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Westernmost part of France, Brittany is a peninsula that jets out in the Atlantic Ocean, which with the Gulf Stream gives it a mild and very pleasant climate, favorable to stock breeding and vegetable growing, in spite of its latitude. With an 800-mile rugged coastline, the life of Armorica (land of the sea), is definitely turned towards the ocean. Varied landscape from granite cliffs to sandy beaches, numerous ports are dedicated to fishing and fish farming, sailing and shipping. The coastline, dotted with many islands and lighthouses, is affected daily by big tides that change the look of it continuously.
Over 50 centuries of history here : a prehistorical civilization developed here long before the Roman conquest and is still visible in the numerous stone alignments. Then “Brittany” got its name from the “Britons” who settled here in the 5th century A.D as they were fleeing after the Anglo-Saxon invasions of the “British” Isles. After Charlemagne, it became a duchy under the authority of a local dynasty who ruled until the 16th century, when the last duchess Anne married the King of France Charles 8th and then after his sudden death his successor King Louis 12th, only to allow the province to be united to the French Kingdom in1532.
Under the protection of Saint Anne, Mary’s mother, as a patron saint, the Bretons have always been devout Catholics and have showed it in the construction and the beautiful decoration of their many churches. Visit the typical parish enclosures around Guimiliau or experience the well-attended pardons, religious festivals in processions, when people wear traditional costumes, including the ladies’ distinctive headdresses made of lace.
More recently, the area was the birthplace of many French writers, including the famous Chateaubriand, and attracted numerous other artists, especially to Pont-Aven when painters gathered around Paul Gauguin in the 19th century and created their own painting movement.
One of 22 provinces in France, Brittany has kept many of its own characteristics. From its Celtic historical background, it has similarities with Wales and Ireland in both the Breton language, still taught in Diwan schools, and traditional music played in Bagad bagpipe bands. Specificities are found too in special local meals, such as fish and seafood, crêpes and pastries, apple cider and muscadet white wine and chouchen brandy. Not to forget the local handcrafts, amongst which the Quimper faïence.
With a population of about 3.2 million inhabitants, Brittany now is a prosperous area with a thriving economy, and more than ever is one of France’s most popular tourist destinations.
The origin of the name, Bretagne, “Little Britain”, comes from “Great Britain”, the island where their ancestors came from to escape the invading Saxons. By its geographical location and constant hostility to their Norman neighbors, Brittany maintained its independence, developing its own identity, language, culture and architecture separate from the rest of France.
Finally conquered in the 16th Century by the King of France, Brittany lost its independence but kept its own regional individuality. This can be seen today in numerous architectural styles such as the granite defenses of Fougeres, the gothic cathedral of Quimper and especially the numerous picturesque town centers and charming medieval houses like in Dinan or Vannes and even in the capital city Rennes.
This large peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic ocean on the western fringes of France and has over 600 miles of rugged coastline. High cliffs at Cap Frehel, pink granite coast or sandy beaches, battered by ocean storms and home to some of the highest tides in the world.
The first Celtic migrants arrived in the 5th Century after being driven out of Britain by invaders, later followed by the another wave of Britons to arrive in the 19th Century as the first tourists to the area, the latter one continues annually to this day like in Dinard.
Between the pirate port of Saint-Malo and more recent ports such as Lorient, can be found smaller fishing ports such as Concarneau. Local seafood and the famous Cancale and Belon oysters can be found in almost all local restaurants, surely using the Guérande sea salt in their best recipes.
Over 50 centuries of history and culture here : a prehistorical civilization developed here long before the Roman conquest and still visible like the Carnac stone alignments
As a result of the Reformation in the 16th Century, the Bretons wished to express their loyalty to their Catholic faith and weaken the new Protestant influence by donations of art or money to the local churches such as in Guimiliau. This prosperous period allowed financing ambitious projects. Existing religious sites were ornately decorated and impressive porches as well as elaborate calvaries were added, in order to show visitors the wealth and care that people were prepared to spend to support the Catholic Church in its time of need.
The 17th and 18th Centuries saw the development in Quimper of the craftsmanship and fine artworks which the region is known for today. Also, in the little village of Pont-Aven, at the end of the 19th Century, a new avant-garde artistic style of painting developed, championed by Paul Gauguin, much as had happened with Monet at Giverny in Normandy.