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.
Rennes has rich architectural heritage from 20 centuries of local history : Roman and Celtic settlements first, it became a bishopric as early as the 5th century.
The growing medieval town was a residence for the Dukes of Brittany and became the capital city after 1532. It offers varied atmosphere in different parts : surviving medieval half-timbered houses or reconstructed classical-style stone buildings from after the Great Fire of 1720, as well as modern ones from after WWII bombings.
The main attractions are the St-Pierre cathedral, the Palace of Justice with its old Parliament, the Town Hall with its clock tower and the relaxing Thabor gardens. Nowadays, 60.000 university students live in this bustling town amongst a total population of 400.000.
Built on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Rance river, where a harbor has grown, the old city of Dinan is still partly surrounded by its medieval wall reinforced by 11 defense towers.
Inside the walled city, you go back to Middle Ages time, in the winding narrow cobbled streets dotted with granite or half-timbered homes.
It’s easy to imagine the way people used to live here, when you read the names of the streets referring to the old craft jobs : the fismongers, the cobblers…
It’s still an active city with a lot of shops, craftsmen, and restaurants.
During the visit, you will see the castle, the 15th C belfry, and different old churches, including St Sauveur, where has been buried the heart of the local hero : Bertrand Du Guesclin. He successfully led a lot of fights against the English during the Hundred Years War. From the city wall, you will have an incredible view on the harbor and the Rance valley, and why not walking down along the incredible Jerzual street ?
Due to its strategic location over the winding Nançon valley, a huge fortresswith 13 towers and enclosing five acres was built here in Fougeres around the year 1.000 to defend Brittany’s border against nearby Normandy.
An important trading activity developed in peace times at the crossroads with the three other provinces. The place was therefore attacked many times and eventually captured and destroyed in 1166 by English King Henry II Plantagenet.
The upper and lower parts of the town offer a patchwork of wood, schist, granite and slate.
Ancient capital of French Cornwall, “Quimper” means that the town has grown at the junction of several rivers. When strolling along the many canals, the typical and unscathed medieval streets will lead you inevitably to St-Corentin’s cathedral.
Built in 1240, it has an elegant painted interior with old stained-glass windows. From 1690 and in the 18th century started the production of porcelain and was developed here a proper style of this glazed and hand-painted pottery, the worldwide famous Quimper faïence.
You may visit one of the museums to discovers old ones or stop in the Henriot factory to purchase new ones.
The Morbihan Gulf (little sea, in Breton) is dotted with some 60 small islands and the main activities here are sailing and oyster-farming. Due to its location, huddled at the back of the gulf and also fairly central for the whole duchy, the town of Vannes remained the capital of Brittany until the 16th century. From the port, you will enter through the imposing St-Vincent’s Gate or the Old Prison Gate to discover this authentic medieval town built around the 13th century St-Pierre’s cathedral.
Don’t miss to stroll along the town ramparts, overlooking the River Marle and the picturesque old wash house, next to the beautiful gardens of the Chateau de l'Hermine.