Hear the sounds of Brittany: Listen to the old Celtic language still spoken today that influences the music of the many regions’ festivals all year round.
Breton language & storytelling
In certain parts of Brittany you can still hear Breton spoken. A Celtic language, it’s more closely related to Cornish and Welsh than to French and you’ll feel as though you’re in another country entirely. The tradition of storytelling is strong in Brittany, often during veillées (evenings of fireside storytelling). Historically, it was travelling craftsmen who passed on the tales and in the 19th century, La Villemarqué compiled Breton tales in his Barzhaz Breizh, a work complemented by further writers that gives us written evidence of this oral tradition. Some tourist offices, museums and sights now organise storytelling tours on which, if you master some French, you can glean more about the wilder Breton tales as you wander along, perhaps as night falls, adding to the atmosphere. Or you’ll find cafés and venues where people gather to listen to Breton stories, offering fun opportunities to learn about the history the locals have shaped.
The sounds of waves and seabirds
Brittany wouldn’t be Brittany without its rugged coastline, fashioned by the powerful tide over multiple centuries. The Côte d’Émeraude (Emerald Coast), named after the remarkable colour of the water here, is a string of small coves, granite headlands and steep cliffs that’s best explored on foot – in fact, some sections are only accessible in this way. The winding Chemin des Douaniers (‘Smuggler’s Path’) runs along beside the water with stunning views across open sea and coastal villages. Pack your backpack, don sturdy shoes and enjoy the exhilarating sound of the crashing waves anywhere along the path towards spectacular Cap Frehel, where the scenery becomes wilder and colonies of seabirds nest in the rocks. Beyond this point the rocks turn pink, marking the start of the Côte de Granit Rose (Pink Granite Coast) which extends west across the Bay of St-Brieuc. If you want to enjoy the sounds of the shore without your walking shoes, set up camp for the day on one of Brittany’s best beaches: Dinard, Ploumanac’h, Camaret, Carnac, Bénodet… take your pick.
Breton music has been reappropriated, modernised and influenced by the whole world. With its lilting rhythms and piercing cries, Breton music is as distinctive as anything else in the region. The biniou (Breton bagpipes) and bombarde (Breton oboe) are the two most iconic instruments in any Breton band, although the harp, accordion, violin and drums can also play major parts. After a lull in the early 20th century, Breton music took off again post-war. Local coastal communities developed strong musical traditions over time – in societies torn apart by separation and frequent loss at sea, powerful emotions were expressed in stirring sea shanties. Paimpol is the port most renowned for keeping the shanty tradition alive, although many other places also stage events.
As well as regular participation in fest-noz(the traditional Breton evening dance), Brittany hosts a considerable number of music festivals throughout the year. Don’t miss…
- Festival Inter-Celtique, Lorient, 3-12 August 2018 Highlighting Celtic music and dance, this festival is a must if you want to experience the very essence of Brittany.
- Festival du Bout du Monde, Crozon, 3-5 August 2018 A three-day celebration of music from around the world.
- Festival des Vieilles Charrues, Carhaix, 19-22 July 2018 France’s largest music festival set in the Finistère countryside, attracting an eclectic mix of contemporary artists and as many as 250,000 spectators.
Festival Art Rock, Saint-Brieuc, June 2018 Established cult rock icons and new Messiahs of pop join forces at this 3-day extravaganza, which includes its own integrated food festival.
Jazz in Vannes, Vannes, July 2018 Blues musicians, New Orleans brass bands and giants of the jazz world take the ramparts of the old town of Vannes by storm.
Festival Le Cornouaille, Quimper, 24-29 July 2018 Concerts and entertainment of all kinds, competitions to determine the best bagpipe players, bell ringers and dancers... and a Great Sunday Parade that sees everyone dress in traditional costume.
Transmusicales, Rennes, December 2018 A leading light of the modern music scene, Transmusicales hosts groups come here in the hope of making their last ‘anonymous’ performance before becoming famous.
- Panoramas Festival, Morlaix, 20-22 April 2018 When springtime comes to Morlaix, catch a glimpse of some of the best on the contemporary music scene – top names sit side by side with up-and-coming groups to offer everything from rock to electro.