1. Megalithic Sites in 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 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
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
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
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!
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
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.
I hope that this has whetted your appetite to come and explore fascinating Finistere.
There is something for everyone!