Exploring Brittany - 8th-12th September
Our trip to Brittany to visit Grace and Howard Boorman was the sole purpose of our trip to France – the few days in Paris beforehand were really just a bonus since we were “in the area” so to speak. I’d heard of Brittany of course but really knew nothing of it, so the three days we spent there were educational and informative, as well as being fun. Some facts and figures follow, with a few photos to boot. The Boormans have a modest holiday home in the town of Rostrenen. The name Rostrenon derives from the Breton (i.e of Brittany) names “roz” and “draenenn”, meaning hills and brambles. I’m not sure that I saw too many brambles, but certainly lots of rolling green hills. It was the home of the Barony of Rostrenen from the 11th century; notable being the 13th century Geoffroy de Rostrenen fighting in the crusade of St Louis and the 16th century Toussaint de Beaumanoir, Baron de Rostrenen and chief of the army of Roy who built a fine keep with walls reported to be 18-feet thick. The castle no longer exists, having been destroyed on the command of Henry IV, but the mediaeval sense of the town continues, at least near its centre. A new castle was built on the orders of the Baroness of Rostrenen in the 18th century, and remained the home of the barons until the revolution. During the revolution it was turned into a prison housing local nobles where imprisoned, and later a hospital and until 1934 a girls school. In 1951 it was demolished and replaced by today’s post office. The population is said to be some 3,000 people, but it seems a lot bigger than that - the sense I had, looking at the shops and schools and the like, is that it is nearer in size to Busselton, near where we live. No matter. A couple of photos of downtown Rostrenen follow:
We arrived on the train from Paris on Friday 8th. Apart from catching up with the Boormans who had driven to Guingamp to collect us, the highlight of the day (and perhaps the whole trip) was the joint birthday dinner at Auberge Grand’Maison in the nearby town of Mur de Bretange. The 4 course degustation (which in truth was probably nearer to 8 courses when one counts the pre-entree amuse, and the pre and post desert deserts) was one of the best I have ever enjoyed. This Michelin-starred eatery combines fine produce, excellent food preparation and presentation, brilliant service and aplomb in a way I’ve rarely experienced. These things are of course entirely subjective, but I decided on the night that this rates as my second best restaurant expedience ever. The presentation of the food was superb.
Each subsequent day in Rostrenen started with a walk into town (perhaps a kilometre or so) to one of the local boulangeries for a traditional croissant and in my case also an apple and almond pastry for breakfast. I figured that if I’m about to walk 1,000 kilometres a few extra calories at this stage of the journey would be of zero consequence.
At the boulangerie
Saturday saw us head of for the first of several exploratory drives around the wider district. The very pretty town of La Gacilly with its photographic exhibitions and a fine lunch at Restaurant Le Vegetarium was the centrepiece of that day.
Sunday was a training day – well, sort of. We drove to the nearby town of Gouarec, and then walked along the Canal de Nantes et Brest for 5 kilometres or so for lunch at the Cafe de l’Abbaye at Bon Repos sur Blavet followed by a visit to the now semi-ruined abbey itself, and then back again. A 10 klm stroll alongside the canal was our final preparation for the big walk. The canal’s planning goes back to the 18th century, but work on it actually commenced in 1811 and it was commissioned in1836, with much of it being made by forced labour, at significant human cost. Its fundamental purpose seems to have been to link Nantes in the south with Brest in north so that Napoleon could transport supplies and so avoid British blockades of the English Channel. Today it is a popular walking and cycling path, as well as being recreational boating route, navigation of the canal being made possible by an extensive series of locks.
The Abbaye at Bon Repos
To end the day, and as you do in a French provincial town, Sunday night involved a trip to the local Irish pub to have a Guinness and listen to a series of French musos have a jam session of Irish music!!
Monday’s exploration involved two quite different but equally amazing places. The first was the slightly inaccurately named La Vallee des Saints – the Valley of the Saints. The inaccuracy comes from the fact that mostly the “valley” is an open field better described as a series of rolling hills. But let’s not be too pedantic. Apparently there are some 1,000 Breton saints, and the proprietors of this place are setting out to create sculptures of each of them. I believe that they are presently about one-fifth of the way there. The amazing bit?? These sculptures are all carved out of granite, and most stand some 3+ metres tall. Some 15 or so sculptors work on the project, and present an extremely wide variety of styles. The display is open 24/7, and is free to enter. The only charge is a modest one for car parking. Amazing as I said.
San Pedro and friend
We then visited the pretty little town of Finistère before visiting the most incredible chateau (much better described as a castle) of James de Kerjegu. The chateau’s history is quite intriguing (see here); especially the obvious engineering base which would seem to be ahead of its time, and that it served as the local Nazi HQ during the war, and was bombed by the RAF for its troubles. I suspect that a less substantial structure may not have survived such treatment. It is in a bit of a state of disrepair today, but the local authorities (local council??) seem to be working fairly quickly to restore it.
Which brings us to today, Tuesday 12th. After our last walk into town for breakfast croissants and a fabulous crepe at the Tuesday market, it was off to the nearby town of Jossilyn to see their castle on our way to Nantes where we fly to Madrid. Some photos of Jossilyn...
Beautiful stained glass at the Basilique Notre-Dame at Jossilyn
Olivier de Clisson (1336-1407) and Marguerite de Rohan in the Basilique
The unique architectural style of old Jossilyn
A further couple of hours south saw us bid fond farewells and thanks to the Boormans at Nantes airport for a most delightful few days.
And of course it's now getting very close to the start of the big walk, but not before a small party night in Madrid ...
Next post will be on our final day in Sevilla, then ...