From Cancale to Paimpol - On & Off the Beaten Track
After leaving Magical Mont Saint Michel, we made our way to Cancale - the oyster capital of France. It is a pretty town with a small but well situated port filled with seafood restaurants and carts with oyster farmers selling their wares. We arrived just at the right time to indulge in a dozen delicious oysters bought directly on the port and eaten immediately accompanied by a glass of chardonnay - bliss! There is not a lot to do in Cancale besides enjoying the wonderful seafood, the usual shops selling souveniers and local produce line the far end of the port. It is a place to relax, kick back and enjoy what the town is most famous for at the unbelievable price of just EUR 6-9 a dozen depending on the size of the oysters. There is a particular oyster that I have never seen elsewhere which is found only locally. It is shaped more like a scallop and tastes like a hybrid between an oyster and a scallop. When in Cancale one must try these delicious "huitre plate" as they are seldom found elsewhere.. Even though they cost twice as much as all the other oysters, they are still a bargain compared to prices paid in Switzerland or Germany.
After the calm of Cancale we headed for the hustle and bustle of St. Malo. Established in the first century B.C. The Gallo-Roman port made way for a city founded on an island in the 12th century. In the 16th century, Jacques Cartier set off from St. Malo to discover Canada (which in the local language means small village) and their fishing fleets reached Newfoundland. The shipowners exploited the sea routes and the city prospered behind its famous ramparts. The pride in their city is on display as the banner of Saint-Malo, flies above the French flag even today. In our opinion, this is an interesting city due to its ramparts and history, however, it is now so dominaed by tourism that it has lost the charm which is to be found in the smaller towns of Brittany.
One such charming little village was our next stop, St. Suliac. Cottages made from the local granite create a wonderful atmosphere as you are led through the winding little streets to the port on the river Rance. Here a handful of restaurants and bars serve seafood, the local farm specialties and ofcourse the famous Galettes (like crepes but savoury and made from buckwheat). The friendly villagers add to the good vibes and the relaxed feel of this " plus beau village de France".
Then it was onto Dinan a well preserved town with its wealth dating back to the Middle Ages. On the steep Rue du Jerzual, the half-timbered houses and those with pointed gables are a reminder of the town’s wealthy past. From the 14th to 18th centuries, it was bustling with weavers and tanners. We enjoyed strolling through Dinan a lot more than St. Malo. Both have ramparts and a wealthy past but Dinan has retained its charm even though it is a magnet for tourists as well.
There are so many beautiful spots along the coast of Britanny but certain stretches like that from Cap d`Erquy - Cap Frehel have been designated the "Sites Emblématiques and Grand Site " of France due to their stunning natural beauty.
This area is a dream for hikes and bikers as well as nature lovers and bird watchers. This protected natural site features diverse coastal environments where special wildlife and plant life flourish. Samphire, sea holly, heather and gorse are everywhere. It is the second largest reserve in the Côtes d’Armor where hundreds of birds nest, including herring gulls, Northern fulmars, common murres, common cormorants and even razorbills.Towering over all of this beauty is the Cap Fréhel lighthouse, standing 100 metres high and offering amazing views far and wide.
Our next stop was the nature reserve at Hillion. The bay of Saint-Brieuc is recognized as a coastal wetland of international importance and is classified as a "National Nature Reserve". The area is home to some migrating birds and a winter refuge for several others. We enjoyed our treks from one picturesque spot to the other along the coast. As the tide goes out mussel farms are revealed and horse riders and those with traps use the wet sand for a long ride or training. In the background the chirping of a variety of birds some of which we spotted, added to the whole experience of this beautiful beach. Dogs are not allowed on the beach at certain times of the year. There is a notice board indicating the restrictions. Outside of these restricted periods dogs are allowed but only on the leash. It is a natural reserve and we have the privelge of experiencing it so I hope everyone who visits sticks to the rules.
The final stop on this leg of the journey was Paimpol - a lovely little port town with its shipowners’ houses and charming little streets. Small squares and pretty half-timbered houses from the 15th and 16th centuries bear witness to the region’s past prosperity. The best day to visit is Tuesday. It is market day in Paimpol. around Place du Martray and the Latin quarter. You will find all the regional produce from fresh vegetables and fruit to seafood, honey, cheese and ofcourse the delicious salted caramel! There are several stalls offering meals and a variety of clothing and craft stalls as well. The size of the market, the quality of the produce and the friendly locals all combine to make the visit truly enjoyable. Paimpol is also famous for its special Oysters which we had the good fortune to sample on the beach at Arin's Oyster bar just a few minutes by car from Paimpol.
When in Paimpol visiting the Ile de Brehat is an absolute must. What is known as the Ile or island is actual two islands joined by a bridge. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, this picturesque place enjoys its own micro-climate. Charming stone houses and wild coves can be discovered only by bicycle or on foot. Access to the island is by a ferry from L`Arcouest just 10 minutes by car or 20 minutes by bus from Paimpol. The price of a ticket is EUR10.30 for adults and EUR2.50 for dogs. However, bycicles cost an additional EUR16 to take along. Far better to hire an electric bike on the island for EUR14 per day. Brehat for all its natural beauty is primarily known as the island of flowers. You will be greeted by hydrangeas, mimosas, blackberry bushes, eucalyptus, aloes, camellias and the most significant flower of them all, the agapanthus. From June to September, you will see its purple-blue or white flower on every path. As for birds, there are over 120 species on the island. In the spring, you’ll hear tits, finches, robins, larks and song thrushes. A lot has been written about this beautiful island but experiencing the beauty is what it is all about.