Jutting into the North Atlantic like a proper Gallic nose from the west of France, due south of the Cornwall/Devon peninsula of England, Bretagne or Brittany, has been under the sway of both the Gauls and the Celts over the centuries, depending on what political, ecclesiastical or marauder ascendancies were extant in either location. Now, decidedly French, one nonetheless sees both French and Bretagne languages, even linguistic remnants from Roman days.
Over just a couple of last minute days, Cathy and I pulled to fruition a self-guided inn-to-inn walking trip offered by UK-based Inntravel of the Breton north granite coast, often called the Rose Granite Coast because of the hue of much of the boulder-strewn region’s gigantic stones. The shore can be rugged, but dotted with gentle sandy beaches and reedy estuaries, while the terre barely inland, is lushly green and flower-strewn.
Inntravel (https://www.inntravel.co.uk/holidays/walking-holidays) arranged for the lodgings, connecting surface transportation (trains and taxis), and would gladly have provided air reservations if we’d wanted to go full fare positive space vs. using United passes. They provide detailed 1 km grid maps and textual directions. The text conveys guidance where the rubber meets the trail, with the map giving the big picture of each day’s walking, which for us, was six days of around 15-17 km each. Inntravel calls themselves the “Slow Holiday” people, as in forget frenetic-paced sightseeing. Just us traveling—no group—generally hitting the trails after breakfast at the crack of 10 AM, and we were feet up/shoes off by 3 PM. No rushing—just savoring the views, the vibe, the picnics and the occasional path-side bar or café treat and libation. We stayed in three separate lodgings, so at each there were both out and back loop walks, and off to the next inn several towns or villages over yonder jaunts. We took a day pack and a provided picnic lunch, and our luggage taxied ahead to the next lodging where it awaited us in our rooms on check in.
Our route mostly followed the GR34 pathway. Grande Randonnée, or “Big Hike” are walking trails throughout France, with the 34 covering all of coastal Brittany. In the map above you can see the GR34 depicted as a red line generally following the coast, and indeed, we were often walking along the shore, scampering about seaside boulders and even on low tide beaches. The map and text are for our day four of walking, 16.5 km estimated as a 5 hour walk. The GR trails are marked with small painted red and white horizontal lines on walls, tree trunks, power poles, and such, with the white line sometimes shown as an elbow to indicate a change of direction at that point. We mostly stayed on route, with the occasional side trip for sightseeing, bush watering, or correcting navigational errors. Ahem.
No, I do not possess a selfie-pole. The picture was taken by daughter, Torrey, using my i-Phone camera. The planets really aligned in so many ways for and on this trip. Having used Inntravel years ago for a walking trip in Normandy, Cathy gets e-mail delivered teasers, including one about this route. Having this time off between SDSU semesters, she dove into research and found seat space on United in both directions between California and Paris, and that the United arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport was timed perfectly to clear customs and catch the high speed TGV from within the terminal directly to Rennes, the capital of Brittany. We selected a delightful boutique hotel near the Centre Ville there, easily reached as the second stop on their metro accessed within the gare (train station). We found Rennes, a city of 200,000, approachably sized for strolling about and taking in the sights, ideal for jet-lag adjustment, and from which we could subsequently take the train up to the northern Breton coast to begin our GR34 sojourn. Meanwhile up in London, Torrey had a matching gap in her meeting with professors/Master’s dissertation research/beginning a job allowing her to join us. She caught the Eurostar from St. Pancras station to Lille, and then her own TGV to Rennes, arriving a few hours after us.
European street markets are favorites for local color, and delicious tidbits. Perhaps a few olives?
…or peppers, apricots or roses?
You’ll recall that I grow weak-kneed over color? Including visual local color…
…and the aural variety. I should mention we were in Rennes during Bastille Day celebrations? Transat en ville translates roughly as deck chairs in the city. Free. Have a seat, tune in, drop out.
I was positively giddy over this, and both my musician dad and John Phillip Sousa are doubtless smiling still.
Foot tapping works up an appetite. Al fresco lunch on the town, Rennes. A beginning theme here—Brittany is a gastronome’s delight.
The next day we caught connecting trains from Rennes to Guingamp then Paimpol, where the prearranged taxi awaited to deliver us to our lodging at Manoir d’Hotes Troezel Bian in Kerbors http://www.troezelbian.com/the-manor/. Bian translates as small, which fits, considering the four guest rooms in the eighteenth century stone inn run by Tony and Armelle Sebilleau. The inn’s stone walls are about four feet thick, and as throughout Brittany, the roof is steeply pitched slate. Tony provided me a bike and directions for a 1-2 mile cruise through the rural countryside to the water’s edge whilst m’ladies settled in. Prior to dinner, we repaired to an umbrellaed outdoor table for cold libations while the dropping evening sun imbued the grounds in rich warm color.
The evening’s dinner of turkey, new potatoes and greens fresh from the garden followed in the dining room next to the stone fireplace. Wine? But of course.
As I say, rural. No lights to disturb a long exposure view of the Milky Way. You camera technogeeks should know this was shot without tripod or remote trigger release, the hand-held camera jammed steady for 10 seconds against the frame of the wide open window in our room. The dazzling fruit of an old guy’s nocturnal potty calls.
And so began our walking journey, Tony showing us quaint St. Georges church in nearby Pleubian, en route to dropping us off on the point of land beside the Sillon de Talbert nature reserve. Another theme—the sea, its fruits, its ships, sailors, and fishermen are integral to the region.
A ship model between the candles and the stained glass, a most natural Breton depiction.
Then underway. Putting one foot before the other for the next several hours made easier by the views in all quadrants. Thrust into the North Atlantic, Brittany is known for being cold and wet, although July possesses its most temperate climate and the least rain. Our trip was bookended with hot spells before and after in both Del Mar and London, so we were ever so pleased with skies like this and temperatures overnight of the low 60s, and mid-afternoon in the low 70s (Fahrenheit) with light winds. One of our days had partial clouds with a forecast of possible rain, which did not materialize. The only precipitation was rain after midnight on our last night preceding our train journey back to Paris for the return flight home. The weather’s here, wish you were fine.
Flowers. Flowers everywhere. Songbirds as well. Yum.
All of these are of the GR34 trail. We did occasionally see other walkers, but this accurately conveys the crowd the majority of the time.
Our second day’s walk brought us to the the Hotel Aigue Marine in Tréguier https://www.aiguemarine-hotel.com. Aigue Marine is French for Aqua Marine, stones that early Breton sailors often took with them to sea as a superstition talisman. My least favorite lodging, but only because it was, well, a hotel instead of a manor. Maybe 50 rooms and all the usual niceties like pool, workout room, sitting garden and bar and restaurant. The owners and staff were gracious and helpful, and Tréguier is a delightful small community. Okay I also have to say that the Aigue Marine’s restaurant is Michelin-starred. That’s a foodie big deal anywhere, and the food, service and presentation here were in keeping with the award.
The impressive Tréguier cathedral.
Within the interior grounds we were treated to handsome gothic architecture, and so much more.
The covered walkway around the periphery of the garden allowed peaceful repose both temporary and eternal. The walkway treated us to a wonderful art exhibit in keeping with the region’s ecclesiastical and maritime history.
From alongside the sculpture atop the sarcophagus you can see that the linen painting on the adjoining wall is a stylish recreation of the stone pose of the church figure entombed therein.
Along the same walkway several of these boxed pieces stopped me in my tracks. This first is an homage to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who as the author of Night Flight, Wind Sand and Stars, and The Little Prince, is probably already known to you. Saint-Exupéry was a French aristocrat, poet, journalist, pilot and philosopher, which speaks as to why he resonates with me. Themes in his writing often turned on sacrificing oneself to causes in which one believes, in some, pilot protagonists musing mystically on life. Already an established commercial pilot before WWII, flying in Africa and South America, when war broke out he joined the French Air Force. When France capitulated to German occupation, he flew for the Free French Air Force. It was on a FFAF reconnaissance flight in a Lockheed P38 Lightning sortied out of North Africa, that he was lost at sea over the Mediterranean near France’s southern coastline in July of 1944, presumably in support of the allied advance to liberate Europe following D-Day the previous month. One of his quotes is “What gives meaning to life gives meaning to death,” which is much in keeping with what little I remember of French philosophy during the last century. Personally I’d invert the thought, so perhaps some day he and I can discuss the nuances.
Anyway, look carefully at this artistic piece, wood-boxed and glass topped. Once you get in the groove you can see him standing there looking right, in his leather flying helmet, oxygen mask and hose, his forearms cradling…the little prince? Above his head is the classic plan-form of the P38. All of this is done in tiny glass pieces and carefully shaped sand, backlit from underneath.
And here’s another, representing the loss of the Titanic. This particular piece seems lifted directly from the imagery of the hull resting on the sea floor as conveyed by filmmaker and deep-sea explorer James Cameron, with the luscious colors reminiscent of his magical film Avatar.
There were several of these boxed glass and sand art pieces, all of similar size around seven feet long and 30 inches wide. Each conveyed an homage to individuals or groups whose lives were lost in or on the sea. Others included those who died storming the Normandy beaches on D-Day, Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian polar explorer who disappeared aboard a flying boat embarked upon a rescue mission for an airship. There was one unfocused, other than paying respects to children lost in oceanic accidents. And one, referencing the January 15, 2004 capsizing and sinking of the French trawler Bugaled Breizh (Children of Brittany in the Breton language) to the southwest of Lizard Point, Cornwall, England. Scribed into the sand of the piece are the exact 49 42 34 North, 05 10 45 West latitude and longitude and the time of sinking at 12:25 Greenwich Mean Time. You can put those lat/lons into Google Earth and see the location. Did you know that you can e-search “shipwrecks on (in this case) 15 January and will get a list of all shipwrecks on that date over the centuries?
Some backstory. The creator is glass sculpture artist Jean Divry, a resident of nearby Paimpol in Bretagne, and his works conveyed at the cathedral all relate to the strong influence of man and the sea we saw in so many ways during our time there. I tried to engage the gatekeeper woman who sold the 1.5 Euro exhibit entry tickets to learn more about what we were seeing. It was a thing of painful beauty to see her try to reach out with her limited English to edify us about the artist and the art. She and I created a whole new language of facial expressions, eyebrow accents and raised shoulder and arm grammar. What a sweet woman, so intent on conveying the magic of art and shared experience.
The walk back to the hotel was typical of the sorts of small communities we meandered.
Our next day’s walk was billed as two choices—long and longer. We selected choice one. The hike began with a drop-off by taxi near Castel Meur (pictured at the very outset of this missive) at a tiny spit of land called le Goufree on the peninsular thumb of Pointe du Chateau. It takes another fold of the map to sort this one out, sorry. There were plenty of other rocky sights, heading southbound along the eastern periphery of this thumb bordering the Jaudy river.
Our choice of abbreviated hike required a pre-arranged taxi to pick us up at a tiny cafe on the equally tiny harbor at La Roche Jaune (The Yellow Rock). We arranged pickup for 3:45 at a café, suggested by our driver, which we heard him say was called “Le Café Biscuit.” I even repeated it to make sure I had it right. Talk about being a stranger in a strange land? The actual name was “Le Café Pesked,” with Biscuit, or Pesked—whatever!—referring to something about fish or the sea in Breton. What a hoot. That’s what 20,000+ hours of jet engine noise does to your hearing. Don’t know about the yellow rock, but the cafe walls are bright yellow, red, and orange. Did I mention that I go gaga over color? Yep, that’s a local lobster trap over the door, and is there anything more sensible after five hours of walking than a two-scoop bowl of glacée (ice cream) and a cold local brewski? Why it’s called a holiday.
The next morning our taxi delivered us to the starting point of the day’s hike on to our final lodging. I was wowed by the lovely quaintness of Port Blanc…
…and all of the water activities for the children on this summer morning. The scene reminded me of my own youth and even young adulthood with activities at Santa Clara Point in Mission Beach. It’s this starting point that is referenced in the textual directions at the outset of this post, both images taken while on said promenade.
After a longish day of walking including a picnic sitting on granite next to the water, we finally arrived at the yacht harbor announcing the beginning of Perros-Guirec and our lodging at the Manoir du Sphinx http://www.lemanoirdusphinx.bzh. Funny name, right? It’s perched on a bluff directly above a rock and sand shore, with the map conveying that spot as Sphinx point. I couldn’t see the similarity, but what’s in a name? Anyway, before we left the harbor and trudged the final kilometers to the manor, at a local café we elected a Breton delicacy pick-me-up, a pomme et glacée galette (sliced baked apple and ice cream held in a buckwheat crepe) washed down by icy local beers. I was the thirstier, why do you ask?
To say that the manor has a commanding view is a bit of an understatement. This is a panorama of about 150 degrees taken from the fully openable window of our room (21) which jutted out several feet from the face of the building like our own personal aerie. This was taken at low tide, and herein is another Breton worthy-mention. The biggest tidal differences correspond to full and new moons, and in Del Mar those might be as much as an 8 foot difference. This picture was taken when the moon was half full, or a period of modest tidal change, and yet with the local bathymetry, the tidal swings were in the neighborhood of 23 feet. During high tide, those rocks below were fully covered, with the water up against the greenery of the manor’s lower garden. At the far right of the frame you can just make out the curving shoreline of a gorgeous sand beach—Plage de Trestignel. Cathy and I both cavorted in the water there, albeit in short doses given the 62F water temperature. You can make out the bird sanctuary of Les Sept Iles (Seven Islands) offshore.
After getting situated and gawking at the view, it was time for dinner. Brittany is known for its seafood. I hope you came hungry. Oh yes, another Michelin-starred restaurant.
It turns out that the nighttime views from our room were equally astounding. That would be the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) in the lower left, the right lip of its pan pointing, as always, at the brightness of Polaris to the right of center near the top of the frame. Known also as the pole star, it is a delight to navigators, as it defines one’s latitude in the northern hemisphere—it’s on the horizon when at the equator, and directly overhead at the north pole. Here in north coastal Brittany at nearly 49 degrees north, it’s a tad above halfway betwixt the horizontal and vertical. You’ll notice that each of the bright stars in the frame are tiny sideways teardrops, reflecting the amount of movement by our rotating earth during the ten second exposure. More on that anon. Love those dark nighttime skies.
On our second of three days in Perros-Guirec we stayed and visited local sights and scenes. We strolled some ten minutes to the centre ville (city center) where we caught a local bus towards Ploumanac’h, getting off at the Chapelle Notre Dame de la Clarté, named for the patron saint of sailors. It’s prominence was supposed to have been a targeting reference for pre-D Day bombers attempting to take out a nearby German radar. Breton foggy weather blanketed the peninsula and saved the church, leaving its blessing of sailing ships and pipes intact.
Following a wooded path, and then meandering through byways, we eventually arrived at the lovely sheltered harbor of Ploumanac’h where we took sustenance before resuming our walk to return to the manor a couple of hours later. An observation on the French way—we arrived at an outdoor café here at 11:45, but were declined service because it was not yet 12:00. Waiters were ready, the tables set, it just was not midday. This wasn’t delivered with down the nose insult, more a perplexed confusion over how anyone could wish it otherwise. We continued our walk another quarter hour and spent our Euros at another restaurant adjoining a lovely plage a kilometer farther on.
And so we come to 20 July, 2018, which began with an auspicious sunrise at “Oh-Dawn-Early” on this 33rd anniversary of our marriage.
Another taxi ride to what was billed as possibly the most scenic stage of our journey, beginning on Ile Renote, actually a peninsula by means of a narrow stretch of connecting land at the island’s southwest extremity. Ol’ What’s Her Name taking in the view.
And what a view it was.
By now we are starting to get this Rose Granite thing.
This fantasy-land stretch treated us to luscious low light and solitude. That’s the duck under and twist through trail here.
There were gargantuan apparitions like this leaping bear, its left wing shot through.
And tranquil spots to feel the air, absorb the vibe, and perhaps take a water break? Double entendre.
You can’t overstate the raw beauty of the region. This particular stretch drew modest crowds, which is to say we actually saw other walkers. To give us space, we took our picnic lunch ensconced on boulders we had to scramble to, gazing toward this maritime navigational light.
GR34 ambling on the right.
We returned to the manor, and went for a swim at Plage de Trestrignel, then dressed and repaired to the lounge for champagne and on to the restaurant for our anniversary dinner. Our three course meal began with a gazpacho appetizer accompanied by a glass of Sauterne. That grin is because she’s unwrapping a velvet-bagged lovely silver and glass bauble I slyly acquired days before at an artisan’s studio next to Tréguier cathedral.
Atlantic cod, Breton style. No newspaper. A bottle of red the sommelier recommended if we were keen on red in spite of fish. We were. An inspired choice.
For the sweet tooth. Citron something or other.
Observations on the Breton dining experience. Breakfasts were of the continental variety, with plenty of cheese, meat, cereals, rolls and buttery croissants adequate for the day’s walking. Our prepared picnic lunches were not what you’d think of as picnic lunches. Salads, yes. Potato salad, no. Dinners were set your watch by it, begun at 19:30. And people arrived pretty much on time, creating a single—not staggered—seating for supper. This translates to modestly slammed servers forcing a leisurely dining time. Method to their madness? The Breton way, a byproduct of which was that we were usually finished by 9:45 PM, about :25 before sunset. At the Sphinx we invariably took ourselves out to “our” sunset viewing bench in the garden below chambre 21.
Nice light for 10 PM. Have I mentioned the flowers?
Bench view to the west. Three separate shots to convey a point.
You’ll recall the minute sideways teardrops of stars in the Big Dipper time exposure? These three sunset frames convey the same in their own way—look carefully how the setting sun shifts appreciably right during the sixty seconds duration from the first to the last frame. This big blue marble in space revolves at a rapid pace, like life itself. Our time in Bretagne was a slow travel antidote to the daily rush. No news of presidential taunt tweets, just time spent renewing love for a good woman and enjoying rose-colored stones and sunsets.
Au Revoir, T
Well that was a lovely arm chair journey for me! How beautiful. Thank you for sharing the images and the journal entries! I only wish I could have a taste of some of that food…..
That is quite simply the most beautiful setting for a bench in the world! I see a series here…you must travel the world nonstop for the next 20 years and gather benches…
Very cool Tom.