This tour begins and ends in Paris.
DAY 1 Saturday
Depart 9am from our Paris meeting point, we’ll make our way via a brief orientation through the neighborhood of Montparnasse. This area is well known for its art and literary heritage but this is also the city’s ‘Breton’ neighborhood so a great place to start our touring adventure! Learn of the Brittany connections along the Gaite and the famed restaurants of Blvd Montparnasse Le Dome, La Coupole, Café Rotonde and Café Select.
Our first destination is the stunning masterpiece Chartres Cathedral. Pilgrims have been coming here for eight centuries to admire and seek inspiration from the most magnificent, and certainly most extensive stained glass windows to be seen anywhere in the world.
Later stop at the medieval town of Vitre, which features a castle and half timbered houses. This is a lovely place to wander around the medieval streets of the photogenic old town, to admire the impressive remains of the city gates and fortified walls.
ON Chateaubourg, a village between Vitre and Rennes; Property: Ar Milin or similar
DAY 2 Sunday
Today is a magical day meandering forests, lakes and villages on the trail of the Legendary King Arthur.
Our first stop is the prehistoric site La Roche aux Fees, ‘the Fairies Rock’ an ancient dolmen stone monument. The rocks are so large, the locals say that it could only have been built by fairies. Setting the scene for our day of myths and fairy magic!
Is Brittany really King Arthur’s home? It is up to you to decide! Today we visit Foret de Paimpont, part of the Forest of Broceliande and the last remaining part of the ancient forests that once covered Brittany. This is a place drenched in the legends of King Arthur where it is said Arthur found Excalibur, where Merlin fell in love with the Lady of the Lake, where the fairy Morgan dominates the valleys and where some say the Fountain of Youth is located. Hikers among us may choose to take some scenic forest walks while there are several less adventurous options. We can ramble through picture postcard villages and quaint parish churches, including the chapel of the Holy Grail.
We will spend tonight in the ‘story book’ village of Josselin, another wonderful collection of half timbered houses and cobbled market squares. Here we will visit the 14th Century Josselin Castle, still home to the Rohan family after 1000 years, an enormous chateau with three ‘witch hat’ turrets dominating over the river Oust. This is a mix of Gothic and Renaissance styles filled with a unique collection of furniture and paintings.
ON Josselin; Property: Hotel Chateau or similar
DAY 3 Monday
Travel our way to the coast via Vannes, a charming university town with a lively mediaeval town centre. Its chaotic streets, ramparts and cathedral lend it special charm.
It will be the alignments at Carnac that will be the highlight of our day and surely provide one of the lasting memories of the region. Here some 2000 menhirs (standing stones) older than Stonehenge or the Pyramids, stand like sentinels guarding the Breton coast line. Of course, like all prehistoric monuments, their origin can only be guessed at but astronomical clocks or temples to the gods of natural forces are the favoured explanations.
This afternoon, we will make our way via some of the quaint coastal fishing villages to Quimper.
ON Quimper; Property options include: BW Hotel Kregenn, Hotel Gradlon, Oceania Escale or similar
DAY 4 ND Tuesday
Quimper is the heart of the Breton culture, often referred to as the ‘soul of Brittany.’ Your tour guide is on hand for assistance and advice, you have the entire day to do as your choose. Wander the cluttered streets of old town, maybe take a boat ride, stroll the quaint, flower filled bridges across the canal or perhaps pay a visit to the Breton Museum, where the history of Breton traditional dress and customs are explored. The atmospheric old town is full of half-timbered houses dating from the 14th Century, now home to dozens of modern day shops. There is an impressive Musee Beaux Arts. Perhaps sample a crepe, the local delicacy, on Place au Beurre, one of Quimper’s prettiest locations where butter was once sold. Quimper’s most impressive building is its cathedral, which is said to be the best example of Gothic religious architecture in the region. Uniquely crooked, it claims to mirror the tilt of Christ’s head on the cross. Sure to be a lovely day!
Dinner is not included tonight for flexibility’s sake.
ON Quimper, as above
DAY 5 Wednesday
Today and tomorrow explore the Finistere region, known for prehistoric monuments, unique church carvings, stunning coastlines and the traditions of the Breton culture & language. This far corner of Brittany is known as Finistère, the ‘end of the land’ (or ‘Land’s End’ like in Cornwall) but in the Breton language, they call it Penn ar Bed, ‘beginning of the world.’ It is here that Breton survives most strongly as a spoken language. The north coast is rugged and wild, fringed by the English Channel while the south faces the Atlantic with sunny bays and wooded valleys. We’ve much to discover over these 2 days!
Departing Quimper, we can have a short visit in Locranan, a charming town devoid of any modern buildings, with hidden electricity wires so it looks exactly as it did in the 18th Century. This pilgrimage site is often used as a film location, such as in Roman Polanski’s Tess.
In the Elorn Valley, see some of the ‘enclos paroissaiaux’ villages, intricately decorated stone carved churches from the 16th and 17th Centuries. Financed by the prosperous trade in flax and hemp, the stunning workmanship was provided by local craftsmen. Each is unique and truly beautiful. Another option for a stop is the village of Le Folgoet, a place of pilgrimage from its legend as a Miracle site of the Virgin Mary.
Our next base is Morlaix, a town with a 19th Century viaduct towering above the old town featuring unusual ‘lantern houses’ with spiral staircases and galleries where lamps used to glow. Among them is the house of Anne de Bretagne, the duchess dear to the heart of every Breton. Forced to marry two successive French kings, queen by the age of 13, Anne fought hard to preserve Brittany’s autonomy.
ON Morlaix; Property: Hotel Europe or similar
DAY 6 Thursday
More amazing sites to discover today in Finistère! We continue our explorations of prehistoric sites, quaint villages and the stunning coast. This northerly coast holds the legend of Celtic monk St Pol, here he defeated a dragon to become one of Brittany’s founding saints.
The Cairn de Barnenez in Plouézoc’h is classed as a National Monument, Europe’s largest burial chamber and probably the world’s oldest monument. Overlooking the seas, it has a magnificent 75-metre corridor measuring 28 metres wide that is estimated to date from 5000 BC. This makes it an incredible 2000 years older than the Egyptian Pyramids!
We can also meander the Pink or Rose Granite Coast, so-called because of the colour of its rocks, renowned for its unusual rock formations. Encounter the weather-beaten rocks, some as high as 65ft/20m, including those resembling Napoleon’s hat, a witch, and a rabbit, all changing colour with the light.
ON Morlaix, as above
DAY 7 Friday
More Mediaeval magic awaits you today! The cobbled streets of Dinan make this one of the most attractive and best preserved small towns in Brittany. With its 1.8 mile/3km long ramparts, half-timbered houses, attractive port, art galleries and craft shops, this is a place well worth some of our time. Historic St Malo is sure to delight too, step back in time into its maritime past, but beware of pirates!
ON near Mont St Michel; Property: Relais St Michel, Mercure St Michel or similar
DAY 8 Saturday
While Mont St-Michel may not still be the ‘Mount in Peril’ from the sea, this 10000 year old religious complex still appears to rise from the surrounding waters. During your time here at one of one of the most popular attractions in France, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you can climb the 8th Century Abbey, meander through the ancient narrow streets and enjoy the stunning views of the surrounding landscape over the bay.
A bit of driving this afternoon back to Paris, perhaps breaking up our journey with a stop in Fougeres, the strange street layout described in Balzac’s novel of the revolution The Chouans.
We should arrive back to Paris by approximately 19:00.
Oft imitated, never duplicated! This itinerary is original to SGT, property of Special Group Tours and to be used only with express permission/in conjunction with SGT.