The pretty town of Pont-Aven is situated just east of Concarneau inland from the tip of the Aven estuary. It is a picturesque port popular with tourists due in part to its art galleries.
The artist Gauguin came to Pont-Aven in the 1880s to paint before leaving for Tahiti. Gauguin produced some of his best works in Pont-Aven, and his influence was such that the Pont-Aven School of fellow artists was founded here – the best known of these artists was Emile Bernar.
It is unfortunate however that the town has no permanent collection of Gauguin’s work, although the Municipal Museum has an excellent overview of nineteenth century art.
The promenade Xavier-Grall criss-crosses the tiny river in the heart of Pont-Aven and offers glimpses of fashionable mansions, draped in red ivy. Enjoy a longer walk into the Bois d’Amour, pretty wooded gardens, which have long provided inspiration to painters, poets and musicians. The Gothic Tremalo Chapel surrounded by ancient oak and beech trees is a particularly pretty spot.
Pont-Aven is also well known for its delicious biscuits that have been made here since the 1890’s.
Quimper - pronounced ‘kemper’ from the Breton word for ‘confluence’ - is situated where the rivers Steir and Odet meet and is Brittany’s oldest city, once the capital of the ancient kingdom of Cornouaille.
Numerous flower-covered footbridges span the rivers that flow through the town, and the cobbled streets of the medieval quarter are dominated by Quimper’s impressive Gothic cathedral dedicated to St-Corentin.
Quimper was founded by St Corentin who crossed the Channel with his Bretons sometime between the fourth and seventh centuries. Breton legend states that St Corentin lived by eating a regenerating golden fish sent by God. Enjoy strolling around Quimper, take a walk on the wooded slopes of Mont Frugy overlooking the town or relax on a boat trip down the Odet to the open sea at Benodet.
If you’re looking for traditional shopping, Quimper has a fine selection of shops selling a whole range of ceramics, gifts and cakes plus all things Breton.
A ‘must’ when in Quimper is a visit to the Faience Museum with its collection of over 2,000 ceramics, some of which date back to Gallo-Roman times. The area is renowned for its ceramics production due to the high quality of the local clay, and the museum takes visitors through the craftsmanship of ceramics production over the centuries.
The museum is open from mid-April to mid-October, Monday to Saturday, 1000 to 1800.
One of France’s largest fishing ports and a popular resort, the medieval walled town - Ville Close - on a small island is one of Brittany’s most photographed sights. There are wonderful views from the ramparts promenade (unsafe for children).
The rocky island linked to the mainland by a narrow bridge, was originally the site of a priory before being fortified in the thirteenth century. Today, the pedestrianised centre of the old town is thronged with tourists in summer enjoying the boutiques and restaurants.
Visit Concarneau’s fishing museum in the old barracks for a history of Breton ports (closed Mondays and part of Jan) and stroll along the pedestrianised, flower-filled streets down to the shore to watch the boats themselves go by.
Concarneau’s Fetes des Filets Bleus (blue nets) in August is a lively festival of Breton music and dance developed from a traditional blessing of the nets ceremony. One of the oldest such ceremonies in Brittany, it attracts thousands of participants and visitors.
Brittany’s second largest city, Brest is set in a magnificent natural harbour, known as the Rade de Brest, and is doubly sheltered from the ocean by the bulk of Léon to the north and by the Crozon Peninsula to the south. Brest has always played an important maritime role and is the base of the French Atlantic Fleet. Naturally, it is a great place for watersports, notably windsurfing, kayaking, diving and sailing.
Brest was continually bombed during World War II to prevent the Germans from using it as a submarine base. When the town was liberated by the Americans on September 18 1944, they found Brest devastated beyond recognition.
Brest’s fifteenth century castle is an impressive sight and offers a superb panorama of the city. Three of its ornate towers house part of the collection of the Musée National de la Marine. The fourteenth century Tour Tanguy on the opposite bank of the River Penfeld serves as the Musee de Vieux. Here, dioramas convey a vivid impression of how Brest used to be.
A different side of Brest is to be found at La Place Guerin, home to local artists and poets and a good place to eat in the evening. Brest has a good shopping centre too, with markets at various locations throughout the city.
Busy and pretty fishing port set at the mouth of the River Goyen on the Bay of Audierne.
Though still important for fishing - specializing in lobster, prawns and crayfish - the port also now doubles as a yacht marina. Discover great sandy beaches in either direction from the port, particularly the sheltered beach of Ste-Evette which is also the starting point for boat trips to the tiny Ile de Sein - reputedly the last refuge of the Druids in Brittany.
Restaurants in Audierne serve good seafood including produce from the local oyster farm. The port has an interesting thatched museum, furnished in local seventeenth century style, and aquarium, open daily April-Sept. with limited opening out of season.
The resort of Benodet lies at the mouth of the Odet, a sea inlet extending all the way to Quimper. Benodet has a pretty sandy beach with a palm-tree lined promenade and nice selection of shops and restaurants.
The walk from the beach round to the marina is particularly pleasant, or head east to Le Letty with its spectacular sands at low tide.
Further east again is the holiday resort of Begmeil with its Pyramide lighthouse which has simply breathtaking panoramic views over the Cornouaille coast and the Glenan Islands.
Morlaix is an old Breton port, built on the slopes of a steep valley with pretty stone houses. An eleventh century castle and a circuit of walls once protected Morlaix. Little is left of either, but the old centre remains with medieval cobbled streets and half-timbered houses. A striking pink granite viaduct carries trains from Paris to Brest way above the town centre. Arriving in Morlaix by road from the north, the first view of the town is of tall yacht masts and the viaduct.
A local speciality can be sampled at the Brasserie des Deux Rivieres where they make Coreff, a highly fermented bitter.
Morlaix was once notorious for its piracy, even more so than St Malo. It remains a delightful town to walk around - sights include the rue du Mur and La Maison de la Duchesse Anne with its intricate carvings and lantern roof.
Ile Tudy is located on a charming peninsula just a short drive from Benodet and offers visitors a maze of little streets and wonderful sea views, including across the water of the Pont l’Abbe river estuary to Loctudy, a busy fishing port specializing in langoustines known as ‘demoiselles de Loctudy’.
Don’t forget to take your camera to capture the eye-catching Perdrix lighthouse painted in a black and white checkerboard pattern. The lighthouse was deactived in 2000 but saved from demolition by the towns of Ile Tudy and Loctudy to become a local heritage site.