“Why Brittany?”, is the most common question we have been asked since starting this venture and the reasons are many. Hopefully we will be able to give you some insight into this glorious corner of France.(though many locals consider themselves Bretons first and French second!)
Brittanys rivers are not connected to the rest of the French waterways and are independantly governed. The locks too, do not conform to the French standard dimensions which is why we had to spend 2 years searching for the ideal barge. After nearly 2 years of work converting her into a purpose built hotel barge we had to travel over 3,500km to get her here.We also had a 2 month wait near Bordeaux for the perfect weather conditions to tackle the sea voyage up the Bay of Biscay before we finally got here. Was it all worth it? Definitely!
Although it has been part of France for over 450 years, Brittany used to be a distinct area that drew its heritage not from inland europe, but from the Celts. These peoples came from Wales, Scotland, Cornwall and Ireland.The Breton language is closest to Cornish. It was also at the centre of a sophisticated prehistoric culture that had strong links with Britain and Ireland. After being absorbed into France, its fortunes declined as it was ignored and oppressed by its new rulers. Nowadays its revival is due in no small part to the revival of the old pan-celtic trading routes.
It is thought that Brittany has the oldest continuously inhabited areas in the world and the megalithic remains are both spectacular and of supreme importance. Dating from 6,000 BC these remains pre-date Stonehenge, Knossos on Crete and even the pyramids of Egypt.
Luckily for us Napoleon Bonaparte decided that it was necessary to create an inland link between Brest on the western coast of Brittany, and Nantes on the river Loire which in turn gave access to the Bay of Biscay. This was to allow the transport of cargo to the navy at Brest without interference from the English who were blockading the channel at that time. Thus work started in 1804 on the Nantes a Brest Canal.
The Nantes à Brest canal mainly uses existing rivers and by including weirs and locks, made them navigable to river craft. As most of the towns in Brittany were built along the sides of the rivers, we now have a situation where the canal cuts right through the centre of some beautiful medieval towns such as Rennes,Redon, Josselin and Malestroit. The waterways are no longer used for commercial traffic and even pleasure boat activity is relatively light, especially compared to some of the canals which have large quantities of hire cruisers on them.
Brittany was a favourite haunt of Paul Gauguin and there are many of his paintings depicting scenes of Brittany that have changed little even today.
Painting by Canadian artist Ranjan Sen from Libje
Every town in Brittany seems to compete to have the best floral displays and the locks and lock cottages are no exception
Brittany is the source for much of France’s top quality fruit and vegetables. Its long rocky coast also makes it the centre for seafood of all sorts. A favourite dish here is the seafood platter and so highly rated is its importance that there are strict laws laid down stating the number of varieties that must appear and also the freshness of the ingredients.
The Brittany countryside is lush and the rolling hills and valleys harbour rich grazing pastures. A visit to one of the many outdoor markets rewards us with a vast choice of fresh quality products. Local specialities are crepes, cheese, seafood, organic beers and cider.
As Brittany is essentially a large peninsula, the climate is moderate and enjoys a relatively even and pleasant temperature throughout most of the year. The weather here is often described as the perfect southern English summer. This means that in the summer we don’t have to hide from the sun for a large portion of the day, and so we can see and do so much more in a comfortably warm and pleasant climate .
With its long history of links with celtic England and Wales it is of no surprise that Brittany has a huge volume of folklore relating to Arthurian legend. Merlin the wizard was supposed to have come from the central forest of Broceliande.It is no coincidence that a large number of the ‘knights of the round table’ were French.
Brittany has much unspoiled countryside and the varied wildlife reflects this. On many a stretch of river we are beyond sight or sound of a road and we regularly see kingfishers darting along the bank. There is a large variety of other bird life and there are even wild boar. In short, Brittany offers a glimpse of how Britain used to be about 50 years ago and you stand a chance of seeing herons, egrets,many raptors, woodpeckers, red squirrels,wild boar,deer,badgers,coypu and even otters. The fact that we pass through some of the most remote parts of an unspoilt countryside will have the serious nature enthusiast or photographer spoilt for choice.