Castles and art, boats and golf, southern Brittany has it all!
Take your campervan, your tent or your car to southern Brittany. Find La Roche Bernard, and you've found a little gem. Sop up the atmosphere; sup a little wine - Bon appetit!
Your first sighting will be from the bridge: boats, hundreds of them, glistening on the water of the River Vilaine. Find Camping le Patis, Tel: 0033 (0)2 99 90 60 13, right alongside the river path, and settle down. The manager, Dominic, is a friendly Irish / Frenchman, who speaks English with an accent that will knock your socks off, and the facilities are good, and clean. There are supermarkets within easy reach.
A short walk along the riverbank and you can relax outside your choice of cafe - overlooking the water of course! Have a glass of wine and a snack at the Douanerie bar, order pasta and pizza at Borsalino's, or galettes or moules-frites from Le Petit Marin. Or walk a little further, towards seemingly impenetrable rocks, and they open up to reveal the Old Port. Here you will see more boats - traditional ones - and stone buildings to die for. An old theatre dedicated to Sarah Bernhardt, and still with the original pew seats, is now the shabby-chic Le Sara B bistro with live music at weekends. Le Sara B has that certain something, a touch of class, and offers good home cooking at reasonable prices. Nearby, Bar Le Yackham's is the haunt of the younger more boisterous set.
If it's cosier accommodation you're after, then it's up the hill to the old town, to the cobbled square of Place du Bouffay. The inn Auberge des Deux Magots Tel: (0)2 99 90 60 75 is not, be assured, to do with creepy crawlies, but with two famous monkeys of an earlier time. Almost next door, with a big balcony overlooking the square, is a comfortable b&b Les Artisans. Tel: 0033 (0)2 99 90 75 53 The owners, who are French and English, are on hand to make you feel at ease. We've billeted friends with Les Artisans, always with good reports. Le Manoir du Rodoir Tel: 0033 (0)2 99 90 82 68, is a 19th century manor house, almost completely covered in ivy, and set in a century old oak tree park. It's outdoor heated swimming pool makes for a completely relaxing break, and it is just a short walk from the town.
When you're ready to explore further, make for Rochefort en Terre; your camera will be working overtime! It's a medieval town, has kept its character, and makes the most of it's flower displays in summer. 'Chocolate box' best describes it, but admire the 16th and 17th century residences, detailed carvings on old oak doors and the swinging signs from a by- gone age. Now dedicated to loosening your purse strings in the nicest possible way, Rochefort is stuffed with potteries, art galleries and up-market souvenirs. Wait at the pie shop, where a tall-hatted chef will be tending the ovens, and then browse the confectionary emporium...... that's lunch sorted!
The present 'chateau' is the 17th century outbuildings of the original, turned into a manor house at the beginning of the 20th century, by American artist Klots.
La Gacilly has an outstanding outdoor photographic art exhibition in July, August and September. Huge photos depicting life in different parts of the world are arranged in a sort of maze, and some are attached to local houses. It's entirely free to just wander around; but the town is hoping for trade. Sip a pint at the pub, browse, or stop for lunch and it's all worthwhile.
Everyone loves a chateau! There's a stunner at Missillac. Visit for coffee or lunch in the grounds, or, for a special occasion, have dinner at the hotel, upwards of 56 euros plus wine at the Montaigu restaurant. Chateau de la Bretesche is private, but the stables are converted to very up-market accommodation, room rates from 260 to 450 euros per night in high season.
The grounds are now home to a nine hole golf course. Visitors can stroll in the park by the lake, (away from the golfers, of course). At the club facilities you can order anything from coffee, or a plate of sandwiches to a substantial repast.
The sea is everywhere in this area. Inlets and coves are there for you to discover. Beaches will be small and secluded, large flat rocks more than sand. There is plenty of sand at Penestin, though, and, like the rest of the places mentioned, less than thirty minutes drive from your hub at La Roche Bernard.
An area as impressive as this has attracted British and other tourists; consequently most French locals speak a little English. A good tip: learn a couple of French phrases - excusez-moi and s'il vous plait are a good start. Be prepared to feel foolish and the French will reciprocate, they have a great sense of humour! You are, after all, in France - and you're going to love it!
For a super longer holiday, combine this with my guide 'Exploring the Brittany and Loire Atlantique border.' Guerande is only 30 minutes drive away!.