If you’re hoping for more than the typical French city break, look to the north and spend a wild weekend exploring Brittany’s rugged coastline. Close to Jersey and Guernsey, the outcrop near Brest projects proudly into the English Channel, while the Bay of Biscay provides endless fresh seafood to quaint coastal towns and villages. We’ve gathered some of the region’s best sights and top eats right here.
Something old, something new, something blue
Brittany is almost a perfect fit for that classic wedding mantra. You’ll be entranced by the old and new, and there’s certainly a lot of blue, though you’ll be hard-pushed to find anything borrowed – this region is truly its own.
First up on the Brittany hit-list is Rennes’ historical old town, where semi-timbered houses lean haphazardly together like old friends enjoying a little too much wine. The current buildings survived the great fire of 1720, giving an indication of their advanced age. They rub shoulders with more modern grand edifices as much of the current city centre was developed in the 20th century. Dedicate a few hours to snapping pics and soaking up the classic architecture, and make sure you stop at the Place du Champ-Jacquet to see the authentic medieval houses.
If you’re seeking something new head to Nantes for Les Machines de l’île, where giant Jules Verne-esque machines will make you feel like you’ve stepped in to a surreal dream. This offbeat art exhibit opened in 2007 and draws on steampunk inspirations to create magnificent moving sculptures. Take a ride, literally, on the mechanical Great Elephant, clamber through the twists and turns of the Heron Tree or check out the backstory of the whole affair in the Machine Gallery.
For something blue, what could be better than water? The Grand Aquarium in Saint-Malo offers aquatic splendour, stunning sea creatures and interactive exhibits that are fun for all the family. This is Brittany’s second most popular tourist attraction, stuffed to the gills with sharks, turtles, and thousands of rainbow-hued tropical fish.
Take a bite of Breton brilliance
Who could ever visit France without sampling the exquisite food? An extended trip will give you time to dine in different cities and get a feel for a variety of cuisines. Making a reservation at La Cigale in Nantes is a great place to start. This brasserie has been serving up dinner since 1895 and is a historical monument, but the dress code is relaxed and there’s a friendly ambiance about the place. Indulge in some typical Breton fare, with tantalising dishes like Croustade de Canard (yes, that’s duck pie) or French beef carpaccio on offer.
If you’re looking for an upmarket spot you’ll be drawn to Le Saint Placide, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Saint-Malo. Eschew the obvious seafood selection and go for creative dishes that emphasise seasonal ingredients. Dine on tuna and balsamic vinegar, ripened cheeses or roast young pigeon with coffee for something a little out of the ordinary.
Though who could leave Brittany without trying at least some of the speciality seafood? Concarneau’s La Coquille is right on the coast, and uses fish caught fresh by locals each day. The interior is charming and classy – ask for a window seat for an unparalleled view of the harbour – while the unpretentious fare is given a chic twist for a discerning crowd.