Finally, I am writing about my trip to Brittany and Pays de la Loire during the Christmas holidays. It was almost a last-minute plan. I wanted to go somewhere far for Christmas (Prague or somewhere in Italy), but could not find anyone to go with. By the time someone DID want to go with me, prices for everything had been completely jacked up. Boo.
So, I decided to go solo. I wanted to just go SOMEWHERE outside of Bordeaux. It didn’t even have to be anywhere far anymore; I just needed to be alone for a few days. Well, I suppose Nantes and Rennes were far away enough. Nantes is a 4-hour train ride north of Bordeaux and Rennes is a further hour north of Nantes.
Not many people knew where I went during the four days after the Christmas meal. It felt a bit like a secret escape, actually, and I liked it. (See all photos.)
Day 1: Nantes, Pays de la Loire
Nantes, the capital city of the Pays de la Loire region in the north west of France, was historically a part of the region of Brittany (Bretagne in French). In fact, it was the capital of Brittany before it officially separated from the region, and that’s why the city still retains much of its culture from its Breton roots.
The Château des ducs de Bretagne is a prominent structure situated right in the city centre of Nantes, close to the train station. Back when Nantes was part of Brittany, the castle served as the residence of the dukes of Brittany. Today, visitors are allowed to take a walk around the various parts of the castle and its courtyards that are surrounded by old walls and ramparts.
Of course I had to try some Breton goodness, and since Nantes was historically part of Brittany, creperies are plentiful. For dinner I had a simple galette – buckwheat flour pancake (pictured above) – with onions, mushrooms, and sausages, with a lemon crêpe and Breton cider as dessert. Everything Breton in one meal – awesome! The galette looks so ordinary but was much tastier than I had expected. Oh, the wonders of food!
Apparently it rains more often in Nantes than it does in Bordeaux…and here I was thinking I was escaping from the rain, when really, I went from a rainy city to an even RAINIER city! I strolled along the streets of Nantes at night and while the rain dampened my mood a bit, at least the holiday spirits were still in the air. I really liked the array of Christmas trees lit up in different colours in the shape of a huge crescent in the city centre.
As I was walking towards the tram stop to head back to the hotel, I passed by the Château des ducs de Bretagne again, this time illuminated along its walls. There was a short light show that was projected on the old walls, where a little man was walking back and forth the castle and disappeared into a void in the end. Pretty cool!
Day 2: Rennes, Brittany
On the second day I took the train to Rennes, the current capital of the REAL region of Brittany. I have a friend who lives in Rennes, and she happened to have time to take me around to explore the city a bit. As I didn’t know much about the city at all, I had few expectations and was glad to have a guide with me.
We first went into a basilica in the historic centre of Rennes. I forgot its name, but it was quite a magnificent structure and rather different than the other cathedrals and basilicas I’ve visited in Europe. It was very spacious and gave me a felt much more lavish and audacious, quite a sight to see.
My favourite place in Rennes is definitely the area around Place Sainte-Anne in the historical centre, where traditional Breton-style architecture could be found scattered around the narrow streets. The houses were built with timber framing and resembled little cabins and huts. The atmosphere was very medieval 😉
As for nature, I was looking forward to visiting Thabor Park, which is supposedly a lovely botanical garden when the flowers are fully in bloom. Unfortunately there wasn’t much to see in the wintertime, much like the Jardin Luxembourg in Paris when I went during the winter two years ago. However, my friend and I did see an enclosure that housed many types of gorgeous birds. It was a bit hard taking photos of the birds as the cage was in the way most of the time, but I was quite mesmerized – they were so beautiful!
People asked me why I would go to Nantes and Rennes in the winter. “Of course you should go during the summer,” they’d say. “There’s nothing much to see during the winter.” Well, you can say that for most places, really. Unless you go skiing, winter isn’t really a good time to go travelling, but does that mean you’re not gonna go anywhere? Against my friends’ advice I took this trip, and even though it rained, even though there were no flowers in Thabor, I was content. You can’t go EVERYWHERE during the summer, so I would rather save the time I have in the summer for say, Italy or Portugal.
Back in the city centre, we wandered around a bit near Sainte-Anne again, back to where the Breton houses were located. My friend noted that these houses can easily be destroyed in a fire, and apparently there have been many instances in the history of Rennes where that has happened. As my professor Larry Smith used to say, “Warning warning! Danger danger!”
Ah yes, food. My friend recommended seafood in Rennes, and we went to a restaurant named Le Café Noir for dinner. I don’t usually order fish as the main dish, but since it was recomended, I thought I’d give it a try. (The appetizer was herring, so the entire meal was almost all fish.) I gotta say, the salmon main dish, pictured above, was AMAZING. Not only was the portion way bigger than what I had anticipated, the flavour, the texture, the presentation…everything was perfect. It would be no exaggeration to say it was the best salmon I’ve ever had. Ahh…I still drool when I think about it now. So good!!! This is why I will never be skinny. I love food. I love life. Who needs to be skinny anyway?
At night, we headed to the city hall to see a Christmas-themed light show and wow, I was impressed! I took a video of the whole thing but it was huge so I haven’t uploaded it yet, but all it is was a series of dazzling images and animations projected onto the city hall. In a few seconds it would transform from a golden palace to a wall of clocks to a gigantic integrated circuit to…more than you could imagine. Simply fascinating! I was told that during the Festival of Lights, the entire city of Lyon looks like this. Hmm, would I ever have a chance to see that in Lyon?
Palais Saint-Georges illuminated at night reminded me of Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux. Heh, would you believe it if I told you that was the moon? 😉
I enjoyed Rennes a lot. I suppose going somewhere without much expectation is a good thing, because by expecting nothing, you won’t get disappointed. I thought I’d like Nantes more than Rennes before I went, but it was completely the opposite! Rennes was more compact, more cozy, simply more…likeable, for some reason. From Rennes I visited the famous French monument Mont Saint-Michel on day 3, but that’s another story for another post. Ciao for now!