What is a Parish Close? Guimiliau Parish Close
A Parish Close
or Enclos Paroissial is a feature of religious architecture particular to Brittany in north western France. These fascinating and sometimes elaborate Catholic parishes are found predominately in Finistere. They number around 70 in total. Normally surrounded by a wall they contain a parish church and other religious buildings and structures such as:
· A cemetery
· A monumental archway or gate giving access to the parish close
· A calvary, these range from a simple representation of Jesus on the cross to elaborate scenes from the bible depicted by up to 30 figures or more
·An ossuary – a repository for the bones of exhumed bodies
. A porch often decorated with statues of the apostles and local saintsThe notion of the “parish close” was coined in Brittany. The closes benefited from the prosperity of the economic golden age in Brittany between the 15th and 17th centuries, particularly where linen was made.
Pardons Lampaul-Guimiliau Entombment tableau
Many parishes in Brittany host an annual “Pardon”. Pilgrims (and tourists) come from all over Brittany and further afield to seek indulgences from the local saint.
These colourful events date from the Middle Ages. Men, women and children process through the streets in traditional costumes, carrying candles, banners and statues of saints to the church to celebrate mass, singing hymns on their way.
The procession and church service is usually followed by a Fest Noz in the evening. This involves lots of singing, dancing and food and are much less serious after the solemnity of the Pardon.
Pilgrims flock to this church in Traon-Meriadec to venerate the relic of the finger of Saint-John the Baptist which arrived there around 1437.
The sermons at the annual pardon are given from a platform in the churchyard. The congregation then perform devotions at the magnificent fountain and process to the nearby calvary of Pen Ar C’hra and it miraculous spring.
Plougonven Plougonven calvary and parish church
It was in Plougonven in 1554 that the series of the great calvaries started in Finistere.
On the two levels of an octagonal pillar, set in the churchyard of Saint-Yves, stories from The Annunciation to The Resurrection unfold. A demonic devils head was added to the tableau in 1897.
This impressive calvary underlines richness and fertility of the 16th century in the Tregor region of Brittany.
Roscoff Ossuary, Notre-dame-de-Croaz-Batz-de-Roscoff
In the churchyard of the 16th century Notre-Dame-de Croas Batz in Roscoff you will find two ossuaries.
One is dated from the 16th century on the right as you enter the enclosure which is very simple. The other dates from the 17th century and is beautifully decorated by an elaborate double row of balusters. Access is through a strangely arched door on the outside of the enclosure wall.
On the outside of the church itself you will find ships carved into the walls, a legacy from the pirating past of this charming port.
Pleyben Calvary and church at Pleyben in Finistere, Brittany
The monumental Calvary of the parish close in Pleyben was constructed in 1738. It displays thirty scenes from the life of Christ carved in local granite. It was relocated to the churchyard during road works in 1955 which must have been some feat.
The mid-Gothic church of St-Germain is well worth a visit to see the painted 16th century panelled ceiling of the nave. Don't miss the beautiful carved cornices decorated with masks that portray mythological scenes alternating with stories of the lives of the saints and scenes of everyday life.
Sizun Sizun Parish Close
The striking triumphal gate of the parish close at Sizun captures your attention as you enter this small market town in central Finistere. Some say it is the most beautiful of its kind, it is certainly one of the most important and impressive.
Representative of the art of the Renaissance, the gateway is 14.5 m in length consisting of three sections separated by Corinthian arches surmounted by a cross.
An ossuary is attached to the gate. The entrance to the ossuary is surmounted by a triangular pediment decorated with the arms of the family of Rohan.
Statues of the twelve apostles adorn the yellow granite exterior. Looking towards the square you can spy a mermaid carrying seaweed.
Tour the parish closes of Brittany by car
There are three marked driving tours between Brest, the Monts d'Arrée and the Bay of Morlaix. You can pick up leaflets detailing the tours in local tourist offices. Follow the brown tourist road signs which indicate the routes tours or, you can download audio tours in English from the Ze Visit website. You will need to register on the Ze Visit site.
The restored view to the front of Ty Hir
We recently returned from another working trip to Brittany which I will write about in a future post. Image from Life in France blog
Our main job was to trim the hedge to restore the view to the front of the gites. I can't believe that it had grown three feet since March - glad we bought a petrol hedge trimmer!
For this post I thought that I'd share some of my favourite Brittany related blogs to give you a break from my ramblings.
Life in France blog Photo of Wendy from her blog website
Michael Collinson is a near neighbour of ours in Brittany, living just the other side of the lovely lakeside town of Huelgoat. Michael writes from a perspective of those looking to move from the UK to France.
Michael's often humorous posts, sometimes about the pickles that he has gotten himself into, entertain and delight whilst being informative for those thinking about making the move over La Manche. From getting tractors stuck in mud, dental treatment in France to dealing with French taxes you will find something of interest here.
Brittany: the mirror of landscape blog Picture of Jude from her blog A Trifle Rushed
Wendy Mewes is a writer who lives in Finistere who also runs Brittany Walks
. I think that it is fair to say that we have most of Wendy's guide books on Brittany and some of her novels too. We always make sure we have them with us on our exploratory trips around Finistere as she is bound to have covered the area in one book or another.
Wendy writes about the history of Brittany on her blog. She also shares her experiences of the lovely places she has discovered either as part of her research for her books or on one of the walks that she regularly leads. These attract locals and visitors alike.
A Trifle Rushed blog Jenny and her partner John from her website
Jude is a lovely lady who I met through Twitter, brought together by our love of Brittany. I was lucky enough to be invited to dinner with her family whilst on my way to the ferry at Roscoff last year.
One memory of that evening, other than the tasty food that I enjoyed, is the fact that, as a result of having taken a mooring at the local harbour, her husband has the right to have two lobster pots. They sensibly take full advantage of this - lucky sods!
Jude shares her favourite receipes on her blog as well as mouth watering photos of the meals that she has prepared - be warned, don't read it if you are feeling peckish!
Renovation of a Derelict House in Brittany blogJenny writes about the about the renovation project that she and her partner John have taken on in Huelgoat. Image from A House in Brittany website
They are planning to open a B&B and it is a great source of information on what to expect if you are planning on a similar project. Useful and entertaining as the reality of undertaking such a big task in a foreign country, where nothing opens on bank holidays and (nearly) everything closes for two hours at midday, slowly reveals itself through Jenny's detailed posts, illustrated with lots of great photos.
A House in Brittany blog
Not updated frequently but nonetheless some interesting musings on life in Brittany by one half of the charming team who are the directors of A House in Brittany
Chris and Micki bought Le Roz in Brittany as a renovation project in 1999. As a result of their experiences set they up their own agency in France. A sense of humour is required when buying property abroad and these guys certainly know how to have a little fun, particularly at their own expense. Have a poke around their website and you will see what I mean!
Our holiday homes at Ty Hir near Huelgoat
I was very flattered to have been featured in Amia
this week. Amia is an exciting online monthly magazine for women of all ages and backgrounds.
The article appears in their Women Around the World
section. Subscribe for free and check it out online or read the full article below:When in France....Maria Richardson's love of France led her to buy some property there - we asked her to share some of her thoughts and feelings on peaceful Brittany.......
What do you think is most special about the French way of life? The beautiful countryside of central Finistere
I love the way everyone acknowledges and greets each other, even strangers like me. The French seem to take time to interact with each other. This sometimes means things can take a little longer, which a first can be a little frustrating, but once you accept this you start to value a slower and more thoughtful way of life.
Another thing that I have observed is the importance of family, in particular the respect and affection shown by youngsters towards the older generation. You often see three generations of a family in restaurants - all interacting happily together.
What prompted you to spend so much time in France? Enjoy peace and quiet on our terrace at Ty Hir
My husband and I were looking for a place to retire to in the future. We wanted to live in a landscape similar to southern England - which we love. Brittany is very similar to Devon and Cornwall - but property is cheaper there and it feels less crowded. We both love the peace and quiet of the countryside and we are at our happiest when walking on the local trails.
The properties that we bought in central Finistere were rented out as gites by the previous owner. We found ourselves the unexpected managers of two holiday lets. The learning curve has been steep! Therefore, one of the reasons we spend so much time at our holiday homes is to try to understand what our guests experience when they stay in them. This allows us to improve them and add the little touches that we feel are important, like an internet connection, or to work on the garden to make it more usable and appealing. The garden has been a major project that is now starting to pay dividends.
What are some of your happiest memories of times spent in France? The "Chaos" at Huelgoat
My happiest memory is waking up on the first morning after we took possession of the property and hearing nothing but the birds singing. It is one thing viewing a property a number of times - but actually staying there was the proof that we had made the right decision, that is, no nasty surprises. The peace and tranquillity are exactly what I had hoped for.
My next happiest memory was actually spending some time relaxing on one of our sun loungers one afternoon earlier this year. I am not very good at sitting still, as my husband will tell you, so simply sitting in the sun on our terrace whilst enjoying a book and a glass of red is a fairly unusual experience for me - one to be cherished!
Other happy memories are of leisurely walks in the local countryside with a simple picnic lunch of baguettes and a sweet treat from the patisserie. You can walk for miles in Brittany without meeting another person. The views are stunning, whether from the top of a heather clad moor, a spectacular rugged coastal scene or a picturesque river valley.
What are some of your favourite places to visit/spend time? Railway viaduct crosses the river Aulne
One of my favourite places to visit is the lakeside town of Huelgoat and its magical forest. This popular town is only a short drive from our holiday home. We love to pop into one of the boulangeries/patisseries in the main square and treat ourselves to a fresh baguette and French pastry. These are stowed in our backpacks in readiness for a hike through the boulder strewn forest.
The beauty here is that you can access the verdant moss-clad woodland straight from the town, as it is lies at the forest edge. You can just take a short easy stroll and admire the huge boulders of the "Chaos" at the entrance of the wood, or take a longer walk along one of the many marked trails, whichever you have time for. We always make a point of visiting the forest at least once during our stays in Brittany. Every season has something new to offer.
There are many legends associated with the forest including Arthurian tales and the story of a princess who used to throw her lovers off a cliff once she was bored with them!
How do you typically like to spend your time when you visit France? Galette, a savoury Breton treat!
When we are not working on the gites or doing some gardening, our favourite activity is going for a long walk. I think we have acquired nearly every walking guide published in English for Finistere and a few French ones too. One of the challenges has been to translate some of the French walks into English and then seeing if we can follow them without getting lost! So far we have been successful, with only a few deviations, but that is all part of the adventure. It's important that we do this as we provide copies of the walks for our guests in each gite.
We like to vary our walks - one day we may have an easy stroll along the towpath of the Nantes-Brest Canal, another day a more strenuous hike on the moorlands of the Monts D'Arree, though none of these reach over four hundred metres, so they are not too daunting. We particularly enjoy exploring the coastal paths of Brittany, which we can easily reach being in the centre of Finistere. The coast of Brittany varies from wide golden sandy beaches to rugged cliffs and isolated coves - littered with huge granite boulders carved into fascinating shapes by the wind and waves.
What are some of your favourite French varieties of food and drink? Relaxing by the river Ellez, just down the lane
Think of Brittany and you naturally think of crepes and cider. Every town and village has at least one creperie and you will often find food vans selling crepes on the side of the road. For main course, you can have a galette, which is a thin buckwheat pancake. These are usually served with a savoury filling. Pudding comes in the form of a crepe which is made from white wheat flour, filled with, you've guessed it - a sweet filling! My favourite filling is Caramel au Beurre Salé (salted caramel) which is a local speciality. Both galettes and crepes are traditionally accompanied with cider, served in a special bowl or cup.
Of course, with over three hundred miles of coastline, Brittany has to be one of the best places in the world for fresh seafood. My all-time favourite is scallops and I take every opportunity to indulge myself when I see them on the menu. My next favourite seafood is prawns which are always large, fresh and succulent. Just a little squeeze of lemon is required to enhance their flavour.
As for drinks, I like a Kir Breton (cassis and cider) for an aperitif followed by a crisp bottle of Sancerre when I'm having a seafood supper. If we are having something heavier like the traditional Breton dish of Pot-au-feu made with local vegetables, a glass of red goes down well.
What do you miss the most about France when you are not there?
The peace and tranquillity of the countryside. It really is as simple as that. Oh, and the empty roads. It's always a rude shock returning to the UK and getting stuck in a traffic jam.
The gites at Ty Hir and the surrounding area
Everyone's idea of heaven is different. For us, it is escaping to the peace and quiet of the country. Admittedly, the countryside is not always quiet, especially at harvest time but that is part of the appeal for us too. The scent of lavender pervades our terrace in summer
From Ty Hir you can often hear our neighbour's cows lowing, the sheep bleating in the field down the lane, or the sound of the local cockerels greeting the dawn floating across the valley. If the wind is in the right direction, peacocks can sometimes be heard calling urgently to each other at the farm at the back of the cottages.
The view from the Petit Longere to the field next door
Another integral part of rural Brittany are the smells. Fortunately, in the main, these are pleasant like the relaxing fragrance of our lavender plants. These attract a variety of bees as well as the fascinating Hummingbird Hawk-moth
As we tend to take our breaks in Brittany in spring or the autumn, we also have been subjected to the delights of the odours associated with muck spreading. Fortunately, this usually doesn't last long and carrying a sprig of lavender can help mask the smell should the need arise.
View from the kitchen of the Grand Longere
One of the real delights of staying at Ty Hir are the mornings. I love waking up in the Petit Longere
on a bright spring morning to the sound of bird song.
I can enjoy the views over the surrounding fields to the front and side of the gites from the velux window without fear of being spotted in a state of dishabille. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, I will spot a hare or stoat scurrying along the drive.
Having finally dressed and descended the stairs, a leisurely breakfast of freshly brewed coffee and warm croissants (hubby haven arisen first to do the necessary naturally) can be enjoyed on the front terrace which, being south facing, is often bathed in sunshine all day. Circular walk on the doorstep of the gites
For the past two years sparrows have nested in a hole in the front wall of the Petit Longere. They get most indignant when we chose to linger on the terrace, sitting in the conifer opposite scolding us for interfering with their routine. They eventually realise that we really aren't a threat and recommence their frequent trips to the nest. We are lucky to have these cheeky little chappies nesting at Ty Hir as sparrow numbers are in decline in the UK sadly.
River Ellez, just a 5 minute stroll from our holiday cottages
We are fortunate that there is no real need to leave Ty Hir, except to pop to the general store in Collorec for essential supplies or a bit further afield to Huelgoat
or Carhaix to hit the supermarkets
If we are not spending the day working or relaxing in our large garden, we have a lovely walk right on our doorstep, the 'circuit des passerelles, or the 'footpath of wooden bridges'.
The trail is 7.5 km long and crisscrosses the tranquil river Ellez, passing through rolling countryside. Some of our guests have even completed the circuit on our mountain bikes!
Enjoy a glass of wine or your favourite tipple on our terrace
Speaking of the Ellez, we are often quite content just to stroll down the lane to the shallow ford. Here you can have a little splash around in the river or just watch the dragonflies from the bridge or the bank.
From time to time we have glimpsed the iridescent blue flash of a kingfisher fishing. Ragondins (coypu
), sometimes mistaken for an otter until more closely observed, can also be found occasionally. They are considered a pest in France as the were introduced from South America but we still like to see them.
Of course, the best thing of all is enjoying a glass (or two!) of red wine on terrace whilst drinking in the view at the end of the day.
Life's simple pleasures are the best!
À votre santé or yec'hed mat as they say in Brittany!
Map of the Parc Naturel Regional d'Armorique in Brittany
Monts d’Arrée, Finistere, Brittany
The Parc d'Armorique
is the only regional natural park in Brittany. It covers 125,000 hectares and crosses the spine of Finistere from the Ouessant Isles
in the west to Guerlesquin
in the east.
The park protects a mosaic of landscapes from heather clad moorland, mysterious forests, granite tors, a marine park and rugged coasts.
We invite you to discover just a few of the treasures of this very special area.
Monts d’Arrée Pen Hir on the Crozon Peninsular
The Monts d’Arrée
are the highest and oldest hills in Brittany. Some might accuse the locals of a slight exaggeration as they are not exactly mountains in size, nevertheless they provide striking scenery and outstanding views.
Consisting of high open moorland (landes) and peat marshes (tourbières), the Monts d’Arrée run roughly east/west, forming the heart of the Armorican Regional Park. On the one of the hills is a tall signals mast, visible for miles around. The mast was subject to an attack in 1974 by the FLB, a Breton separatist movement. Nearby Roc’h Ruz has recently been established as the highest point at 385.01 m, though the debate with regards to the highest point in Brittany rumbles on.
The Crozon PeninsularLa presqu'île de Crozon View of the Rade de Brest from Pointe des Espagnols
juts out into the Atlantic Ocean like a misshapened finger. The peninsula offers contrasting landscapes, marked by the gentle southern beaches and the wilderness of the dramatic cliffs to the west and north.
Pinewoods offer a southern feel, complemented by many hidden coves and sandy beaches, just waiting to be discovered.
The countryside, characterised by stone walls and thickets is largely agricultural.
Menez Hom, which dominates the skyline at the eastern end of the peninsular, is worth a little diversion from the main route to Camaret-sur-Mer. You can drive straight to the top of the "mountain" from where you will discover unforgettable views over the purple heather along the spine of the Crozon peninsula towards the sea and also uninterrupted views inland towards the Aulne Valley and beyond.
The Rade de BrestThe north coast of the Crozon peninsular is bordered by the Rade de Brest. The Bay of Brest is around Le Présidial, the ancient prison at the center of Guerlesquin
150 square kilometres in total.
A natural harbour, the narrowest part is 1.8 km wide providing a safe navigable passage to the naval base at Brest throughout the year.There are regular ferry crossings from Brest to the Pointe de Espagnols from were you can enjoy coastal walks offering spectacular views across the deep blue harbour.The eastern section of the Bay is fed by numerous estuaries, including the Faou and Aulne rivers. In these atmospheric coastal wetlands you will find mudflats and reed beds which attract a multitude of birds and insects.
Petites Cités de CaractèrePetites Cités de Caractère means small towns of character. There are two of these charming towns within the boundaries of the Parc, Guerlesquin and Le Faou.Guerlesquin lies in the far north east corner of the park. It is a small town with a wealth of fine architecture. Crèmerie in Le Faou
Laid out around a tree lined rectangular square are imposing granite houses from the 15th and 18th centuries. Also known as a "Town of Flowers", the center of the flower festooned square is dominated by the brooding
17th century Présidial, a former prison. At the foot of the building you will find the old grain measuring scales. Opposite the old prison there is a traditional Breton tavern, perfect for sampling some of the fine local beers.
Le Faou Lagatjar alignments, Camaret-sur-Mer
is a small port dating back to medieval times. It is picturesquely set on an estuary on the edge of Bay of Brest. Sailing and windsurfing is available on the river where it widens out to join the sea.
The town has good selection of shops and some excellent bars and restaurants, many housed in 16th century corbelled houses built of shale and granite. A market is held there on the last Saturday of the month.The Maison de la Pays museum, open in high season, has exhibits, photographs and costumes of the area. Churches to visit include Saint Sauveur, with its 16th and 19th century furnishings, the Church of Notre-Dame de Rumengol and the 17th century Chapel of Quai Quélen.
Megalithic Sites Mougau-Bihan alley grave, Commana
There are a large number of megaliths
scattered across the park and Brittany. One of the most impressive of these is the Lagatjar alignments near Camaret-sur-Mer at the end of the Crozon Peninsular.
There are 143 standing stones arranged in three lines on a field on the edge of town. No-one knows the significance of this arrangement.
Montagne St-Michel in the Monts d'Arrée
On the outskirts of the town of Commana
, in the northern section of the park, lies the imposing alley grave of Mougau-Bihan.
This cavernous ‘allée couverte’ is justifiably one of Brittany’s most famous megalithic sites. The stones are in good condition and inside there are several carvings, including one that is supposed to be an axe in relief, and another which is perhaps a ‘Mother Goddess’.
I hope that this has given you a flavour of the Parc Naturel Regional d'Armorique. As you can imagine there is much, much more that I haven't mentioned. Hopefully I have tempted you to come and discover this lovely area for yourself!
Fresh flavoursome prawns on the Bretagne
Ploumanac'h on the Pink Granite Coast, Brittany
Forgive me, I have been remiss, it is over a month since my last post (feels a bit like I'm a little girl confessing to our parish priest!).
We spent a week showing my father the delights of Brittany, in particular Finistere, earlier this month. We are also trying to move house in the UK which has proved rather distracting, as anyone who has been through this protracted process will know, so blogging has been the last thing on my mind!
So, here is a quick update on our latest trip to Brittany. It started with a overnight trip from Portsmouth
with Brittany Ferries
. You can see a photo of the delicious sweet prawns that I had for dinner on the Bretagne
, our favourite ferry.
Clapper bridge over the River Argent, Huelgoat Forest
We picked Dad up from Paimpol
on the coast of Côtes-d'Armor
. He had adventurously travelled there on his own from Amsterdam where he had visited my sister and her family. This was after travelling all the way from Melbourne. It was the first time he had been to Brittany.
It made sense to take Dad for a trip along the unmissable beautiful Pink Granite Coast (Cote de Granit Rose
) as a slight detour on the way back to Ty Hir
We stopped in Ploumanac'h
for lunch, strolling along the Sentier des Douaniers
or old customs footpath from the port to the village centre, each bend revealing spectacular views of the beautiful boulder strewn coast.
The following day we popped into Huelgoat
, picked some baguettes and went for a walk in the magical Forest of Huelgoat
We discovered an old stone clapper bridge which crosses the sparkling river Argent. After a short but strenuous climb uphill we stopped for a picnic at the La Mare aux Sangliers (Wild Boar Pool). We sat munching our baguettes, mesmerized by a crystal stream dashing its way through huge boulders on its way to join the Argent. The only sound we heard was running water and we saw hardly a soul on the whole walk, not even the ghost of King Arthur!
On the Tuesday we set off early to explore the area around Camaret-sur-Mer
on the Crozon peninsular. Dad has a keen interest in WWII and we wanted to take him to the remains of the Atlantic Wall which can be found just outside the town. There is a small museum onsite which unfortunately wasn't open but we were free to wander the site which is extensive. It is littered with German bunkers and gun emplacements over looking treacherous cliffs.
Le mur de l'Atlantique, Atlantikwall or Atlantic Wall, Camaret-sur-Mer
This beautiful windswept setting seems at odds with the terrible battles that must have taken place here, as evidenced by the destroyed buildings and bullet and shrapnel holes. Domaine de Trévarez, Finistere
Georges Delaselle Garden, Ile de Batz
The next day we had some time off, which meant Dad relaxing with a book in the garden while we caught up with some chores - such is the life of owners of property in a foreign country! Not that I'm complaining - luckily I love a bit of gardening and I am winning my war with the blackberries - I swear!
Late in the afternoon we made the 15 minute drive to our closest chateau, Domaine de Trévarez
which lies in the heavily wooded Montagnes Noire. Nicknamed the Pink Castle, for obvious reasons, only a small part of the property is open to the public. The chateau was bombed by the allies during the war and the interior has been left to wrack and ruin, though parts have been restored by the local authority. The main attraction here are the extensive gardens which are famous for their camellias and rhododendrons which were out in force.
Thursday saw us on a ferry for the short trip from Roscoff to the Ile-de-Batz
on the northern coast of Finistere. The island is known for producing fertilizer from seaweed which is used on the crops produced there. We saw a number of boats laden with this sustainable crop.
We took a short easy scenic stroll from the port to the Georges Delaselle Garden
. This exotic garden lies on the coast and give lovely views towards Roscoff over white sandy beaches. It was created in 1897 and contains a collection of rare palms as well as many plants from the Southern Hemisphere. It is quite small and easy to explore in an hour.
One of the highlights of the trip was the appearance of a Fire Salamander in our garden. I've only ever seen a squashed one before so it was great to see this one alive and well - we didn't even know we had them!
Well I hope that you enjoyed the highlights of my father's visit to Brittany, there is lots more that we did and saw but I will save that for a future post - bon week-end!
Any excuse to put the wood burner on!
New garden bench & sun lounger at the Grand Longere
Last week we made a sneaky little trip to Brittany. We decided to make the best of a bad job when the buyers of our property UK let us down. Andy had arranged a few days off in the event of potential move and there was no point in letting them go to waste now was there?
Luckily, I am now able to work from "home" at the gites using the internet
connection that we installed back in March.
Even better, I have a lovely boss who allowed me to work from France at short notice enabling us to spend the best part of a week at the property when I added a couple of days annual leave. Two days saw me working on the computer by the toasty wood burner in the kitchen of the Grand Longere
whilst Andy naturally, was working hard in the garden - perfect!
Once again we managed to pack the Santa Fe to the gunnels. This time the load included a new garden bench and two sun loungers amongst other things! Phare Saint-Mathieu, Finistere
Andy tackled the weeds which seem to spring up every time we leave the gites. We wanted the houses and grounds looking their best, all in readiness for my dad who is coming over from Oz in just over a week (and of course our holiday makers who will be staying in May and June). Hopefully the gites will pass muster now, though another quick round of garden maintenance will no doubt be required when we arrive back in Finistere next week.
Le Cénotaphe de la Pointe Saint-Mathieu
The Friday was an official holiday for me. We planned to get out and about to discover some more sights in breathtaking Brittany. I have long had Pointe Saint-Mathieu
on the west coast of Finistere on my check list of places to visit and this was the perfect opportunity.
The headland of Pointe St-Mathieu is around a half an hour drive from Brest. Here you will find what I think must be one of the most photographed lighthouses in Brittany.
The 56m high lighthouse was built in 1835 amidst the hulking ruins of a medieval abbey. In addition to this, there is a signal station dating from 1906.
Arriving at midday we decided to have our picnic lunch sitting on the cliffs overlooking the calm turquoise Iroise Sea towards the Ushant Isles, watching the gannets diving for their lunch. Pointe St-Mathieu lighthouse, abbey & signal tower
Looming over us was a poignant memorial of a woman in a Breton mourning cap. This cenotaph was built in 1923 to commemorate sailors who were killed during the First World War. It now is dedicated to the memory of all who have lost their lives at sea in the service of France.
After lunch, which included a phone call from our estate agent with an offer on our house much to our delight, we headed east following the coastal trail towards Brest. St Mathieu lighthouse and abbey ruins
The Abbaye Saint-Mathieu de Fine-Terre was built on the edge of 20m cliffs overlooking the Rade de Brest.
It is said that Breton sailors brought the skull of St Matthew from Ethiopia to the Benedictine abbey in the 9th century. A monastery was originally built here in the 6th century but the ruins that you see now date from the 12th and 13th centuries.
The monks used to light a beacon on the point in order to warn sailors of the inhospitable rock strewn coast. This tradition has been continued by the impressive red and white lighthouse which was constructed in the 19th century. At one point is it believed that up to 2,000 people lived on this spot. Pointe St-Mathieu coastal walk, Finistere
The scene of many battles, both internal between different French factions and also with foreign forces, in particular the English, the abbey finally fell into complete ruin after it became state property following the French Revolution, a fate suffered by many other fine religious houses in France.
After wandering around the ruins and being duly awed by their sheer scale we finally set off on the winding coastal path.
We had timed our visit perfectly and thoroughly enjoyed the colourful display of seaside flowers. No botanical garden could better the beauty of nature lining the cliff path. It simply took our breath away.
WWII gun emplacement, Pointe St-Mathieu
A snorkeler foraging off the Brittany coast
The coast here is littered with reminders from when it formed part of the Atlantic Wall
in WWII. 'Le mur de l'atlantique', as it is known in French, stretched 1,670 miles from Norway to the French border with Spain.
Huge concrete bunkers and gun emplacements, some covered with graffiti, are slowly being reclaimed by nature. There are also other defensive towers dating from the Napoleonic wars dotted along the path.
For the birders among you, I was delighted when I identified a small flock of choughs
in a field on the other side of a hedge by their distinctive call alone.
These red billed and legged members of the crow family are a rare sight. It's fair to say I was very chuffed with myself...
We knew that seals and dolphins are often spotted in in this area so we were constantly scanned the seascape.
At one point Andy got quite excited by a dark shape in the water. The blue flippers and snorkel soon gave away the fact that we had discovered the great Breton coastal forager rather than a marine mammal. There were quite a few of them and some had headed a long way off the coast, rather them than me!
Les deux croix or the monks' gibbet, Pointe St-Mathieu
View of the Atlantic Ocean from the coastal path at Pointe Saint-Mathieu
After a thoroughly enjoyable stroll along the Pointe Saint-Mathieu coastal path we rewarded ourselves with some 'formule goûter' which appears to be the French equivalent of afternoon tea, though in our case it was coffee and Far Breton
, a local speciality, for me and gooey chocolate cake for chocoholic Andy.
...and, just in case you were getting worried that we went to Brittany and didn't see any megaliths, a short walk from the village center there was not only one but two christianised standing stones known as the monks' gibbet
No-one knows why they were given this name but it could be because so called justice was literally carried out on this spot in the past - a chilling thought indeed...
So it's 'à bientôt' for now, more updates from beautiful Brittany soon!
The river Aulne at Pont Coblant, Finistere
The Aulne is our closest big river. We try to visit a different part of this majestic waterway each time we are in Brittany. I thought that I would share with you some of the beautiful places along the river that we have discovered during our stays at Ty Hir. Port de Carhaix, Nantes-Brest Canal
Some sections of the river have been canalised as part of the Nantes-Brest Canal. The canal was built by Napoleon in the 19th century after the English blockaded the port of Brest. This was to provide a safe inland passage to the south east of Brittany.
The mighty Aulne is famous for salmon, trout and Allis shad fishing
. If angling is not your bag then the towpath along the canal makes for easy walking and cycling. The river passes through green wooded valleys and pretty towns with plenty of bars and restaurants from where you can drink in the beautiful views.
Port de Carhaix Châteauneuf-du-Faou overlooking the Nantes-Brest Canal
We stumbled upon this tranquil spot quite by accident. The port was created as part of the Nantes-Brest canal in 1830. Once the war with England ended in 1855 the port was used for the transport of local slate, granite and cereals such as buckwheat for which the area is well known.
With the development of the railway the port fell into disuse. The construction of a dam at Guerledan sounded the final death knell for the port. Port de Carhaix lies about 6 kms to the south west of the bustling market town of Carhaix-Plouguer
Perched on a steep hill, the picturesque town of Chateauneuf du Faou
overlooks the meandering canalised Aulne. The towpath here passes through a heavily wooded valley of alders (from which the Aulne takes its name) against a backdrop of the Monts d'Arree
in north and the Black Mountains to the south. At the foot of the hill lies the arched 17th century Pont du Roy. At one end of the new road bridge you is the
Auberge Tal Ar Pont bar where we were entertained by the Good Time Jazz band one Sunday afternoon. On the other side of the river y
ou will find a river-based leisure center that provides boat rentals if you fancy a potter on the water.
Port-Launay Le barrage mobile de Guily-Glaz, Port Launay
This colourful little town lies a few kilometers from the sea. The port was prosperous in the 19th century due to its strategic location at the start of the Nantes-Brest canal. The river bank is lined with pastel coloured merchants and shipowners houses which reflect attractively in the calm waters.
Cimetière des navires de Landévennec, Finistere
Head downstream from the port passing under the impressive twelve arched Viaduc de Guily-Glass. Here you will discover le barrage mobile de Guily-Glaz
The hydraulic barrier was built after floods in 1995 and 2000 devastated the area. The total cost of the project was around €6 million.
There is a fish ladder or 'les passes à poissons' which enables salmon and sea trout to migrate upstream to breed. After the barrier the river becomes tidal and brackish as it makes its final journey towards the Rade de Brest and the Atlantic.
Landevennec Abbaye de Landévennec on the Aulne Estuary
In the last loop of the Aulne, just before it reaches the Rade de Brest, you will find a ship graveyard. Tucked away in the sheltered bend are a number of rusting hulks from the nearby naval base. It is strangely haunting to observe these abandoned boats floating quietly at rest. You can find a great viewpoint over the site in the village of Kerberon which lies a short drive up hill from Landévennec Abbey
The ruins of Abbaye de Landévennec
lie at the mouth of the Aulne estuary. The story goes that St Guénolé walked over water from the nearby isle of Tibidy to found a monastery here. He was believed to help babies learn to walk, as well being able to cure warts and neuralgia.
Attacks by the Vikings in the Dark Ages, the 14th century Breton War of Succession, the French Revolution and subsequent neglect have left us with a picturesque waterside ruin. Here you can let you imagination run free to imagine tonsured Benedictine monks gliding silently by on their way to vespers.
We are off to Brittany next week for a short break. Hopefully we will have a chance discover a few more treasures from the Aulne to share with you in the future.
Pont-Aven, southern Finistere, Brittany
The scenic vistas of southern Finistère in Brittany have inspired some of the world’s finest painters.
The Route des Peintres or Painters' Trail follows landscapes which inspired the French masters Paul Gauguin, Émile Bernard and Paul Sérusier as well as foreign artists such as Robert Wylie, Joseph Bulfield and Meyer de Hann.
They were all members of the so-called Pont-Aven school founded in the late 19th century.
Watermill, Pont-Aven, Finistere
This pretty granite town on the banks of the Aven was once home to 14 water mills, as immortalized in Paul Gauguin's 1888 painting "Les Lavandières" ("The washer-women").
In the 1880s the then small settlement was a refuge for artists from Paris, notably for Gauguin whose name is inextricably linked with Pont-Aven. Here, he met Bernard and Sérusier, and they dedicated themselves to the simplistic style called Synthétisme. The mild climate and the quality of the light was a major attraction to the new artistic community.
The port at Pont Aven, Finistere
The town now attracts around around 50,000 visitors a year who come to enjoy the pretty tea shops and the flower-lined riverside walk which crisscrosses the shallow fast flowing Aven.
A major attraction is the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Pont-Aven
which has a collection of over 1,000 works, many of which represent the School of Pont-Aven. Numerous private art galleries are dotted around the winding streets if you fancy taking your own little bit of Breton art home with you.
Concarneau's Old Ville
’s picturesque walled Old Town, which sits on an island linked to the mainland by a bridge, is renowned artists’ haven. Paul Signac, Alfred Guillou and Edward Emerson Simmons figured among countless painters for whom Concarneau was a draw.
The town is famous for the Fête des Filets Bleus
or the Festival of the Blue Nets which takes place every August. You can see the blue sardine fishing nets drying in the fishing port which is home to the third largest fish market in France.
Ville Close, Concarneau's old town
The atmospheric narrow lanes of the Ville Close bustle with people enjoying locally made ice creams and other treats. The streets are lined with restaurants and bistros specialising in fresh locally caught seafood - unsurprisingly enough!
Pop into the Fishing Museum
for a fascinating insight into this important industry which is still the lifeblood of Concarneau.
If you want more fishy stuff you can take a tour of Maison Courtin
, one of the last functioning sardine canneries, or, visit the Marinarium
, the world's oldest institute of marine biology which was founded in 1859.
Quimper, capital of Finistere, Brittany
The colourful half timbered columbage buildings lining the cobbled streets of the old town justify a visit to Quimper
, but the impressive cathedral and Musée des Beaux Arts
make it unmissable.
The museum has a beautiful 19th century façade and houses a collection of 14th to 21st century paintings, many by local Breton artists. You will also find pieces by Rubens, Boucher and Corot on display.
Quimper at the confluence of the Odet and Steir
Quimper, which lies at the confluence of the Odet and Steir rivers, is the captial of Finistere.
The city is famous for its ceramics, known as Faïence
. This pretty distinctive hand painted pottery features brightly coloured scenes of locals in traditional Breton costume. Faïence has been produced here since 1709 and if you visit the Boutique musée de la faïence
you will find some fine examples of this unique pottery on display.
In the center of town is the market hall which is great for picking up a few local treats. Market days are Wednesday and Saturday. After all this sightseeing you will be ready for a little refreshment. Fortunately Quimper abounds with lots of yummy Salon de Thés as well as a wide variety of cafes and restaurants. Don't miss out on the multi-coloured macarons
which are another Quimperoise speciality.
If you would like to learn more about the places mentioned above then please visit our Cities and Towns
page for more information.
Circuit des passerelles passes over the Ellez river
One of the reasons that we try to visit Ty Hir as often as possible is to enjoy the many lovely local walks.
The French are fanatical about walking
and hiking or randonnée as they call it. You will find miles of well marked trails all over the country.
Finistère is blessed with over 5000 km
of marked paths just waiting to be discovered.
Here are a few of our favourite walks that we would like to share with you.
1. Circuit des passerelles, Collorec
We are very lucky to have a wonderful walk right on the doorstep of Ty Hir
Le circuit des passerelles or the footpath of wooden bridges, is a 7.5 km circular route which wends its way through beautiful rolling countryside. This marked trail can be accessed from the lane which passes in front of our holiday cottages. It crosses and recrosses the amber coloured river Ellez which is only a five minute stroll down the hill from Ty Hir.
We first did this walk with some of our friends on a sunny September afternoon, translating it from French as we went. To make things easier for our guests from the UK we have translated it into English and there are laminated copies in each gite or, you can download it here
A local joins us on the Circuit des passerelles walk near Collorec
One of the furry friendly locals decided to join us on the circuit. Two of our party had to escort her back home when she wouldn't return of her own accord. The best bit of the walk is, of course, when you return home to Ty Hir to enjoy a celebratory glass of wine (or two!) on the terrace. Circuit des Roc’hs, Monts d’Arrée
2. Circuit des Roc'hs, Monts d'Arrée
A short drive from Ty Hir you will find the scenic Le circuit des Roc’hs
. This 14 km hike starts at Plounéour-Ménez and crosses the spine of the Monts d’Arrée, at the heart of the Parc Naturel Régional d’Armorique
The "Monts", or mountains, may make this sound a little daunting but in fact the highest point reaches 385 m so this is not exactly the Alps, though the far reaching views are just as spectacular, providing a panorama of 360 degrees.
Taking a break on the Circuit des Roc'hs in the Monts d'Arrée, Finistere
In the course of the walk you will encounter many impressive granite outcrops, each an excuse to stop and catch your breath while you admire the heather clad moors stretching down to the St Michel Reservoir, or the views north towards Morlaix and Roscoff on the coast. Pointe du Raz Coastal Path on the the Baie des Trépassés
3. Pointe du Raz Coastal PathIf you fancy a coastal route with breathtaking views you'd be hard pushed to surpass the 7.3 km circular walk from Pointe du Raz via the Baie des Trépassés. Pointe du Raz
is France's Land's End, as far west as you can go on the mainland.
By the parking area (fees payable peak season) for the Pointe, you will find cafes and souvenir shops. There is also a local heritage center where you can obtain a mini-guide for
Le Sentier des Lutins or the Elves trail. The trail is especially designed for children and the guide provides information on local flora and fauna
Point du Raz, Finistere, Brittany
From the car park head towards the semaphore tower. Once you have passed the tower the view across the Raz de Sein, a treacherous stretch of water guarded by two light houses, opens up towards the very flat Île de Sein. River Aulne footpath near Landeleau
After you have had your fill of the amazing view (or the wind!) go left to follow the costal path towards the beautiful Baie des Trépassés or Bay of the Dead. Don't worry, if you don't want to do the whole circular walk, there is a short cut back to the car park!
4. 'Kastell Gall' Walk on the River Aulne, Landeleau
Less than a 15 minute drive from the cottages you will find the small town of Landeleau which marks the start of the 18 km Castle Gall
This is another walk that we have translated from French, so we felt it was only fair that we try it ourselves. Fair to say that we took a couple of wrong turnings but never strayed too far from the route - thank goodness! I blame the French instructions meself...
River Aulne near Landeleau, Finistere
Autumnal walk in the Forest of Huelgoat
you quickly descend to a wooded riverside path that follows the slow flowing river Aulne. Aulne in Breton means "alder". We had the trail all to ourselves for duration of the whole walk - talk about relaxing! I wrote about our 'Ramble by the River Aulne' in an earlier blog post which you can read here
5. Huelgoat Forest
Nearby mystical Forêt d'Huelgoat is one of our favourite destinations. We try to visit it each time we are in Brittany, either for a quick peek at the boulder strewn 'Le Chaos de Rochers', which you can easily reach from the center of Huelgoat, or for a longer walk like the lovely leaf scattered hike we did in Autumn.
You can find out more about Huelgoat on our dedicated webpage here
There are plenty of marked circular paths in the forest, long and short, including one that goes out to the old silver mine
where you can still see some of the workings. Click on the link to download this walk in English.
Le ménage de la Vierge or The Virgin’s Household, Huelgoat Forest
Many legends are associated with the Forest, including stories about King Arthur, Princess Dahut and the devil! I wrote about some of these in a blog post last May which you can read here
. The Virgin Mary does her washing up here allegedly...
You can pick up a leaflet which details all of the walking trails in the Forest of Huelgoat from the friendly folk at the Tourist Information
office in the main square in Huelgoat (closed at lunchtimes).
I hope that this post has given you some inspiration. If you wish to find out more about walking and hiking in Finistère please see our Walking, Hiking, Mountain Biking & Cycling
webpage. Bonne randonnée!