What better place to brush off winter lethargy and enjoy the outdoors than in France’s beautiful Brittany? Just a short hop across the Channel, you’re spoilt for choice of springtime attractions in this coastal region, unfolding the minute you arrive in port and enticingly calm before the summer crowds arrive.
Spring is the perfect time to discover a lesser-known Brittany – especially for art lovers. Numerous galleries and exhibitions beckon from the region, including FRAC Bretagne, a contemporary art foundation established in Rennes in 2012. Brittany loves to use art as a reason to breathe new life into old buildings, as with the Hélène & Édouard Leclerc Foundation for Culture set up in a former convent, and the ‘Art in the Chapels’ trail, which has transformed the chapels in the centre of the region into venues where contemporary artists express and exhibit their work.
Art continues outdoors in places such as Domaine de Kerguéhennec’s sculpture park (one of Europe’s largest) and art in the gardens at Ar Milin’ in Châteaubourg. Perhaps Brittany’s most unusual al-fresco display is the Valley of the Saints , a feudal moat, 16th-century chapel and collection of enormous statues of Breton saints. Around 50 statues currently stand on the grass – representing the monks who came over from Ireland, Wales or Cornwall to bring Christianity to Brittany – and each year new creations by different sculptors are added. In 50 years’ time there will be 1,000 of them – and you can even sponsor one.
Many visitors like to take springtime wanders through Brittany’s Villes d’Art et d’Histoire (towns of art and history), fascinating gems upholding the region’s heritage. Fougères is one such listed town, home to the oldest belfry in the region, while Dinan is arguably one of the most attractive and best preserved small towns in Brittany with its long ramparts, half-timbered houses, attractive port and cobbled streets filled with art galleries and craft shops.
If you have children in tow, Vannes has an aquarium and butterfly garden in addition to its market and buzzy waterside cafés. For those who love horses, France’s National Stud is actually situated in another Ville d’Art: Lamballe . And you’ll have heard of Saint-Malo for its entry point by ferry from the UK – but it’s far more than just a gateway to elsewhere in the region. Stopping here will push you back in time, giving you a glimpse of Brittany’s significant seafaring past before you relax on the sandy beaches sweeping east from the old town.
Weary from sightseeing? Traditional Breton cooking is simple and wholesome. To eat locally and authentically, head to one of the ‘locavore restaurants’ which use high-quality ingredients and respect the environment – the ideal place to enjoy Brittany’s foodie spoils. Some serve inventive fusion cooking, others have zero-waste commitments. Nutrient-rich seaweed is also making a new name for itself in the region, used in recipes from pasta and biscuits to charcuterie, tea and beer. Of the near-800 species of seaweed in Brittany, there are around 10 edible species authorised for sale. Hôtel de la Mer in Brignogan is a great place to try it.
And to stay on site after your meal, why not try Brittany’s concept of ‘dormir chez un chef’ ? Various local, often Michelin-starred chefs offer rooms beside their restaurants to allow you to fully indulge – such as Olivier Bellin at L’Auberge des Glazicks on the Crozon peninsula, and Hugo Roellinger at La Ferme du Vent overlooking the Bay of Cancale.