Belle Bretagne

Frank and me, enjoying the sun on the ramparts in Vannes.

A couple of weeks ago, we took a family vacation to France. A work friend mentioned last year how her young family travels to Brittany every summer and it sounded so wonderful, I looked into it myself. I found an unbeatable Black Friday deal on Eurocamp.ie and booked us a week at a campsite in Baden, a tiny town between the larger cities of Lorient and Vannes on the northwestern coast of France.

Our little home away from home in Baden.

Seven months later, we finally got to see what we’d signed up for! First of all, let me enlighten all you Montanans about the meaning of “campsite” in cases such as these. This was not the roughing it kind of camping I grew up with – we did not sleep in a tent, cook over an open fire, or have to go to the bathroom in the woods. This was more like a large self-catering non-fancy resort for families – trailers equipped with kitchens, bathrooms and beds, on a site with multiple swimming pools, bouncy castles, activities like archery and mini-golf, and even a restaurant. We brought our own linens and food, but otherwise we had all we needed. WiFi was expensive and there was no TV, which was fine by me, so we occupied ourselves more creatively.

Pools and splash pad!

Overall, I’m really glad we went. Having only experienced the chaos of Paris, I fell in love with Brittany (aka Bretagne). (I love Paris, too, but this was another kind of adventure all together.) The campsite was really fabulous, and good value for money. The towns nearby, mainly Vannes and Auray, were spectacular. The food was amazing – fresh breads, ripe fruit, flavorful cheeses, varied choices of snacks and treats, and much better value than Ireland.  Even the kids were bowled over and cannot stop talking about the sausages we’d barbecue most nights. (The wine… don’t get me started!). The French people we met along the way were also just so friendly and helpful, it made even stressful situations much easier. The weather could not have been better – it’s cooler on the coast and we missed the big heat wave, so it was a comfortable, sunny 75ish F (25ish C).

Evelyn ate her weight in bread.

The difficult part was Kids + Travel = Stress. Toss in some monster seasonal allergies (Shea) and unforeseen airplane terror (Isla) with a dash of extra-potent Charles de Gaulle drama (Frank) and it’s a recipe for a couple days that were not much fun at all. Let’s just say we all had our share of tantrums! So I’m not sure if we’ll be traveling outside Ireland again anytime soon… like in the next 10 years… but like I said, I’m glad we went. I don’t know how some people do Disneyworld every year?! Is our family just a big ball of crazy?

Some people, like my work friend, take the ferry from Ireland to France. It takes a full day/night, but you get to sleep in a cabin onboard and bring your own car. Sometimes this can be more economical, but when we priced it, the flights for all of us to Paris were cheaper. Plus we wanted to rent a car that was bigger and better on gas than our current vehicle. But flying with Isla was an unexpected nightmare. Sorry to everyone else on the plane! Thank goodness it was a short flight.

Kids messing outside a shop in Vannes.
Shea examining a little boat in Auray.

One reason we chose to go outside Ireland is that it is unfortunately very expensive to travel IN Ireland. Even with AirBNBs, we could easily have paid the same to spend a week somewhere closer to home, and we would probably not have gotten the good weather (or the swimming pools!). So I made the executive decision to use some of our final US tax refund to take this family holiday abroad.

Isla exploring Auray

Some interesting things about traveling in France/Brittany…

  • In Brittany, they speak Breton (in addition to French). It’s the native language, and very different. I did not learn any Breton, haha, but I was able to get by with my clumsy collection of French phrases.
  • If you travel from Paris to Rennes (on the A11/A81, I believe?), the toll is 29 euros! Ouch.
  • They drive on the right side of the road and the left side of the car, like in the USA (and most other parts of the world).
  • Brittany has a fascinating history which is largely Celtic! You see a lot of Celtic designs and neolitic rocks and tombs similar to what you see in Ireland and the UK. Much of the King Arthur/Merlin folklore is also based in Brittany and Merlin’s grave is supposedly in the ancient forest of Broceliande (which we did not get to this time).

    A galette with egg, cheese, ham, and tomatoes – served at a lovely sidewalk cafe in Vannes.
  • Traditional cuisine of the area includes Kir Breton (a cocktail comprised of dry cider and creme de cassis, yum!), crepes and galettes (as pictured), salted caramel, seafood, and Gateau Breton (a buttery shortbread cake with a crumbly texture that can be plain, as we tried, or it can include a jam or caramel filling).
  • I absolutely loved the architecture – whitewashed stone houses with the biggest hydrangeas you’ve ever seen cascading all over the walls and footpaths. The bigger towns had narrow cobblestoned streets lined with timber-framed buildings dating back centuries, each unique in colour and decoration.

    Hydrangeas everywhere!
  • We barely scratched the surface of things to see and do – this article, for instance, doesn’t even list the fantastic towns we saw! I’m thinking maybe a future anniversary should be spent back in Brittany. Anyone want to babysit? We can pay you in wine and salted caramel. 🙂

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