From the megalithic sites and Celtic soul of Carnac, to the creperie capital of the world in Quimper, the Johnny Onion Festival in Rosscoff, or the picture postcard perfect Pont-Aven, Brittany is best explored a little bit at a time. On this trip we opted to savour the delights of Nantes, Quiberon and Concarneau and loved every minute of it.
For years I have ventured as far south as Biarritz and St Jean de Luz and they are so worth the long haul in their own right and also provide a perfect staging post for even deeper raids into the BasqueCountry to San Sebastian and Bilbao. But we will return to them another day.It’s midsummer and so it would be sacrilege to be discussing camping options and not include France. In classic French egalitarian fashion camping is no poor relation or second class citizen. It’s as cool, chic and classy as it comes. The French touring campsites are among the best there are anywhere in Europe, from the petite low key to the grandeur and scale of, well, just too big for me, but the kids sure do love those water parks.
For now we are talking about basking instead in the delights of Brittany, its Celtic roots, stunning coastline, scrumptious seafood, the perfect mix of town and country, easy going atmosphere, its farmer markets, its celebration of the humble crepe and cider, the tasty simplicity of a moules frites lunch and such great value, within easy striking distance once you are off the ferry.
Brittany is hard to beat.
A sailing port on the Quiberon peninsula
I like an open ended itinerary for a road trip giving ample flexibility for the route, stop overs and destinations rather than locking it all down in advance. This approach lends itself to surprises and possibilities of making decisions on the hoof and being able to take advantage of opportunities thrown up on spec. This has led me in the past to Camping ‘Les Coeures’ in Sainte-Marie-Sur-Mer near the village of Pornic. The site itself is small and basic, no bells and whistles, so a great spot to down tools and detox.
Typical Brittany coastline and beach near Pornic
However, nothing as bad as rocking up on a Friday or Saturday evening and finding there is no room at the Inn, so it is advisable, especially in the high season to cover your basis with some advance booking especially if you are on the road at the weekend. Personally, I prefer to make my moves midweek and stay put for the weekends to avoid disappointment, crowds and heavy traffic.
While nine times out of ten I will opt for a coastline setting, sometimes there is advantage in a central location if you fancy a bit more hustle and bustle for a couple of days. The municipal campsites come in to their own in this regard as the local authority operated sites are well run and super well located within easy walk or cycling distance of urban centres. This is certainly the case in La Rochelle which has a second option right down in the port quarter.
Also in Nantes the municipal site in the university district is about a 40 minute walk into the city centre and so easy to cycle as there are spacious cycle lanes (and trams) serving all of the city and I have seen few places as cycle friendly as Nantes..
A shaded berth at Nantes Camping
The campsite itself is of a standard second to none with excellent levels of hygiene and a big emphasis on eco-friendly policies. There is a good mix of tents, tourers and cabins; it’s very safe and with plenty of playground space. It’s a five star site and open all year round – Nantes Camping, 21 Boulevard du Petit Port.
Nantes, which straddles the river Loire is the furthermost southern urban centre in Brittany and an excellent base for a weekend stop over. It is worth visiting alone for the spectacular Les Machines de I’lle and its star attraction the Grand Elephant which is sure to delight children of all ages and those who are young at heart. This is a must see exhibition and attraction which I couldn’t recommend enough. Great fun and brimming with imagination, appropriately in the birthplace of science fiction writer Jules-Vernes who is also commemorated in a city museum.
Le Grand Elephant is one of the must see star attractions in Nantes
When we visited Nantes this time last year there was a heavy police and military security presence, which was as reassuring as it was disconcerting. However, the only downside of our Nantes visit was our Sunday treat at the famed 19th century brasserie, La Cigale. The food was appalling and rivaled only by the resentful and ignorant service. We saved the tip instead for a lively street troupe who did literally bend over back-ways to entertain us, unlike the staff at La Cigale who went out of their way to be unhelpful.
While Brittany covers an area of only 6 per cent of France it has 2,863km of coastline. It’s not possible in my view to savour the delights of Brittany on one visit and to try do so is a grave error in which you will spend most of your time on the road. On our last trip we were having such a great time that we cut back on four planned stop-overs to just two.
Roscoff is my preferred port by far and it is worth affording some time in its own right. Do try take in the Fete de l’Oignon or Johnny Onion Festival. It takes place this year on August 18th & 19th.
From the megalithic sites of the Celtic soul centre of Carnac to the creperie capital of the world in Quimper and the picture postcard perfect Pont-Aven (a favourite with art lovers), Brittany is best explored a little bit at a time.
In this spirit I could not recommend highly enough the Quiberon Peninsula and the historic fishing port of Concarneau.
The Quiberon Penninsula is a treasure throve of delights and activities, but beware as it can be packed out in the high season such is its popularity. Sailing, surfing, kayaking and fishing opportunities are in abundance with wonderful options for walking and cycling, not least on the stunning Belle-Ile, an island 45 minutes away served by frequent ferry services.
A ‘room’ with a view at the campsite in Quiberon
We based ourselves at the Camping du Conquel beach front campsite at the tip of the peninsula and thought so bad of leaving as it was such a great spot for a cost of €26 per night, inclusive of showers and electrical hook up. It also sports a large pool and elaborate water slides, ideal for families with young children and it is a pleasant walk or cycle into the town and port, the beachfront cafes, shops and markets. An added novelty is the proximity of a small airfield for light aircraft which regularly featured parachute jumping and close quarters landing skills in over the beach in the afternoons. I even spotted one of my camping neighbours making regularly early morning trips to harvest wild oysters from rock outcrops nearby on low tide – www.campingduconguel.com
Once an important sardine port, Quiberon lives up to its heritage with a large la belle-iloise sardine store and museum, which make for excellent gifts or a chance to stock up. Not surprisingly then there is also an excellent fish monger, Maison Lucas at 10 Quai de L’Ocean, where you are advised to get in early for the best of crevettes and fresh fish and enough sardines to feed an army from your barbecue grill for a fiver.
The campsite is Concarneau is first class and great value
Concarneau, the third most important fishing port in France is a contrast to Quiberon but that gritty port feel is offset by a lovely waterfront, town square, superb market hall and its piece de resistance the Ville Close, a walled and well preserved medieval town and fortress, which is now inhabited by an array of restaurants, cafes, boutiques and craft shops. You will be spoilt for choice here and there is some really great value for a long leisurely lunch in places like La Maison de Carabousse.
There are dozens of great cafes and restaurants to chose from at the Ville Close in Concarneau
The main market held in the town square in front of the Ville Close each Friday is a great place to shop for provisions, while Maison George Larnicol at 9 Rue Vauban is one of the best spots to get your traditional Gateau Breton and biscuits based on a generation’s old family recipe. Concarneau is also home to an annual Breton and Celtic music festival every August – www.festivaldesfiletsbleus.fr.
The campsite offering in Concarneau is also a big difference to Quiberon but a great option nevertheless. Camping Les Sables Blancs is tucked away in a residential part of the town but has the elevation to overlook the coastline. It has a heated outdoor pool but not much else for young children. I really liked it here and again it’s a stroll or easy cycle into the main town thoroughfare and port area. Pound for pound this is the best campsite I have ever stayed in at only €64.40 for a four night stay on a special midweek offer. Just two hours from Roscoff, it is a great option for the final few days of a trip – www.camping-lessablesblancs.com.
Brittany is hard to beat and I will certainly be back.
A dedicated cycle route in Concarneau takes you from the campsite to the town centre
Our berth in Quiberon with the beach just across the road
John Whelan is a vastly experienced midlands based journalist and editor who has contributed extensively to the country's leading national and regional titles, as well as broadcast outlets. He runs the media services company, Communicate Ireland www.communicateireland.ie.
John is a keen camping and campervan enthusiast with an interest in music, culture, heritage and outdoor pursuits. He has written for the Sunday Times, Sunday Independent and the Woman's Way on these topics.
He is also an author, and his latest book, The Last Beekeeper, reflects his love of nature, the landscape and our shared responsibility to protect the environment. The Last Beekeeper is available to preview and purchase at www.thelastbeekeeper.ie.