It was July 30, the first day of my awaited holidays. One of the perks of working in France is that your working place may be closed and thus you may be forced to take your days off during summer. I got two weeks. I wasn’t very enthusiastic due to deadlines and also because I just took a trip to Crete on June. After some considerations, Bretagne popped into discussion. First was because the furthest I’ve been in Bretagne was Nantes; and second was after several trash-talks, I fell in love with the idea of doing a biking trip. By bike I mean bicycle here.
But I had been having constant pain when I biked and just a week before the trip started I experienced an agonizing pain even when I walked. It wasn’t that I would do a full trip on bike, it was planned , from the beginning, to be a bike-train combination trip, but with my pain, concerns arose that I might need to abandon the idea completely. I, however, rejected all reasons and insisted on bringing my bike.
I bought a knee support that I only tried once before the trip. It eased the pain although not completely. Well at least for a short distance it would be okay.
This was, in a way, the most unprepared trip I’ve done. Since I didn’t know how long my knee would support the bike, I didn’t book anything apart from the return train tickets Grenoble-Nantes and the hotel for the first and the last night.
Did I mention camping? Yes, the only solution to avoid high season prices for accomodation, especially when detailed itenerary’s not confirmed. Note that it was summer and Bretagne rests touristic even at camping, so finger-crossed.
About Bretagne and the trip
Bretagne, or Brittany in english, is a region in the northwest of France. I will stick with Bretagne since Brittany remains me about Great Britain, which is in fact can be referred as Little Britain. I won’t go too much into details since you can go to any wiki site, but it is important to notice that Bretagne has been evolving from an independant kingdom to a duchy to a part of french kingdom then a province and now a region.
It speaks the local Breton in addition of the national french language.
It has now four departments: Côtes-d’Armor, Finistère, Ille-et-Vilaine and Morbihan. The Loire-Atlantique used to be part of the region before now belong to the Pays de la Loire region.
My trip can be summarized as: Grenoble-Rennes-Mont Saint Michel- Saint Malo-Saint Brieuc-Roscoff-Brest-Quiberon-Vannes-Nantes-Grenoble.
Now some of you must noticed that Nantes and Mont Saint Michel are not part of Bretgane. However, Nantes is part of Loire-Atlantique that used to be part of Bretagne, and with the present of the castle of the Duke of Bretagne, it is no doubt that Nantes would always be part of the historical Bretagne. As Mont Saint Michel is an island of Normandy region, but due to the close distance with Bretagne does have lot of Bretagne influences.
I will break down the trip into four parts:
1. Ille-et-Villaine: Rennes, Mont Saint Michel(not in the department), and Saint Malo;
2. Côtes-d’Armor: Saint Brieuc; and Finistère: Morlaix, Roscoff, Landivisiau, Landerneau, Brest, and Quimper;
3. Morbihan: Auray, Quiberon, and Vannes;
4. Loire-Atlantique: Nantes.
I. Rennes, Mont Saint Michel, and Saint Malo.
It was a saturday. It was predicted that the majority of french would start their holidays and road traffic seemed to be the worst of the year. For us, the first day was train, train, train, and train. To go from Grenoble to Rennes took us 10 hours of train. Since we had our bike, we couldn’t take the high speed train and were obliged to take the intercity and the regional trains.
Since we planned to move also by bike we couldn’t bring too much stuff with us. Basically, I could only fill two bags that are attached to my bike and a backpack. They were full already with my sleeping bag, matress, and two bottles of cooking gas. Philippe had the tent. I could only few clothes and a towel before the bags got full.
Sartre’s le diable et le bon dieu accompanied me during the train trip. From Grenoble to Rennes we had to change the train twice. First in Lyon and second in Tours. Lyon to Tours took six hours alone. It passed by five to six small stops. The train was not full despite the awaiting crowd. Few additionals people got inside at the small stops, mostly old ladies.
In Tours we had an hour, enough time to visit the town, but not enough to elaborate about it; Tour à Tours, said Philippe. The essentials of Tours was the Musée des beaux-arts that is located in the bishop’s former palace, just beside the cathedral St. Gatien. An exceptionally huge libanesse cidre tree. The branches were big and fat they need supports as not to break. The cathedral St. Gatien was with a splendid and detailed vitraux works. I couldn’t observe more in detail.
North of the cathedral was the castle, just in front off the Loire river. Last time I saw Loire was when I visited Afifa in Orléans.
One hour passed and we took our train to Rennes. Rennes is also known as portes de Bretagne due to its centralized location that offers road to any direction in Bretagne. It’s like Paris in Bretagne scale. Arriving at the train station, they had lot of public works going. This is normal in France during summer holidays. According to François, that we met later, they were preparing a rail for Rennes-Paris high speed train. The station was covered with a lot of steel frames and plateforms. This also covered the view towards the big hall in front off the station, where our hotel was.
It was a saturday afternoon but the area close to the station was empty and dead. I had no intention of leaving my bike outside the hotel and insisted on taking it with me to my room.
After ten hours of train I was tired and hungry. And Bretagne is famous for its crêpes, salted caramel, and a lot of buttery goodness stuffs. Oh and ciders! don’t forget ciders! So first stop was a crêperie. The poor guy was alone since the workers were on holidays. We waited for about an hour, which I don’t normally tolerate but had no intention of changing place.
There are two kinds of crêpes, the savoury one made of buckwheat flour and the sweet one made of normal wheat flour. A complete meal would be a savoury crêpe that is also known as galette, and a sweet crêpe for dessert. The menu was somehow modernized. I got myself a magret de canard galette with a salted caramel crêpe and a cider. The galette was good and crispy. the duck breasts were cut thinly with addition of sweet sour sauce-pineapple-zucchinis. The crêpe was okay but the salted caramel was heaven.
We walked around the St George palace where pokemon hunters were gathered. The mayor place is located face to face to the opera. A concave-convex buildings, said François. The city center includes also the main and medieval streets.
The next day we visited the cathedral and place de lyces.
And there.. was the “rue de la soif” that Philippe had been looking for the previous evening. So rue de la soif literally translated to the thirst street, basically the place to get drunk. It was sunday morning, and we found remaining corpses everywhere from the night before.
We met up with François, who used to study in Grenoble and now is on holidays at his hometown Rennes. Now I know the annual struggle that François had to deal every holidays to go home. We got a drink and caught up with life.
Aroun 2pm we took our train to Pontorson and biked for about 8km before we arrived in Mont Saint Michel. We headed directly to our camp and set up our tent. Mont Saint-Michel is a small island that used to served as a sanctuary in honor of the archangel Saint Michel. In the 10th century, the abbey was built on the center of this mountain-island as well as a village in the lower surrounding. During the 100 years war the site resisted all assaults thanks to its fortifications and ramparts. It was then used as a prison up to 1863 before becoming a historical monument in 1874.
To go to the island, we had to pass by the route du mont saint michel that is closed for vehicules except if you stay the night there. I was surprised to find the campground inside this “exclusive” complex since the camping was surrounded by three four five star hotels. We spent about 22€ for a camping night as the hotels cost at least 100€. Restaurants and supermarket can also be found on site.
Not long time ago the visit to Mont Saint Michel depended on the tide since it was a separated island. They recently build a connecting bridge to solve this inconvenient. Free shuttle bus was on our disposal to move around this site. In fact only the shuttle bus was allowed to pass through the bridge. The other option was to walk. The bike was allowed only after 6pm to before 10am. The first evening we went to the Mont Saint Michel by bike but the abbey was closed after 5pm. Nevertheless the village could be visited. It was full with restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops. There was no bicycling park so we just rest the bike on the rampart.
In the direction of the mountain island we stopped at the dam that offers a splendid sunset view to the abbey. The dam was recently constructed to control the water flow of the Couesnon river.
The next morning we walked to the abbey. It took us 30 minutes. The abbey was open from 9am during summer. the entrance fee was 9€. The abbey was impressive. The architecture and the construction of the abbey are beautiful with mixed of small and big columns supporting it. The statue of the archangel Saint Michel was shining gold. According to François they just cleaned the statue. They took it with a helicopter, cleaned it, and then put it back on top of the abbey.
Finished about 10am we took the bus back to the camp, folded the tent, prepared the bags and hit the road, direction Saint Malo. We took the cycling path until the first village 20km from Mont Saint Michel. Then the road was a mix between car road and coastal path. We passed several coastal village without stopping.
To go to Saint Malo, either you go directly to Saint Malo or take a detour to Cancales. We opted the latter. The village of Cancales was crowded with restaurants and tourists. We rolled again for another 23km by the coastal road to the Pointe du Grouin.
It started to rain.
I pleaded to God that the rain wouldn’t get heavier before we arrived at the campground. The up and down coastal road depleted my stamina and energy. Upon arrival I was dead. We did in total 68.5km of cycling that day.
The campground was located in Saint Severin, just the next village after Saint Malo. It was actually a really nice campground loacted inside a fortress at the Aleth site. We walked around the fortress with a view to Saint Malo. Inside the fortress there was a mémorial 39/45 dedicated to the second world war.
About 10pm the sun was not yet sleeping but I was.
It rained the next morning then stopped. We biked to Saint Malo. When talking about Saint Malo, people mostly refers to the intramuros part which is the inside part of the Saint Malo fortress bordered by the rampart and strengthened by the famous Vauban. But Saint Malo is more than that.
We parked outside the Saint Louis gate. We climbed the wall and got a view towards n harbour. The rain started to drop again. We walked the wall that has 1.8km distance in total. We stopped here and then. The wall was thick.
The other corncer of the fort was the main entrance, the Saint Vincent gate. This was also where the tourism office was located. The city map was not free (30 cents). In the morning the tide was still high so we couldn’t visit the Royal fort because the path was still submerged.
It was tuesday. The city had a huge braderie (sort of a flea market) all around. The intramuros itself was very very touristic. Seafood restaurants and crêperies could be found anywhere. The cathedral could be found at the north-west of te town.
We visited the Duchesse Anne castle that now serves as the mayor hall. Beside the castle, the chateaubriand area also with his birth house. Chateaubriand is a famous french writer.
Around noon, the tide got low and we could visit the Royal fort. The entrance fee was 5€ with a guided visit. We learnt about the defense mechanism of the city, where they put the canon and also the gun powder.
By then it rained heavily. It was cold. We were forced to eat at one of the touristic restaurants inside the city. Worst mussels I had eaten but the galette was okay.
We continued the visit to the Islands of Bé (tombs in Bretagne). There were two islands. The big one was the Big Bé where they put the tombs of Chateaubriand, standing facing the ocean, as he wished. And the small one. Lot of mussels were found everywhere on the island.
Back at the camping, we discovered from our English neighbour that our tent was rampaged by seagulls. Fortunately they only stole our polenta; mess around the tent.
As I finished Sartre the first leg of the trip ended. I started Gilbert’s eat, pray and love.