As anyone who has visited Brittany will know, the local brew of choice, particularly when dining on crepes, is cider or cidre in French. Traditionally Breton cider is served in a clay cup called ‘Bolée’.
Cider is normally made between September and December with apples (pommes) that have fallen to the earth. They are left on the ground to mature. The best specimens are then collected and sent for pressing.
Prior to pressing the apples must be washed or the cider will not keep. Rotten apples are removed as they make a cider low in alcohol. The apples are ground using a scratter or mill to make the extraction of juice easier. The resulting pulp is left to rest in order to get a deeper colour and more flavour. The pulp or mash is then layered in hessian cloths to form what are called "cheeses". These are then pressed slowly to release the juice or "wort" which is strained into casks or vats.
The wort needs to be clarified which involves removing the thick brown crust or "chapeau brun" (brown hat) which naturally forms on top of the liquid at the start of fermentation.
As fermentation continues the wort will become clear and the natural sugars transformed into alcohol by the yeast. The longer the cider is left to ferment the more dense and sweet it will be. The taste also becomes more complex. Early bottled cider will be the driest of all.
In Brittany there are quiet a few large cider producers, such as Val de Rance which you will find in many bars and creperies. We are lucky to have our very own "cidrerie" or cider maker within a five minute drive of the gites.
Jacky Dorval lives in the tiny hamlet of Kervalen near Landeleau. He has is a small cider farm, where you can buy cider, apple juice, apple jelly and other local treats.
They make three different types of cider: brut, demi sec and Guillevec. Our favourite is demi sec which is the sweetest. It is labelled Cidre Fermier. They offer onsite tastings and direct sales. It cheaper to purchase your cider from them and a fun and friendly experience that we highly recommend. If you stop by don't worry about the dog, it's noisy but friendly and just wants a tummy tickle really. Cheers or yec'hed mat as they say in Brittany!
I would like to thank my fellow blogger Rosie Hill for nominating our blog for a Liebster Award. Rosie writes a blog about her Eco-Gites of Lenault which you will find in the beautiful countryside of Swiss Normandy. I am very honoured though I confess I was a little bewildered at first. A little research has revealed the award is a fun way for bloggers to share blogs that they enjoy.
Liebster has a number of meanings. Some of these are: dearest, sweetest, kindest and nicest - all delightful and flattering!
Rosie has set me seven questions which I have answered below.
1. How many blog posts have you published?
It is difficult to know the exact number but after a false start in August 2011 it must be around 50 posts. Never having blogged before it has been a challenge but I am lucky that I have discovered so many wonderful places in Brittany to write about.
2. Where do you get your blogging inspiration from?
Well, as I mentioned above, Brittany is beautiful and there are loads of wonderful places we have visited, particularly in Finistere. Until we acquired our gites near Huelgoat we really hadn't explored the area much. I have discovered that we both have a real passion for the area which I hope shines through in my posts.
We have been extremely lucky have travelled to many interesting and exotic places around the world in the past. Most of our trips have been orientated around wildlife. I would love to see polar bears (and other Arctic wildlife) in their natural habitat in Norway. These beautiful majestic animals are under huge threat as the sea ice reduces each year. We only have a limited time to appreciate them and try to mitigate the risk of losing them forever.
4. Excluding your travel documents, some clean underwear and some sort of finances, what one item would you never be without when travelling?
A good book! Boring but true. Part of my bedtime relaxation ritual is to absorb myself an engaging read. At the moment I am reading about King George IV which is fascinating. I like to alternate between fiction and non-fiction. I will enter a slight panic mode if I have forgotten my book or don't have another to hand once I've finished with my current one.
1. Beautiful varied landscapes
3. Fresh baguettes with Breton salted butter
4. Quiet traffic free roads (except around Paris!)
5. Fantastic seafood - I am a huge fan of Coquilles Saint-Jacques (scallops)
We recently had a lovely family with two young children stay at the Petit Longere gite, our two bedroom holiday cottage near Huelgoat in Brittany.
They were kind enough to leave a wonderful review of their holiday in central Finistere which you can read below. See why you need to bring the kids for a holiday at Ty Hir in beautiful Brittany!
"We had a lovely time staying in the Petit Longere, it is not so petite the living room is spacious, the kitchen has everything you will need, the bedrooms are also quite large as is the bathroom and utility room. The property is full of character and in a lovely location, there are stunning views out of the bedroom window when you get up in the morning. A very peaceful location the main noises you will hear are cows, sheep, cats meowing and birds singing.
Both the front and the back of the house have plenty of garden furniture, great for alfresco dining, reading a book or lying in the sun and enjoying the peaceful surroundings. Our children had a great time playing in the large garden, paddling in the paddling pools, playing football with the football goals that are provided. In the evening we sat around the Chiminea (outdoor fire) keeping warm and drinking local cider, beer or wine, one evening toasting marshmallows.
The book shelves are stocked with books both for adults and children as well as DVD's. If you want to eat out there a plenty of places to try in Huelgoat and the surrounding towns if you like seafood a trip to Roscoff is worth it just for the lunch. There are also supermarkets close by to stock up with provisions as well as other amenities. The location is great, close to Huelgoat with its Gigantic boulders. A river to walk to from the Petit Longere a great place for a paddle on a hot day. There are so many other places to visit in the area that we didn't have time in a week to do everything we wanted to so we will definitely be coming back to the Petit Longere in the future for another visit. "
You can see the original review on our French Connections advert here: Petit Longere Guestbook.
Some ideas on things to do close to our holiday cottages near Huelgoat
So you desperately need some rest and relaxation on holiday and don't want to spend hours driving around sightseeing. Luckily you don't need to travel far for entertainment when you choose to stay at our gites in Finistere.
Here are a few ideas on things to do that are are within a half an hour drive from our cottages. Some are even on our doorstep - you can't ask for more than that!
Relax in the garden or go for a stroll
A large lawned garden surrounds our gites and there is also a gravelled terrace. You can simply sit and chill out with the beverage of your choice (ours is red wine!) and enjoy the sound of birdsong.
The cottages are south facing and get the sun all day. The terrace is a real sun-trap but don't worry, we have parasols and there are some large trees to provide shade if you get too hot!
We're lucky to have a circular walk right on our doorstep. The Circuit des Passerelles is a 7.5 km trail which crosses the pretty Ellez river, taking you through gently rolling countryside via chemin rurals and quiet country lanes.
If you fancy a shorter stroll, it only takes a few minutes to walk down to the river. On a summers day it is great to cool down in the shallow water or just take in the view from bridge keeping an eye out for kingfishers or the odd coypu.
Cross over the river, continue up the hill and turn right and you will quickly come to the pretty Chapelle Saint Salomon. You will more than likely have it all to yourself. It is a great place for quiet contemplation. Don't miss the font in the grounds from which crystal clear spring water flows.
We have complimentary mountain bikes available for our guests to use. One of our more energetic guests road the Circuit des Passerelles trail. If you are thinking of going a little further afield via a bike be warned, some of our local hills are steeper than the seem from a car! Another guest road to Plouye, only 2 km away but at the top of one of our bigger hills. They earned their drink at our local bar that day!
Hang around Huelgoat
I've mentioned Huelgoat numerous times in my posts, particularly the forest, but that is why we like it so much. We are fortunate to have it as our local tourist town. Just popping over there for some groceries is a real pleasure and it only takes 15 minutes by car.
The main square is surrounded by a good choice of cafes, creperies, bars and restaurants. There is a friendly tourist information office where English is spoken. A small market is held here Thursday mornings.
Park in the square and take a stroll to the lake, maybe enjoy an ice-cream whilst watching the swans or walk straight into the forest and explore local boulder strewn trails.
There is a cinema, Artus Ciné,. If a film is marked VO it means that it is in the original language with French sub-titles which is handy to know
Don't miss the beautiful gardens at Les arbes du monde au Huelgoat at the top of the town. For local produce visit the Miellerie de Huelgoat just next to the Chaos (of rocks) by the bridge for anything to do with honey and also Les 4 Saisons for jam from the Monts d'Arrée, plus lots other goodies from Brittany.
Track down some Roman history in Carhaix
Carhaix-Plouguer, known as Vorgium in Roman times, is a 15 minute drive from the gites. It is now an unprepossessing town, great for shopping, especially the Saturday market, but not much of apparent historical appeal other than the elaborately decorated building which houses the tourist information office.
Oh, and there is a great hand-made chocolate shop just the down the road from the Office de Tourisme!.
Hidden in one of the suburban back streets you will discover part of the old Roman aqueduct which is 27 km long. You can pick up a leaflet which traces the route of the canal from the tourist office or download it from here: Les trois circuits de l'aqueduc romain de Vorgium (Three circuits of the Roman aqueduct of Vorgium).
The trail heads east from the central market square in Carhaix towards Mael-Carhaix. It is signposted and you will find numbered panels at each stop which explain the history in French and usefully English.
It can be a bit of a challenge to follow it but surely getting lost is half of the fun isn't it? One part of the canal at Le Moustoir still carries water - they built things to last in those days!
Explore the Parc D'Armorique and the Monts d'Arree
If you want to travel slightly further afield and enjoy some spectacular views with relatively little effort, head to the chapel at the summit of Le Mont-Saint-Michel de Brasparts. It is one of the highest points in Brittany.
The 30 minute drive crosses the dramatic heather clad moors of the Monts d'Arree at the heart of the Parc d'Amorique. A car park lies three quarters of the way up the "mountain". There is a steep challenging footpath which takes you directly to the chapel from this point, or a little further back from the car park, an easier path that slowly inclines to the same point. You can see for miles on a clear day, over towards Morlaix on the north coast and, in the other direction the Reservoir St Michel which supplies water to the surrounding area.
Make sure you stop at the Ferme des Artisans at the foot of the Mont St-Michel on the D785, the road to Brasparts, to pick up some local art or produce. You can even park there and walk up the hill to the chapel if you are feeling energetic or down to the bog or Yeun Elez.
There are plenty of parking areas in the Parc d'Armorique from where you can enjoy extensive panoramic vistas. Often you will find a footpath leading to granite outcrops which allow you to get an even better view. These rocky tors are great for climbing on too, no matter your age!
There are lots of marked trails if you fancy going for a hike. The landscape is so open on the moors it is difficult to get lost, unless of course it is foggy.
Marvel at Megaliths
If you do decide to spend a day in the central Mont's d'Arree exploring the moors and tors, there are two amazing alley graves well worth visiting in the area.
Allée couverte de Ti ar Boudiged or the 'House of the Fairies' is actually in the small town of Brennilis. It is one of the few remaining alley graves that is still covered by earth, as they all originally were. As you can see from the photo you can get inside and appreciate the amazing architecture up close, a real privilege and treat.
In Brennnilis you will also find the Maison de la Reserve Naturelle et des Castors. This houses an exhibition on the Venec peat bog, the only place in Brittany where wild beavers can be found.
On the outskirts of Commana, on the other side of the moor, there is one of the best examples of an intact alley grave still in existence. Mougau Bihan is a splendid allee couverte which dates to around 3000 BC. It is over 14 meters in length with five large capstones. It is great fun for young and old alike to scramble inside and discover a number of ancient engravings. There is a picnic area and it is signed posted from the main road
It is also worth popping into Commana itself to have a wander around the impressive Parish Close. There is a cafe and patisserie if you fancy a spot of lunch.
I hope this has given you some ideas on ways to spend a relaxing holiday at Ty Hir. The simplest pleasure for us though is pottering around doing some gardening in the sunshine but we don't expect our guests to do that - a bit of watering of the container plants in summer is not unappreciated though!
So you love France but you've not been to Brittany yet - why not I ask? Perhaps you don't know what this beautiful region has in store for you, particularly our more remote department of Finistere. Well I'd like to set that right. Here are seven sensational sightseeing experiences that make the west of Brittany a must see destination in my opinion.
1. Megalithic Sites in Brittany
If you are a fan of megalithic history then Brittany is the place for you! We always make a point of visiting at least one new megalithic site on each trip to Brittany.
These mysterious ancient stones are fascinating features that you'll find dotted all over the landscape, ranging from alley graves like this one on the beach near Plouescat on the northern coast, to rows of standing stones known as alignments. Single standing stones can often be glimpsed in the middle of fields or even private gardens. There is one just up the road from our gites near Landeleau in a corn field off the D17.
If you want to track down these prehistoric sites in Brittany, download the Guide to the Menhirs and other Megaliths of Central Brittany by Samuel Lewis. Many of the stones have legends associated with them often pertaining to fertility. You have to wonder how they managed to move and manoeuvre the sometimes huge pieces of granite into place. Maybe the fairies really did help!
2. Parish Closes - Breton Religious Architecture
The parish closes of Brittany represent the wealth generated by the trade in flax and hemp in the 16th and 17th centuries. The highest concentration of these religious architectural gems can be found in Finistere.
The most impressive feature of the larger closes are the elaborately carved calvaries. These usually display scenes from the life of Christ and often incorporate carvings of important local personages. Up to 150 figures can be counted on some of these crosses, including the devil, saints and animals.
There was great rivalry between the parishes, each striving to out do their neighbour. The most splendid of the closes can be found at St-Thégonnec, Guimiliau and Pleyben. Our nearest parish close is Saint-Herbot near Plonévez-du-Faou, just 15 minutes away. A butter festival is held at Saint-Herbot in September. Click here to see my post on parish closes
3. Sensational Shorelines in Brittany
Brittany has over 2,000 miles of coastline and 300 of them are in Finistere. I think it is fair to say that the you will be rewarded with stunning views no matter which part of the coast you visit, from white sandy plages to rugged granite cliffs and boulder strewn beaches. Out of season you will frequently find that you have an entire beach to yourself.
The gites lie at the heart of Finistere and it is easy access all three coasts for daytrips. Our closest sandy beach is Plage Pentrez just a 45 minute drive away. You can also enjoy marked walks on the Sentier des Douaniers, the old customs coastal path which reveals outstanding vistas around every bend. Carantec on the north coast is blessed with no less than seven sandy beaches!
4. Lovely Lighthouses in Finistere
Brittany has more than one third of all of the lighthouses in France. 23 of these protect the coast of Finistere. The French word for lighthouse is phare.
The phare of St Mathieu at Plougonvelin, to the west of Brest, was built in the grounds of a Benedictine Abbey in 1835.
In past times the monks at the abbey would light a fire in a tower on the cliffs to guide sailors to safety. I wrote about our trip to to Pointe Saint-Mathieu last May.
Some of the lighthouses that I think are worth visiting are: Eckmühl in Penmarc’h on the south coast, one of the tallest lighthouses in the world at 65 m; Le phare de l’île Vierge, even taller at 82.5, lies just off shore at Plougueneau on the north coast. Finally, La Vieille is situated dramatically in the sometimes stormy seas just off the Pointe du Raz, protecting seafarers as they pass the French version of Land's End.
5. Scenic Rivers
The biggest river to be found in Finistere is the Aulne. This majestic watercourse forms part of the Nantes-Brest Canal which links two of the most important cities in Brittany. The tow paths make for nice easy walking. If you are into fishing it is famous for allis shad, sea trout and salmon. We walked along the non-canalised part of the river near Landeleau last June and met not another soul. Read about it here: A Ramble by the River Aulne.
At the end of our lane, just a five minute stroll down the hill, you will find the shallow peaty coloured river Ellez. It can be crossed via a ford though we are yet to be brave enough try this in our car. I can highly recommend a paddle on a hot summer's day from the sandy beach. It flows into the Aulne not far from the gites.
Another lovely river can be found in nearby Carhaix-Plouguer, the Hyères. It is popular for kayaking and there are also riverside walks through a deep wooded valley.
6. Huelgoat - a town, a forest, a lake and more!
The lovely lakeside town of Huelgoat is just a 15 minute drive from our holiday cottages. It lies on the edge of the mysterious Forest of Huelgoat. You can access these lush moss clad woodlands directly from the town via the boulder strewn "Chaos".
Follow the sparkling river Argent as it bubbles and froths its way amidst granite rocks or head up hill to discover fascinating sites associated with King Arthur like the cave where he supposedly spent a night. There are many legends associated with the forest, you can learn about some of these on my blog post here: Legends of the Forest of Huelgoat.
In the village square you will find boulangeries, creperies, a pub, a small supermarket and a tourist information office amongst other things. A market is held in Huelgoat every Thursday morning. On the lake front there are more lovely creperies and an ice-cream parlour. The lake is home to carp, pike and perch if you fancy a day's fishing. You will need to obtain a fishing permit from the Paint shop in the main square. Or you could simply go for a lakeside stroll or take the kids to the playground for a bit of fun.
7. Gorgeous Gardens
Finistere is bordered by the Atlantic ocean on three sides and benefits from the warming effect of the Gulf Stream. This means that there is a much wider variety of plants than one might expect in cooler climes of northern Europe.
A feature you will discover as you explore Brittany, in the coastal areas in particular, are what the French term "jardins exotique". Explore these gardens and you will spot many plants that you would normally expect to see in subtropical zones such as South Africa and Australia. The gardens at Roscoff and on the Ile-de-Batz both over look the sea and on a sunny day it feels as if you could be on a tropical island in the South Pacific.
At Les arbes du monde au Huelgoat in the rolling countryside of central Brittany, you will come across over 3,600 species of plants. They are arranged by region, from the Himalayas to South America. One section is dedicated to eucalypti which makes you feel you are wandering around the Australian bush, without the huntsman spiders - thank goodness!
Other places that offer beautiful gardens to explore are the local chateaus. Our closest chateau, the Domaine de Trevarez on the outskirts of Châteauneuf-du-Faou. It is surrounded by 447 acres. This impressive pink castle is renowned for its Camellia festival as well as its eye catching displays of azaleas and rhododendrons. Not to be missed if visiting Brittany in Spring.
There are of course many other sightseeing sensations to be enjoyed in Brittany. Take a look at the Brittany Tourism and Finistere Tourism websites which both have versions in English for more ideas on where to visit.
I hope that this has whetted your appetite to come and explore fascinating Finistere.
There is something for everyone!