Rennes and the surrounding areas
"1 - Brocéliande"
30 minutes from Rennes, on the way to Vannes
The forest (also called the forest of Paimpont) and moors of the beautifully named Brocéliande lie on the borders of the departments of Morbihan and Ille-et-Vilaine, an area of red schist soils, streams and rivers, and lakes. It abounds in legends as it was the realm of Merlin the magician, and of the fairies, Viviane and Morgane.
"Merlin the magician"
Merlin, who was the son of a devil, exercised his extraordinary magical powers in the Forest of Brocéliande, and, while still a child, he revealed to King Vortigern the reason why the tower that he was building kept falling down. Two dragons were sleeping in the lake under the foundations, but the heavier the building became, the more uncomfortable the dragons became, and so the more they moved. Merlin eventually became King Arthur's counsellor. He could change his appearance at will, and could see everything that was happening from wherever he was. One day, he met a beautiful young girl called Viviane near the Fontaine de Barenton (Barenton spring).
"Viviane, the fairy"
Viviane was born at the Château de Comper, in the north of the forest, where she enjoyed an idyllic life until she met Merlin. Falling for his charm and his magical powers, she soon became as expert as he. Merlin fell madly in love with her, and offered her a wonderful castle, where she brought up Lancelot of the Lake, the famous knight of the Round Table. For a long time, Merlin and Viviane lived happily in love, until the day when Merlin explained to his beloved how a man could be held securely imprisoned in air. She proceeded to do just this while Merlin was sound asleep.
"Morgane, the fairy"
Morgane was King Arthur's sister. Spurned in love, the knight she loved preferring a wicked old witch, she kept the two lovers captive in a prison of air in the Val Sans Retour (Valley of No Return), where any man who has ever been unfaithful to his wife, even in thought, will never come out again. One day, Lancelot, who was in love with Arthur's wife, Guinevere, went into the valley to rescue a damsel in distress. He was successful in doing this, and Morgane freed all her prisoners. But her revenge was terrible. She bewitched Lancelot and kept him prisoner in her manor house, from where he eventually managed to escape...
"2 - Cancale"
45 minutes from Rennes
Cancale was founded in the 6th century, and was originally a haven for pirates before becoming a base for the 'terra-nuevas', those sailors who thought nothing of braving the elements to go fishing for cod in the North Atlantic on the Newfoundland ('Terra Nueva') Banks. Today, Cancale is most famous for its oysters, but the port of La Houle, set back against the cliffs, is still home to several fishing boats. Rising above the shore, the 'Sentier des Douaniers' (the Customs Officers' Path - an old smugglers' trail) provides magnificent views right over to the Pointe du Groin 7 km away and beyond.
"3 - Carnac"
2 hours from Rennes
The very mention of Carnac conjures up images of the famous alignments of standing stones (menhirs), over 2,600 of which were erected between 4,500 and 4,000 BC, and whose origins are still a mystery. They are spread over three sites : Ménec (1,099 menhirs, of which the tallest is 4 metres high), Kermario (982 menhirs), and Kerlescan (540 menhirs).
The stones have been fenced off and an observation station provided to prevent the many visitors from wearing away the soil at the base of the stones, thereby loosening them.
"4 - Dinard"
45 minutes from Rennes
Dinard is a seaside resort that stands at the mouth of the river Rance, opposite Saint-Malo. From the mid-19th century onwards, it became very popular with the British aristocracy, and it still attracts an international clientele that makes the town rather a smart place. Many luxury villas (about 400 in all) are listed as historic monuments. The Ecluse beach lies between the Pointe de la Malouine and the Pointe du Moulinet, from where Cap Fréhel, the Rance estuary, and St Malo can all be admired.
The mildness of the climate and Mediterranean vegetation often draw comparisons between Dinard and Nice.
"5 - The Roche aux Fées"
30 minutes from Rennes
This is one of the most beautiful dolmens (a megalithic tomb with a large flat stone laid on top of upright ones) in France. It faces south, measures 19 metres long, 4 metres wide, and 2 metres high, and is made up of 42 blocks of schist, some of which weigh about 40 tons ! A monumental entrance leads to a square entrance hall, and then to a large room which has been divided into smaller units. The purpose of this monument, which dates back to 3,000 BC, has never been fully explained as archaeologists have never found any funerary objects or, indeed, any kind of remains. The mystery remains !
"6 - Mont Saint-Michel"
1 hour from Rennes
Mont Saint-Michel is considered to be the 'Merveille de l' Occident' (Wonder of the West), and has been designated a World Heritage Site. Its history begins with the appearance of the archangel Michael to Aubert, bishop of Avranches, telling him to build a chapel on Mont Tombe. The bishop did what he had been told to do, the blocks of granite used in the abbey's construction, which extended from the 11th to the 16th century, either coming from Brittany or, by boat, from the Chausey Islands. Mont Saint-Michel used to be an important place of pilgrimage, but had fallen into disuse. However, several monks now live here once again, thereby ensuring a spiritual presence on the Mount.
In the 11th century, there was once a small chapel, built on top of a rock, that had already become a major place of pilgrimage. Over the centuries, the small chapel grew to become a magnificent abbey, commonly known as the 'Merveille' or 'Wonder', with its glorious Gothic buildings. Within the abbey are the Cellier (storeroom), the Salle des Chevaliers (knights' hall), the Refectoire (refectory), the Aumônerie (chaplaincy), and the Salle des Hôtes (guests' hall), all of which have welcomed Saint Louis, Louis XI, and Francois I. A cloister with beautifully carved columns seems to be suspended between sky and sea.
Mount's Bay reaches a long way inland (23 km). Since the sea-bed is so flat, the water level rises very rapidly when the tide is coming in (the speed is said to be that of a galloping horse, which is just a bit excessive), and may put the careless traveller in danger.
Unfortunately, the bay has been silting up for many years. This is because various constructions around the bay, such as a dam, a road embankment, and land reclaimed from the sea, have prevented the removal of sediment, which has then been deposited around the Mount. The recommended solution is to return the Mount to the sea by removing the road embankment, and, instead, providing access to it by a bridge, thereby allowing the currents to remove the sand naturally.
"7 - Saint Malo"
45 minutes from Rennes
The Welsh monk, Maclow, founded Saint-Malo in the late 6th century. Much later, in 1590, during the French Wars of Religion between Protestants and Catholics, the people of Saint-Malo declared themselves to be an independent republic. Seafarers and merchants established the importance and wealth of the town, which in the 17th century was the largest port in France and the centre for important shipping companies. Vauban, the military engineer and architect, designed the town's fortifications. However, disaster struck in 1944, when 80% of the town was destroyed in bombing raids, Chateaubriand's house and tomb remaining untouched. Saint-Malo has now been rebuilt to almost its original appearance.
"8 - Combourg"
45 minutes from Rennes
Combourg is a picturesque town of 4,800 inhabitants, standing by the side of a lake and dominated by an 11th century feudal castle. The castle, with its four towers and crenellated walkway around the walls, used to belong to the Duguesclin family, but in the 18th century became the property of François-René de Chateaubriand's father. Chateaubriand and his sister, Lucille, spent two years of their childhood there, a time that he describes in his book, 'Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe' (Memories From Beyond the Grave).