Discover Central Brittany, by Lorrie Rickett
What do you know about Central Brittany? It’s a fair bet that it’s not a lot! No surprise that foreign visitors are in the dark though, when many Bretons who visit here for the first time in their lives and are amazed at what is on offer.
So what is available?
There is everything to appeal to lovers of the outdoors, peace and quiet, history, Celtic culture, and friendly, welcoming people. If you love good wholesome natural food and drink there is plenty to choose from and if you have a sweet tooth, so much the better. Try crepes, cider, goats cheese, tasty sausages, venison, caramels, Far Breton, sweet strawberries, organic vegetables, butter, biscuits, and even Breton whisky and beers.
From the wild flowers of spring to the mushrooms of autumn and winter, the glories of the forests and lakes, and glimpses of wildlife such as red squirrels, wild boar, deer and buzzards, you can add other free pleasures such as swimming in the Lac De Guerledan, climbing, mountain biking and fossil hunting. So, you should have plenty of holiday money left for drinks at the local bar where you can meet some of the regulars, play darts, and practice your French or perhaps Breton. Central Brittany is the perfect getaway for leaving the stress of your everyday life far behind and enjoying a cosy, romantic gite or B+B.
Sainte Brigitte, on the edge of the Foret de Quenecan is a typical small village in a rural heartland. The pretty little church dates from the 15th century with 19th century additions and is a simple wood and stone building with dragon mouths carved on the ends of the beams and, of course, the statue of Sainte Brigitte herself - whether her origins are the pagan Brigit, Irish Brigide or Bride, or the Roman Catholic Swedish queen Saint Brigitte. Every July, the statue and banners are paraded with singing to the fontaine (spring) where a feu de joie is lit for the traditional Pardon. Pardons are the days when sins were forgiven, and each of the chapels and churches in Brittany has its own fete day.
Out and about, you will find castles, tucked away chapels, pretty stone villages, calvaries carved with saints and strange creatures and always there are flowers. Try the tow-paths of the nearby Nantes-Brest canal to walk the dog, cycle, stroll or even ride your horse, if you choose.
If you enjoy something livelier, try a Fest Noz with dancing and drinking though the night, or the daytime version, the Fest Deiz, but don’t underestimate the Breton dancing. The old folks don’t seem to move a great deal, but tunes last for about 10 minutes at a time and the dancing can be truly exhausting for newcomers. In fact, dancing and music is very much a part of Breton life and folk fans will recognise many familiar British tunes which share the Celtic heritage.
Pontivy (bridge of Saint Ivy), is one of the attractive towns which are a delight for tourists. It boasts the River Blavet at its heart, the impressive 15th century castle of the Ducs de Rohan, the winding medieval roads with their boutiques and restaurants and the contrasting Georgian-style architecture of Napoleon’s administrative and military base which he named Napoleonville. Pontivy has a market on Mondays, a bowling alley, cinema and even a huge Lido style outdoor swimming pool in July and August. Among neighbouring villages, you will find the dolmen known as the Grotto of the Fairies looking out across the whole Cleguerec region, and the huge rock, the Breuil de Chene, formed by the last foothills of the Monts d’Aree. You can also find 14 monoliths dressed to represent the Stations of the Cross and leading to a splendid panorama towards Pontivy. Silfiac has the Quenouille du Diable, seven metres high and one of the most remarkable menhirs in Central Brittany. The Lac De Guerledan itself is a reservoir formed by the creation of a hydro-electric barrage. It covers more than 3,000 hectares, has a walkway round it 40km long and countryside which is known as Little Switzerland and equally reminiscent of England’s Lake District. There are beaches too, swimming, boating, fishing, and some bars and restaurants, as well as the chance to take an evening dinner cruise across the lake.
The Foret de Quenecan which is the second largest in Morbihan and includes deciduous and pine trees. It is open to the public with many trails for cycles, horses and walkers although paths are controlled in the hunting season. Managed by the Du Pontavice family, the forest is also a wintering zone for water birds and nearly seventy species of birds nest here. Beside the canal, river and lock gates, the Abbey de Bon Repos is a picturesque 12th century Cistercian ruin which has seen wealth, power and tragedy and is now being restored by a charitable organisation. It holds a stunning Son et Lumiere with 400 amateur actors and 100 horses in August every year.
Another fascinating historical site between Sainte Brigitte and the abbey, Les Forges Des Salles is an 18th and 19th century iron working village of the same style as the Bournville village in England, which once combined industry, housing and school. The setting is fabulous, terraced on one side of the hill, with three lakes, 30 restored buildings, gardens and chateau. If you would like to linger, they now have tree house accommodation and wooden cabins on stilts at their lake, just one example of the imaginative attractions now to be found in Central Brittany.