Welcome to our Brittany Blog
Wednesday, 9th September 2020
A working coastal town, maybe a city, it is certainly big enough. I like it. Everything is big. Huge industrial plant line the docks, massive cranes are working everywhere, diggers, building sites, regeneration on an enormous scale.
During the Second World War, the Germans built a huge dry dock which held, restocked and repaired their submarines. With fifteen submarine pens it was a massive engineering project which took 140,000 cubic metres of concrete. The British were very keen to destroy these pens but the German submarines were protected by a 3.5 meter thick concrete roof which protected them from British bombs. Reinforcement of the roof would continue throughout the war, always counteracting the technical progress that the Allies make regarding bombardment.
Unable to penetrate the concrete roof of the submarine pens the Allies turn to Saint Nazaire’s town centre. On the night of February 15th/16th 1942, Saint-Nazaire’s town centre is bombarded for the first time. During the following year life for its inhabitants quickly becomes unbearable and by 1st March all that is left of the town is a immense field of rubble, completely deserted, in the middle of which stands the massive silhouette of the submarine base, intact.
We head for the docks. The submarine pens are still there. Immense. We are blown away by the size and the sheer mass of reinforced concrete. We freely wonder through these submarine pens.
We then stumble across Escal’Atlantic. There is a ticket office and nothing else. What is it? No idea. We buy tickets and climb a gangplank. We are suddenly in the Normandie. We are in a true reconstruction of the Normandie Cruise Liner, built in 1935. For the next two hours we traveled through time and discovered what life was like on board the Normandie in 1935.
We will return to Saint Nazaire.
Tuesday, 25th August 2020
Jardins de Brocéliande
These large gardens near Rennes, about 30minutes drive from our gites. The gardens contain specialised plant collections such as the French national iris collection. In addition, there’s a variety of landscapes to explore, all with their own specialised plants. The plants are well tended and are (thankfully!) labeled up so you know what you`re looking at. There are also a lot of gardeners at work who are more than happy to chat to you about the plants.
There are also lots of activities for children, but I think the adults enjoy them as much (if not more!) than the children!
I also love the barefoot walk, which, as it says is a walk for about 20 minutes without shoes on. The walk is designed to ‘wake up your sense of touch’ and you will walk over a 100 different surfaces.
There is also a ‘Blindfolded walk’ where you walk around a circuit wearing, surprisingly a blindfold!
The treetop walk and the 'clouds of water' are also excellent!
Friday, 14th August
Mont Saint Michel
Mont Saint Michel is a little island just a kilometre off the northwestern coast. The island has held strategic fortifications since the 8th century and has been and I think still is a monastery. The structural composition of the town is a great example of feudal society. On the top, God, then the abbey, then the monastery. Below them, the great halls and housing and then at the bottom outside of the city walls houses for fishermen and farmers.
Mont Saint Michel is one of France’s most popular landmarks and as a World Heritage Site it attracts more than 3 million visitors a year.
Over the last 10 years €209m has been spent on the access to Mont Saint Michel. Previously this island was accessed by a tidal causeway, which is basically a path that can be used at low tide. Since then a hydraulic dam, a bridge and a new car park have been constructed.
I’m sure the hermit, who originally settled on this island in the 6th century did not anticipate that his little island the have so much history attached to it and would cause so much interest!
Sunday, 2nd August 2020
Chateau de la Bourbansais
Yesterday we visited La Bourbansais, just north of Rennes in Southern Brittany.
A fantastic place, a zoo set in the grounds of a chateau. I am usually not keen on zoos, large animals kept in concrete compounds seems very cruel. At La Bourbansais the animals have large areas to roam, there isn’t any concrete and fences are kept to a minimum, the animals are housed on islands. The ‘moats’ surrounding their islands prevents them from escaping!
Not only are there all the animals you would expect, lions, tigers, energetic gibbons, screeching monkeys, pacing wolves, sleep panthers, grumpy camels and leggy giraffes but there is also a spectacular chateau. The chateau is still lived in by a family today, and it is nice to see their children’s bikes discarded in the courtyard and a their sullen teenaged son throwing a basketball through a hoop which has been secured to the chateau wall! Parts of the chateau are open to the public and it is well worth a visit.
There are also shows throughout the day. We watched the giraffes having ‘afternoon tea! A show demonstrating the hunting skills of big birds such as eagles, falcons and big owls. Amazing.
Saturday 25th July 2020
Les Machines de L’Île, Nantes
Les Machines de l’île is a totally unprecedented project. It is completely unique. It is the only place where you’ll find Jules Verne’s “Invented Worlds,” and the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci.
Some strange machines populate the Île de Nantes. First it was just the Grand éléphant, now a Manta Ray, a Sea Snake and of all kinds of incredible machines join the Grand Elephant. These uncommon machines were created by François Delaroziere and Pierre Orefice.
All of the machines are built in full view of the public. The two designers also chose to put the entire creative process on display, from the very first sketches drawn by François Delarozière. The materials are all in their natural state, and the mechanisms are all visible. The building process can be seen for all the sculptures, whether they are made from steel or wood.
Being able to watch the machines being created in the workshop enhances this unprecedented tour / performance and this makes it both entertaining and educational.
The machinists bring the machines to life and explain how the mechanisms work and how they were developed. During the tour / performance the Machines periodically awaken, suddenly turning into animals or monsters.
The Grand elephant is 12m high and is made out of 48 tons of steel and wood. Several times a day, you can climb abord the elephant and enjoy a 30 minute elephant ride! I would recommend that you book the elephant ride in advance.
Les Machines de l’Île can be enjoyed by all generations and is perfect for the whole family. I actually think that the parents enjoy these machines more than the children!
Friday, 17th July 2020
Car museum, Lohéac.
If cars are your thing, then this is definitely the place for you!.
And, if you aren’t really that interested in cars, this is a very interesting museum. I do not know a thing about cars, but I quite happily spent 3 hours looking at them!.
This is one of the finest museums in Europe dedicated to the history of the automobile. 15,000 m2 of exhibition space in a seventeenth-century mansion. More than 400 vehicles (including 30 horse-drawn vehicles, 50 motorcycles and bicycles) of all types, ages and nationalities, illustrate a century of automobile.
There are rooms and rooms full of old F1 and Le Mans cars. If racing is your thing, then for one day each month, the race track is open and you can race your own car!
The car museum at Lohéac also hosts an annual car flea market with over 400 exhibitors. Car enthusiasts gather to admire the cars on display, buy sought after car and motorcycle parts, reduced car models, toy cars, books… anything really that is car related!.
There are also demonstrations on the circuit.
Thursday, 9th July 2020
Rochefort-en-Terre is a designated “Petite Cité de Caractère”.
Rochefort was put on the map in the early 20th century after a wealthy French-born American painter called Alfred Klotz bought the local château in 1907. Dating back to the 12th century, the château was destroyed by Republicans in 1793 and only the façade remains; the current building was constructed by Klotz. His son Trafford Klots inherited the chateau and continued to paint there and entertain other visiting artists. After his death his wife donated the building to the French government.The château is open from May to September and houses some of Klotz’s paintings as well as a collection of objects from rural life in times past.
In the grounds of the chateau there is a museum dedicated to an early twentieth century witch who lived in the town. It houses a small collection of fantasy and kinetic art and sculpture.
Klotz encouraged the local residents to dress their houses with geraniums, a tradition which continues, leading to Rochefort winning many awards for being one of France’s most beautiful villages in bloom.
The best way to explore Rochefort is to wander around its attractive streets admiring the mix of architectural styles, which range from 16th-century half-timbered buildings like the Café de la Pente to symmetrical stone-built Renaissance structures like the Post Office in Rue Notre Dame de la Tronchaye.
From April to September, the streets are illuminated from dusk until midnight.
As you’d expect from a ‘little town of character’ with an arty past, the streets are dotted with artists and craftspeople: potters, a candle maker, a toymaker… but don’t leave town without visiting one of the artisan biscuit makers like Le Rucher Fleuri in Rue du Porche, which is highly regarded throughout the region for its pain d’épices. Whichever shop you visit look upwards: Rochefort is known for its unusual and colourful signs.
It was therefore not a surprise when in 2016, Rochefort-en-Terre was voted « Village préféré des Français ».