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A week in July - best base to explore Brittany?

Portland, Oregon
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A week in July - best base to explore Brittany?

We are hoping to come to Brittany for a week in July, and I'd love to hear suggestions about where to base ourselves.

I would definitely prefer to be in a town, rather than a city, and the more charming and historic, the better. Also, I will have a 15 month old son and it would be great to be close to the beach. We will try to take a few drives and cover some of the area but aren't planning on travelling extensively. We'll also base ourselves in a house rather than a hotel.

Towns we are considering are Saint Malo, Saint Brieuc, Morlaix, Quimper and Auray. (And any others you suggest!)

Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

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Paris, France
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1. Re: A week in July - best base to explore Brittany?

I'll be back tomorrow with a novels worth of info about Brittany for you. In the meantime here is a trip report I wrote about exploring the Gulf of Morbihan area that should give you lots of great ideas for that area.

http://tinyurl.com/2555vaf

Edited: 05 January 2012, 01:17
Essex
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2. Re: A week in July - best base to explore Brittany?

Perros Guirec??:

http://www.perros-guirec.fr/home_tourism

Paris, France
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3. Re: A week in July - best base to explore Brittany?

I've got a lot of specific and basic info to give you so I'm going to break it into a few posts. Here is some info on how to find great places to base yourself and great places to visit in Brittany.

I love Brittany and there are many great places you could base in that area and spend a week exploring. Below are some of the regional tourist office websites for Brittany so you can learn a bit more about which part of Brittany might interest you.

http://www.brittanytourism.com/

http://www.finisterebrittany.com/

http://www.morbihan.com/

http://www.cotesdarmor.com/

http://www.cotedegranitrose.fr/

http://www.valdarguenon.fr/

The best way to find charming towns and villages in Brittany is to understand that there is an official ranking system of historically/touristically interesting towns/villages in the region. Searching the websites mentioned above will yield loads of info about such places. Here is a rundown of the ranking system:

ville d'art et histoire – village of art and history

ville historique – historic village

petite cité de caractère – small town of character

commune du patrimoine rural – rural patrimony village

plus beau village de France – one of the most beautiful villages of France

Doing some google seaching you'll find local/regional tourist office websites that will provide lists and locations of these types of places throughout Brittany. If you visit a tourst office in person while there they may have a map of all of Brittany showing these places. It is called the Carte Touristique de Bretagne. You may even find one on-line. The map is full of icons for touristically/historically interesting sites and attractions to visit such as château, parish enclosures, historic churches and cathedrals, megaliths, nature reserves, ports, outdoor activity sites, scenically beautiful places etc., etc. I have such a map in front of me right now and it is a treasure trove of useful information that puts most of Brittany's worthy places to visit in one place right before your eyes.

To find some of these places on the internet here is a useful link:

cites-art.com/les-petites-cites-de-caractere…

Or you can try these:

petite cité de caractère:

frenchentree.com/france-brittany-tourism-lei…

plus beau village: http://www.villagesdefrance.free.fr/

ville d'art et histoire: http://www.vpah.culture.fr/france/france.htm

Edited: 05 January 2012, 14:35
Illinois
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4. Re: A week in July - best base to explore Brittany?

1/4 of the French coastline borders Brittany, so there are a lot of places you can go to be near the sea. But keep in mind that not all of the Breton coast has beaches. In some places, it's rugged and rocky and beautiful, but not suited for swimming or even wading.

Also remember that summer is a very busy time in Brittany (especially along the beaches!) so, if you want to stay near a beach, you should make reservations as early as possible.

I don't know if this interests you, but there are lots of rental cottages, as well as bed-and-breakfasts, in Brittany, many within easy driving distance of the ocean.

http://en.gites-de-france.com/ http://en.likhom.com/

(There are lots of hotels, too, of course.)

Paris, France
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5. Re: A week in July - best base to explore Brittany?

There are loads of great, charming, historic towns in which you could base yourself in any region of Brittany so your question has lots of answers. Do you want to be within walking distance of a beach or just in close proximity, say within a 10-15 minute drive?

I'll break down a few of the regions in Brittany and mention a few of the highlight towns in each area. There are way more places to visit in any of these regions than the places I'll mention. There are also loads of scenic coastal drives in any of these areas.

The area near Saint-Malo is called the Côte d'Emeraude and the big highlights near there, in addition to Saint-Malo, would be Dinan, Dinard, Mont-Saint-Michel, Rennes, Fougères, Vitré, Cap Fréhel, Fort-la-Latte. The two most well known and larger good bases (charming/historic) that would be centrally located would be Saint-Malo and Dinan.

Just to give you an idea of how many worthy towns and villages you could visit in this area I'm going to list most of the villages that fall under the ranking system I just explained (petite cité de caractère etc.). Other smaller but great places to visit would be (towns/villages/château) Léhon, Lamballe, Jugon-les-Lacs, Quintin, Château de la Hunaudaye, Château de Bienassis, Combourg, Moncontour, Bécherel, Saint-Alban, Saint-Suliac, Saint-Méloir-des-Bois, Saint-Juviat, Tréfumel, Guenroc, Saint-Christophe de Valains, Bazouges-la-Pérouges, Coglès and Dol-de-Bretagne.

Moving west of there you have the Côte de Goëlo (côte means coast). Saint Brieuc lies at its southern portion and following the coastline north it extends as far as Paimpol. Moving further west along the coast from here is the Côte de Granit Rose, considered one of the most scenic coastal areas in Brittany. You could define this area as the coastal area between Trébeurden and Perros-Guirec. Both of the above mentioned coast are characterized by steep rocky cliffs sometimes sheltering sandy coves/beaches. The scenic coastal views are often spectacular.

If you want an ocean front town as a base on the Côte de Goëlo the pretty port town of Paimpol is nice. If you want an oceanfront base on the Côte de Granit Rose then Ploumanach and Perros-Guirec are the two most well known charming places. Be aware that these two towns are very popular and will be quite busy with tourists in the high season.

If you want a great central location between these two coasts I would recommend Tréguier. Tréguier is a charming town with old half-timbered buildings, windy cobbled streets and loads of charm. It is a port town in an estuary of the Jaudy river. It also has enough restaurants and services for tourists and nice beaches are only about a 10-15 minute drive away.

Highlights in these two coastal regions that are within reach of exploration include (besides the places already mentioned) Guingamp, Lannion, Morlaix, La Roche-Derrien, Pontrieux, Plouaret, Hengoat, Châtelaudren, Guerlesquin, Plougonven. One of the distinctive attractions in Brittany are the Parish Closes. These are elaborately decorated churches surrounded by a wall. They often feature ornate calvaries, ossuaries, statuary etc. The most famous ones generally lie in the vicinity of the N12 highway between Morlaix and Brest but they are scattered throughout the region.

The last two coastal locations I'll mention are in western Brittany and thy are Finistère and The Gulf of Morbihan. You can base in one or the other region or somewhere between them to split the difference. Some popular towns in Finistère include Pont-l'Abbé, Benodet, Quimper (city), Locronan, Douarnenez, Châteaulin, Concarneau, Camaret-sur-Mer, Landévennec, Le Faou, Lopérec, Ploéven, Pont-Aven and the scenic view point at Pointe du Raz. Quimper is a lovely and historic small medieval city and makes a good base here. As other bases you might also consider Douarnenez, Châteaulin, Locronan, Pont-Aven or Concarneau.

Some highlights in The Gulf are the prehistoric alignments of menhirs (standing stones) at Carnac, the small medieval city of Vannes, Locmariaquer, La-Trinité-sur-Mer, the old town in Auray, Hennebont, Pontivy, Rochefort-en-Terre, Malestroit, Josselin, La Gacilly, Lizio and Redon among many others. If you went south of here you could also explore Guérande, Piriac-sur-Mer, Le Croisic and La Roche Bernard. The small medieval city of Vannes makes a good base here. Smaller places would be Carnac, Locmariaquer, La-Trinité-sur-Mer and the old town of Auray (the eastern portion on the river, not the western part). Certainly there are others.

Just about any of the towns I mentioned in the preceding paragraphs has a tourist office website. You should google them to find out more, including info about what to see and do, where to eat and where to find accommodation. Occasionally the websites have English versions. In doing a google search enter the name of your town followed by the words "site officiel" or "office de tourisme" and this will bring the town to the top of your search. Another thing I like to do to see if a town may be worth visiting is enter the town name in a google search followed by the word "photos". Sometimes I visit a town if I find it looks charming/interesting in photos.

If you haven't got them already you need a good guidebook or two for Brittany. I like the Michelin Green Guides. There is one for the general Brittany region and there are more detailed ones for each region in Brittany. I recommend the general one as well as the more specific ones for whatever region you visit. If you want restaurant recommendations you can get The Michelin Red Guide.

Paris, France
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6. Re: A week in July - best base to explore Brittany?

Here's my last bit of general advice. You may want to have a GPS to assist with getting around but you definitely have to have good and detailed maps. I highly recommend The Michelin maps of the scale 1:200,000.

Get your hands on the Michelin maps (scale of 1:200,000) for whatever regions you visit. The Michelin maps have icons for all kinds of historically/touristically interesting things such as châteaux, ruins, churches, abbeys, scenic view points, caves, Roman sites, megaliths, designated scenic roads and many other things. Usually when I'm exploring various regions in France I just look at the map and I am able to plan interesting and scenic drives just reading the map. For instance, I usually look for a designated scenic road, which are highlighted in green, and I especially look for towns with the historic church and/or château icon. I also try to make sure the route goes through as many small villages as possible. Usually putting all these things together I find interesting and scenic drives without even knowing where I am going and with no assistance from a guide book. Often these places are never mentioned in guidebooks and remain completely unknown to many tourists.

You can buy the Michelin maps from their website and here is a link to the page that shows all of the maps of France: http://tinyurl.com/4bt96ev

You could also buy them here but then you can't do research beforehand. The maps can be bought in many places such as bookstores, news stands, magazine stores, larger supermarkets, department stores, hypermarkets and in the full service rest areas on the autoroutes, just to name a few.

And speaking of Michelin, you can go to the website viamichelin.com and get info on drive times and distances, toll and fuel costs and suggested routes (i.e. scenic routes). The drive times given do not consider stops (fuel, food, bathrooms) nor do they consider bad weather and traffic.

So in summation, your research material should be the guidebooks, maps, tourist office websites and all the other websites and resources I've mentioned.

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7. Re: A week in July - best base to explore Brittany?

I really love St-Malo as a town; the 'walled' part is lovely, but busy with tourists. We based ourselves in Dinan a couple of years ago and it was a great base for exploring the area. You are about 30 mins from St-Malo and Cancale, can drive the beautiful coast, can cycle the river Rance for miles (very flat terrain) and are not far from Mont St Michel or Rennes, either.

Although touristy as well, we had a gite in the Port du Dinan and this was lovely, really quiet and relaxed.

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8. Re: A week in July - best base to explore Brittany?

We just returned from two weeks in a villa outside of Paimpol. The rate was 250 euros per week. This was low season. During high season the rate goes up to 650 per week. That is during August when all of France is on vacation. Still not bad for an attractive 2 bedroom that sleeps 6.

If you have an interest in farms in Brittany, I highly recommend the villas offered by Jean-Pierre and Annie Hegarat. They can be reached at: a.lehegarat@wanadoo.fr.

For more information on their properties google "Coat Frity." In addition to superior lodging, their farm is home to champion Arabian race horses. They also raise vine ripened tomatoes and a tour of the farm greenhouse is not to be missed. Most importantly, they are warm and gracious hosts.

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9. Re: A week in July - best base to explore Brittany?

I will also be going to Brittany in July with my husband and another couple. We will have a hire car. We would like to stay in a house in a village where we can buy and prepare most of our food. I would really love to attend a local festival. ( We wound up at a great medieval festival in Chinon in the loire valley a couple of years ago by chance. It was fantastic. All the locals were involved and in costume and thoroughly enjoying themselves) This time I would like to know I will get to see some of the local culture. - town festival, food oriented, historical event, music, dancing.... Has anyone any reports of really great festivals they went to in Brittany in July please. Also is it going to be terriblly hot then? Thanks loads for your ideas.

Paris, France
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10. Re: A week in July - best base to explore Brittany?

There are probably several websites where you can learn about the various festivals in Brittany in the summertime. Here are a couple of websites that you can start with but some google searching on your part will yield further results I'm sure:

brittanyholidayguide.com/brittanywhatson.html

…angloinfo.com/information/whatsonwhat.asp…

Also, ask at any tourist office about these festivals in any town you visit and they'll have info.

Edited: 09 March 2012, 17:11