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!
Winter spectacles in Brittany
We recently enjoyed a long weekend break at our gites in Brittany. We're quite keen birdwatchers, though, please note, not Twitchers! We've been lucky enough to see the spectacle of starlings flocking in winter in the UK but not thus far in France.
On the first evening of our stay we could hear "chattering" outside the front of the Grand Longere gite. We were pleasantly surprised to see hundreds of starlings in our trees obviously getting ready to roost. I managed to get a quick photo before the murmuration set off over the hill. A task on the next visit is to find the actual roost and hopefully observe the huge flocks forming fantastic shapes in the winter sky.
What to do on a wet day in Finistere
The weather in Finistere is much the same as that in southern England so a little rain is to be expected at this time of year. The question was, what to do on a wet day in Brittany in January?
We plumped for a day trip to Quimper, the lovely columbage captial of Finistere which is a fifty minute drive from Ty Hir.
We arrived just after 12 noon which meant, as is still normal in much of France, everything was shut until 2pm except cafes and restaurants. Dodging the raindrops we headed to the Au Bon Vieux Temps Salon de Thé overlooking the river Steir and treated ourselves to a tasty lunch.
After lunch we made for the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Quimper which can be found in the main square, just across from the cathedral. The art gallery was created in 1864 following the bequest of an art collection to the town by Count Jean-Marie de Silguy. The condition of the donation was that a museum be built to house the collection. Below I have described a few of the highlights of our visit.
The Flight of King Gradlon - Évariste Vital Luminais
This large painting captures your attention as you enter the first room of the exhibition. It represents a story of King Gradlon and his daughter Dahut.
The 'Fuite de Gradlon' was painted in 1884 by Évariste Vital Luminais. He was born in Nantes which was the capital of Brittany for hundreds of years.
Gradlon was the ruler of the legendary city of Ys, purported to lie in the Bay of Douarnenez off the Crozon Peninsular. His beautiful daughter Dahut lead a cruel and depraved life but her father was blind to her faults. The city lay below sea level on an island and was accessed by a gate. Dahut yielded to the advances of the Devil and gave him the keys to the gate which he opened and water poured into the doomed city. The king tried to save his daughter, but God speaking through the mouth of Saint-Guénolé ordered him to drop Dahut shouting three times "The demon is behind you!" The unhappy father obeyed and the waves subsided.
Washerwomen of the Night - Yan' Dargent
D'Argent painted his interpretation of the legend of the 'Les Lavandieres de la nuit' in 1861.
The story goes that if you visit the bog of Yeun Elez in the centre of Finistere on the night of a full moon, you may encounter the washerwomen of the night. These ghostly figures beseech unwary travellers to help them wring out their shrouds.
If an unsuspecting victim should spin a shroud in the wrong direction, the washerwomen wind it around their body, wringing them until all they are dead. You have been warned!
Le Port de Quimper - Eugène Boudin
Quimper, pronounced Campere, is the departmental capital of Finistere. It is picturesquely situated at the confluence of the Odet and Steir rivers. Its name is derived from the Breton word ‘Kemper’, meaning the confluence of two rivers.
This ancient capital of La Cornouaille (the southern part of Finistere) was painted by Eugène Boudin in 1857. Boudin was a mentor and friend of Claude Monet. I think that you can see how he influenced the style that came to be known as Impressionism. The painting shows the Cathédrale Saint-Corentin de Quimper overlooking the old port of Quimper which was established by the Romans.
La Chapelle de la Joie à Penmarc'h - Lucien Simon
This atmospheric oil painting was painted in 1913 by Lucien Simon. Simon came from Paris and discovered Brittany when he married the sister of a local artist.
The scene shows the burning of seaweed. This was an important industry in Brittany in the 19th century as it provided fertiliser which was used in the production of crops such as cabbages and artichokes.
You can still find coffin shaped seaweed ovens (four au goémon) dotted around the coast of Brittany. Finistere is France's top producer of seaweed. It is used in spa treatments, as cattle-fodder and served up in some local restaurants as a Breton speciality.
Hôtel de l'Epée - Jean-Julien Lemordant
The Lemordant Hall can be found at the heart of the museum. On display are 23 traditional Breton scenes. These were painted by Jean-Julien Lemordant to decorate the dining rooms of the Hôtel de l'Epée in Quimper between 1906 and 1909.
This panel shows men and women gathering seaweed. The hotel closed in 1973 and the paintings were donated to the museum. The specially designed hall was not created until the museum was expanded in 1993, finally allowing these delightful paintings to be shown in context once again.
A snip at only 5 euros per person, a visit to this museum of beautiful art in Quimper is highly recommended. The collection is surprisingly large and includes a section dedicated to local writer and painter Max Jacob. Allow at least a couple of hours, longer if the rain won't go away...
A modern chateau in a classic style in Finistere
Over a century ago a "pink" castle was built in Trévarez near Saint-Goazec on the slopes of the Montagnes Noires. It gets its nickname from the red brick which was used for its construction.
The chateau was built for James Kerjégu between 1894 and 1904 replacing an earlier 17th century building.
Unfortunately he died shortly after its completion.
The château was equipped with all the latest innovations: electricity, central heating, telephone, lifts etc. There are 44 bedrooms are served by four staircases.
A hidden treasure in the black mountains of Brittany
The chateau can be found in the heart of the Black Mountains which lie to the south of Châteauneuf-du-Faou. The highest "peak" only reaches 330m so mountains is a slight exaggeration but we are happy for forgive this bit of local folklore.
To reach the castle from the main entrance, you pass the magnificent stables where free exhibitions are held often featuring local artists. You will find a gift shop in the foyer.
Rooms open to the public at Trévarez
The chateau was seriously damaged by Allied bombing in 1944, unfortunately after the Germans had moved on so it was all for naught.
The estate was acquired by the county council of Finistere in 1968 after suffering years of neglect. They have implemented a restoration program and a few rooms are now open to the public. Some of these can be seen in an unrestored state. The shop staff will happily provide an iPad to guide you through the faded grandeur and fine craftsmanship on show.
The gardens at Trevarez
The estate at Trevarez covers over 447 acres. The best time to visit is in spring to enjoy the colourful displays of azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias which can be found in the extensive gardens surrounding the chateau. There are over 300 varieties of these shrubs for you to enjoy.
Also to be enjoyed are marked trails leading to fountains, ponds, pools, natural woodlands, open grassland rich with wildflowers and English style gardens. A chapel lies at the foot of valley overlooked by the chateau.
Camellia Festival at Trevarez
Since 1997 Trevarez has housed a national collection of camellias, one of the largest in France.
In early spring the chateau plays host to the "Trevarez en camelia" festival. Beautiful blooms abound and you will find activities for children on offer as well as talks and workshops on the planting and propagation of camellias.
Trevarez is our closest chateau being only a 15 minute drive from the holiday cottages at Ty Hir in Finistere. The park is open throughout the year and admission is free. Check the on the Domaine de Trévarez website for details of opening times and exhibitions. In the stable yard you will find a cafe serving food and drink, a great way to finish your visit.
What is a 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 saints
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We recently returned from another working trip to Brittany which I will write about in a future post.
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
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
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
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 blog
Jenny writes about the about the renovation project that she and her partner John have taken on in Huelgoat.
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 estate agents.
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.
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.The view from the Petit Longere to the field next door
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.
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.View from the kitchen of the Grand Longere
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.
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.River Ellez, just a 5 minute stroll from our holiday cottages
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!
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.Enjoy a glass of wine or your favourite tipple on our terrace
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
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.Monts d’Arrée, Finistere, Brittany
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’ArréePen 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 PeninsularView of the Rade de Brest from Pointe des Espagnols
La presqu'île de Crozon 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 BrestLe Présidial, the ancient prison at the center of Guerlesquin
The north coast of the Crozon peninsular is bordered by the Rade de Brest. The Bay of Brest is around 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 CaractèreCrèmerie in Le Faou
Petites 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.
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 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.Lagatjar alignments, Camaret-sur-Mer
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 SitesMougau-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.
On the outskirts of the town of Commana, in the northern section of the park, lies the imposing alley grave of Mougau-Bihan.Montagne St-Michel in the Monts d'Arrée
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!