Bretagne is possibly the most underrated corner of France, at least among the far-abroad travelers. While you’ll find many an American book, blog and podcast singing paeans to the glories of Dordogne, Collioure, the Loire Valley, Alsace, Normandy, the French Alps and Provence, Bretagne evades their attentions. And for the life of me I cannot figure out why.
Bretagne is gorgeous. Head-spinning limestone cliffs overlook the Atlantic Ocean. Stone cottages drown in multicolored hydrangeas. Clearest turquoise waters wash over plentiful white sand beaches. Medieval castles like Château de Suscinio, cut off by moats and topped with conical towers, stand untouched by time.
Local culture is enigmatic, with Breton identity supplanting French. Celtic mysticism permeates the land, from megalithic monuments of Carnac to evocative melodies like Gortoz a Ran, instantly transporting you to another time and possibly another dimension. Hand-weaving of traditional lace headdresses, their styles unique to individual hamlets, are just one of the customs kept alive by the people of this land.
There are boat tours, casinos, regattas, jousting tournaments and cider tastings aplenty. Every year Bretagne welcomes the largest Celtic music festival in the world, in the town of Lorient. There are diving schools, sunbathing seals and kayaking in translucent coves of Crozon for those looking to frolic in the sea, endless hiking and horseback riding trails through pine forests and wildflower meadows if you prefer to stay on dry land.
Then there is the food. Bretagne boasts arguably the best seafood in France: the freshest oysters and mussels, crab, langoustine, snails, stingray, scallops and fish of many kinds come to your table straight out of the sea. Crepes are a regional staple, offered virtually at every restaurant in countless savory (buckwheat) and sweet (classic, wheat) varieties. And of course there is the kouign amann — probably my favorite pastry in the world, a crunchy, chewy, flaky, sticky, very sweet but also a little bit salty concoction of flour, yeast, sugar, sea salt and vats of butter. It’s like a dense, plump little croissant on crack, if crack was sugar and butter.
I have already written about this as part of my main takeaways from years of traveling in France, but it bears repeating: all these joys of Bretagne are accessible at a fraction of a cost and tourist crowds of France’s other coastal destinations. In peak summer season you can stay in an ocean-view room of a five-star hotel for under 250 Euros — something you cannot even dream of on Côte d’Azur. You can find a secluded beach or a cliff-top with a panoramic view and have it all to yourself. You won’t waste hours stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, nor will you pay a Michelin-level tab for a perfunctory lunch on a waterfront. Nevertheless, should you so desire, you can dine at one of Bretagne’s 38 Michelin-starred restaurants.
I am a little torn between wanting more people to share in my love affair with Bretagne, yet wanting to keep it just as it is, all (almost) for myself.