Undiscovered destinations in the western part of Brittany
I am going to let you in on an insiders’ secret. There is uncharted territory in la vieille France, where you can be with the natives (or at least other Europeans), where you can be seen as exotic for being American, and where, yes, it’s less expensive than the usual touristy gathering spots (where you end up seeing your old neighbours from New Jersey anyway).
Many Americans are familiar with northern Brittany, which includes Dinard, and St. Malo. It’s beautiful up there; with rock-strewn beaches under tremendous cliffs, over which huge mansions perch. You may not see the neighbors from New Jersey there, but you’ll see the ones from Nantucket and the Hamptons.
If you really want to get away, you can try my neck of the forêt. This place is southern Brittany. Few Americans venture to this corner of Brittany. Is it because of the lack of mansions, or that here, you may need your high school French (or your recently acquired Berlitz equivalent) to get by? I’m not sure what keeps you away, but I’m here to vendre la mêche, as we say (let the cat out of the bag). There are great deals to be had here, not to mention a more “authentic” European holiday.
You know how when you go to Paris, you sense the French cringing… “ah non, pas encore, another American!” Here, you will be unique, or mostly unique. Which means that you will be treated better. Which of course means a better vacation for you and yours. You will not hear people with your accent, though you may hear English. You will be able to truly say “Toto, I don’t think we’re in New Jersey/Nantucket/the Hamptons anymore”. And believe it.
We have sandy beaches with rugged paths to explore along their edges. We have miles of endless fields with endless cows. There are no mansions, but there is a real artist’s colony (with real artists!) set upon winding cobblestone streets and restaurants overlooking a babbling stream.
There are tiny towns that line the miles of shore, and others tucked away in the countryside. You will find brocantes, which are big, inexpensive flea markets, in back of dairy farms that will sell you fresh goat cheese. There are rivers where you can rent a canoe or rowboat. And of course there is the ocean on the bay of Quiberon, where there are tiny (and not so tiny islands) only accessible by boat.
You can camp or rent a "gîte" (cottage) on the Ile de Groix, and rent a personal sailboat to hop around. There are fishing expeditions; there are mysterious and ancient ruins in Carnac…bref, there is something for everyone, whether you are more the shopping-lie-on-the-beach landlubber type, or the boating-fishing-surfing-live-like-the-natives rugged type.
I’ll let you in on another secret. They are calling our area of France the “next Riviera”. Why? Because the south of France has become so crowded in recent years, and gets so overly hot in the summer, that many Europeans have ditched it for the same sandy beaches we have up here (without those 20 euro-an-hour “beach clubs” they have down in St Croix). Yes, the beaches here are still free.
I, however, live in a town called Lorient, which I give you permission to skip. During the Second World War, many towns with military bases on the water were destroyed completely, and rebuilt circa 1950. Have you been inspired recently by 1950’s architecture? Maybe so, but it’s not a reason to come to France. The only reason to come to Lorient is if you’re a fan of Celtic and Breton music.
In the mid-summer, there is a huge international festival, lasting ten days, that brings in thousands of fans from the entire world. If that’s your thing, then you’ll love it. You will hear our accent though, but these will be the hippie/Woodstock/crunchy-granola/pagan-peace-lover types, probably not from Nantucket. I myself try to get out of town at this time of the summer. People start to think I’m a tourist. The nerve.
Kenavo (good-bye in Breton), and à bientôt!
Article credit: article by Cara Goubault, an American expat, English business coach and freelance writer living in Lorient, France with her husband and three children.