Getting Oriented

Bretons like to say they are Celtic, not Gallic, and other French people sometimes feel they are in a foreign land when they visit this jagged triangle perched on the northwest tip of mainland Europe. Two sides of the triangle are defined by the sea. Brittany's northern coast faces the English Channel; its western coast defies the Atlantic Ocean. The north of Brittany tends to be wilder than the south, or Basse Bretagne, where the countryside becomes softer as it descends toward Nantes and the Loire. But wherever you go, the "Côtes d’Armor" (Lands of the Sea) are never too far away.

  • Northeast Brittany and the Channel Coast. The northern half of Brittany is demarcated by its 240-km (150-mile) Channel Coast, which stretches from Cancale, just west of Normandy’s Mont-St-Michel, to Morlaix. This can be loosely divided into two parts: the Côte d'Emeraude (Emerald Coast), with cliffs punctuated by golden, curving beaches; and the Côte de Granit Rose (Pink Granite Coast), including the astonishing area around Trébeurden, where Brittany's granite takes amazing forms that glow an otherworldly pink. On the road heading there are the gateway city of Rennes; the oyster mecca of Cancale; and the great port of St-Malo, where stone ramparts conjure up the days of marauding corsairs.
  • The Atlantic Coast. Bypassing the lobster-claw of Brittany's Finistère ("Land's End"), this westernmost region tempts with folkloric treasures like Ste-Anne-la-Palud (famed for its pardon festival); Quimper, noted for its signature ceramics; and cheerful riverside villages like Pont-Aven, which Gauguin immortalized in many paintings. Here, the 320-km (200-mile) Atlantic coast zigzags southeast, its frenzied, cliff-bashing surf alternating with sprawling beaches and busy harbors. Belle-Ile is a jewel off the Morbihan coast, another beautiful stretch of shoreline. Enjoy its away-from-it-all atmosphere, because the bustling city of Nantes lies just to the southeast.

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