is warmer, the water bluer and the waves calmer. We had a long swim then went home to read in the garden.

This feels like a beach vacation! We brought all our hiking gear which we probably won't use, unless Thursday is cooler.

It is nine o'clock now and cooling off. Even though we are only 150 miles south of home we are in a different time zone, one hour ahead, and we are almost at the longest day of the year. It doesn't get dark until 11!


The gates into Saint Malo.


Walking on the ramparts.




Walking on the ramparts.


Looking into the town.


The beach!
I suppose 80 seems hot when you have high humidity -- which I guess you would in a beach town? Here in northern California, we are having a week of 90+ temps, even over 100 in many places, and 80 sounds delightful! Even with low humidity 95+ is just too hot!
It isn't humid! I'm just not used to heat anymore. In Santa Fe it only went into the 90s for a couple of weeks. They are predicting 90F here tomorrow.
Second visit to the same cafe and she remembers that we don't take sugar with our coffee. Croissants from the bakery and a baguette to take home to have a bit more breakfast and another coffee.

It was hot today. 88F I think. We drove to Dinan, only 30 minutes away. It was an easy drive on an autoroute-type road for part of the way and an easy drive into the town. Again we parked near the tourist office then went in and talked to them.

The historic centre of Dinan is fabulous with narrow lanes and timber framed buildings. Lots of tourists. Lots of shops and restaurants. The town is surrounded by ramparts and perched on top of cliffs overlooking the river with a steep cobble stoned lane leading down to the port. More restaurants there and a footpath along the river. At one time the river was tidal and this was a port, but the river has been dammed and is now like a canal.

We walked on the ramparts then down to the port. I had considered a few rentals in that area and wanted to see them. A very high bridge goes across the valley and the port area is almost beneath it. We walked north on the road but it was baking hot and the footpath didn't leave the road for another 20 minutes of walking, so instead we went south and the path was delightful. It starts out paved but turns to dirt (better for walking). Some shade from the big trees. After 20 mins, about a mile, we reached the next village. We crossed the river on a bridge, walked through the village and returned on the other side which was all in shade. A steep climb back to the main part of Dinan.

We had lunch at a creperie which had a vegetarian galette (savoury crepe). We sat outside surrounded by the beautiful buildings. We had shade and there was a nice breeze up there.

By now it was 3pm. We walked back to the car and drove back to Cancale, stopping at a beach for a swim. This was the next beach east of yesterday's. Another pretty cove with emerald water (this area is the Emerald Coast). The parking area was large but full. We had to wait for someone to leave and take there spot. This beach has toilets (very rough) and a cafe. Yesterday's beach had no services.

The sand is so hot that it burns your feet. The water was cold and fabulous. We had a long swim and left because suddenly the sun was behind a cloud and it wasn't as hot.

I drove us home. Steve did the rest of the driving today because I was navigating. IMO he still drives too close to the middle line. I may have mentioned this to him a few times. When I drive I keep close to the curb. But I still have to concentrate on staying on the right whereas Steve has no problem with this. Mr Confidence.

Around 6pm we walked out to get an apple pastry for dessert and decided to have a beer, but our cafe was full so we walked down to the port and sat in a cafe looking out at the sea. We each had that panache drink, like a shandy, beer and lemon drink mixed.

Dinner at home and now I am sitting outside. Only two more days! A short vacation.




Dinan, street down to the port.


Path along the river.


Galette for lunch.
Another lovely day. Our cafe was closed! So was the bakery! We walked another two blocks to the other cafe beside a bakery.

Today I wanted to see Mont St Michel. I did not want to go to it, just see it from a distance. We see if from Cancale, across the bay, but it is far in the distance. We drove along the bay hoping we could see it from Le Vivier sur Mer, but it was still way off in the distance. The coast here is flat with shallow waters that turn to mud when the tide is out. Not very pretty.

We kept driving to Mont St Michel (MSM), through farmland (vegetable shops everywhere), until we reached the road that goes to MSM. We entered the mass tourism zone. Beauvoir is the last town before MSM and it is tourist tacky. Once you reach the MSM zone it is all parking lots. Huge parking lots. You are inland, not on the water, and you can't see MSM.

We went to the parking lot furthest east and went into it. The first 30 minutes are free! That was all we needed. From the northern end of this parking lot you can climb up on an embankment and there it is in all its glory in front of you. We had our binoculars and had a good look. Fantastic! One year we will come back in the winter. It looks like you take a shuttle from the parking lot maybe to a main area where you either take a shuttle to MSM or walk over a bridge. I always thought you went by boat or walking through the mud at low tide, but I could see people walking on a bridge and cars driving on the island.

Mont St Michel - tick!

From there we drove to Dol-de-Bretagne to see the Mehir de Champ-Dolent. We drove through the town and south, with the SatNav guiding us. Of course it took us down small lanes instead of on the main road. I am starting to hate that thing. The Menhir (standing stone) was magnificent! One very tall stone in a field. We were there on our own but after 15 mintues two other cars pulled up.

Next we explored Dol-de-Bretagne. It is like a mini-Dinan with old timber framed buildings on the main street and a beautiful 13th century cathedral.

Home for a very late lunch and the weather was starting to cool (hallelujah!) so we skipped a swim. I love the swimming here but sometimes I am too lazy to get in the car, fight it out in the parking lot for a space (what can it be like in July and August), go to the beach for a 30 minute swim. In hindsight, we should have but we didn't.

Tonight we walked down to the port and walked around the small area of old fishermen cottages. We found the place that I had almost booked and thank heavens we didn't! It was very small, windows on the front only, in a narrow lane, no views, no garden. Beautifully furnished though! I think people with houses that are not that great sometimes luxuriously decorate them to capture our interest hoping we won't notice how small it is. But it is an interesting area and it is only a block to the sea. If we had stayed there we would have gone swimming today because it is two blocks from the beach.

Dinner out tonight. Steve had wild sea bass, I had a vegetarian plate. We shared a chocolate crepe for dessert. I've never had one of those! I've been missing out. I passed on the local cider, but we had local beer.

Walking back in bright sunlight at 9:30 was fun. The light on the water at the Port was beautiful. I post a photo.


Mont St Michel, in closeup, from the parking lot.






I am enjoying your report. We visited Cancale ,St Malo , and Mont St Michel from our base south of Dinan. We did the touristy thing and enjoyed two dozen oysters at the port ( sorry Pauline ) and they were lovely. We would like to return,
Why did no one tell me that Brittany was so fantastic? Okay, maybe @jonathan did, and I read @Eleanor 's Brittany trip report. I think Brittany is more like Cornwall than Dorset or Devon. Pretty coves, cliffs, some sandy beaches, lots of rock, well maintained coast path around the whole region, cute villages.

Out for coffee this morning and our usual cafe was open. We were an hour later than usual and it was a different crowd. More drinking of mid-morning alchol and less coffee. We had coffee.

Today we had planned to drive an hour west to see the Erquy pennisula and do a walk there, but we got a late start and I didn't want to spend so much time in the car (I am fine with the driving here now, but I wanted to do a long hike because I brought all our hiking gear and we did not do more than one hour walks because of the heat). Instead I packed sandwiches (avacado!), we suited up and started our walk from the house. I figured I would apply the Slow Travel philosophy and see what is near us. We will return to Brittany frequently I think and probably stay in different areas each time.

We left about noon and walked for 4.5 hours - 8 miles. The coast path has a lot of up and down, so our time was slow. The day was much cooler - 68F compared to 88F yesterday - and there was a sea mist that felt almost wet. It was wonderful to feel cool, and to walk in the cool weather. The sun came out as we walked and the day warmed up, but still good walking weather.

The views from the coast path are wonderful. The path is up above the water, looking down to the rocks and the sea. Mont St Michel sits way off in the distance. From Cancale to Pointe du Grouin the coast is rocky and there are boats moored in the harbours. Some harbours have a sand beach, but when the tide is out, the beach is far away from the water. The tide was out as we started. We walked to the point (we had driven there on Sunday and walked around), going up and down for three villages along the way, then around the point and heading west to Saint Malo. I wanted to try to make it to Saint Malo but that was about 22 miles. The hiking book I bought had a circular walk so we followed that. We had lunch sitting on a rock overlooking the sea, then walked on a small road through some beautiful old houses, to Port Mer and back the way we came.

We both thought this was one of the most beautiful hikes we have ever done.

Dinner at home and getting organized to leave tomorrow. We will walk down to the seaside tonight.

There are mosquitoes here! I have several bites!

Photos in the next post.

The day started out overcast. Looking towards Cancale.


WWII bunker on the path.


Lunch view. The beaches we swam at earlier in the week were around those two points.


Heading back to Cancale. Sunnier now and the tide is coming in.
Pauline, was anything happening in Cancale for La Fete de la Musique? That goes on all over France on the night of the summer solstice. We were in La Rochelle that night a few years ago, and it was so much fun. Free street performances all over town. I should have mentioned it to you earlier if you didn't know about it.
I haven't heard of that and did not see anything about it. If the solstice was Wednesday we were out and about that night.

Cancale is gearing up for a nautical festival this weekend.
Is there still an old basset hound wandering around Cancale? He or she was there two years ago keeping an eye on things. Always crossed streets on the striped walkways and wasn't averse to a good ear-scratch! Glad you're liking Cancale and the area. I can't wait to go back and you've got me inspired! Sorry you aren't fond of oysters.


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