"A fortified island city in a Harbour"
As well as being a major commercial and fishing port Concarneau is now also a world famous centre for the scientific study of marine life and makes an important contribution to the understanding of evolutionary and ecological processes.
But its oldest attraction is the walled city that sits on a small island immediately off-shore, reached across a small bridge and two great portals.
Inhabited since pre-historic times, in the early years of Christianity, when monks from Wales came to Bretagne. a monastery was established there around which fishermen and their families settled.
The small community was protected from invaders and pirates by primitive defences made from high sided ditches topped by railings of wood until massive, granite ramparts were built in the 14th century. Further fortifications were completed by my old friend Vauban 300 years later.
"Inside the walls"
The town grew but experienced cycles of prosperity, decline and recovery in successive centuries as the result of wars, developments in trade, the introduction of fish canneries and the sardine disaster of the early 1900’s when this popular and profitable catch all but disappeared from the waters of Brittany.
Two world wars brought further problems including the Occupation.
But with diverse industrial developments, including ship building and repairs, and tourism - like a Phoenixthe city rose again.
"Les Canons de La Venus in the courtyard"
Forty years separated my first visit in 1966 when our family group had 4 young children in tow and my main memory is of going to a large Patisserie/Tea Room in the harbour area not far from the entrance to the old city. We chose our pastries and selected a particularly yummy looking one my infant nephew.To our astonishment the assistant then spoke to us in English with a very pronounced Welsh accent to advise us that the pastry we had chosen for the baby contained a lot of alcohol!
It turned out she had attended a Summer language school in Barry, South Wales and ended up with us all sitting together talking about Wales!
That was a lovely sunny day -but it was grey, cool and rainy when we returned in 2006. It was a Public Holiday for May 8 -Victory Day. Impressions of that visit - were of more tourists, and more smartened up gifty shops, ice cream bars, souvenirs. Because of the rain we spent quite a long time in the Museum of Fishing and then, in light drizzle at a free open air concert and felt there was still more to discover about Concarneau.
Soon a beautifully sunny and warm day in October 2009 we made our third visit. There were hardly any visitors , lots of shops and restaurants weree closed. Some we were told until Easter 2010, others would open for Toussaint and Christmas.
It seemed strange walking up the almost deserted, silent rue de Vauban, the main shopping street but we stopped to read the new information boards, walked the ramparts, had lunch in the sunshine and a little shopping for the grandchildren.