Bretagne – Jour 1 – Vannes

The first day of my Bretagne (Brittany) jaunt took me from Paris to Vannes, then around Vannes, then around, with stops, to Arzon.

I took the TGV from Paris Montparnesse to Vannes. It was an early train leaving at 7h04 and scheduled to arrive 10h15, but it was a little late. The voie (track) gets posted 20 minutes before scheduled departure. When posted, the multitude starts walking down by the train, each searching for their voiture (car). It always seems like a long walk. But, I found my voiture and place (seat) in plenty of time.

I did notice that two TGV trains, that is, two different TGV train numbers, were scheduled to depart at the same time. One had a final destination of Brest and the other Quimper. Both are very close to the Atlantic coast with Brest being north of Quimper. My TGV was destined for Quimper.

After going through Le Mans without a stop, there was a stop in Rennes. I stepped off the train whilst it was at the platform to stretch my legs. A fellow passenger warned me not to stand by the train as it would move backwards. Or, at least that is what I thought she said as it was all in French. Backwards?

Sure enough, after a short time the train did go backwards 1 m or so. The train so far had been two trains coupled together. It probably is more efficient that way. Each train was an engine, multiple cars, and an engine. The middle of the combined train was two engines nose to nose. At Rennes they were uncoupled and the rearward train, my train, moved backwards just a little.

We reboarded. The first train took off towards Brest and the second towards Quimper. The next stop for my train was Vannes. I got off and met my hosts (see the introductory post).

We drove to the marina area and parked there. There is a tourist office in the marina area where I got some English language maps and guides.

Then into Vannes through the St Vincent town gate. Vanned was a fully walled town, but the wall does not exist around the entire perimeter anymore.

The streets are mostly cobblestone. There are many half-timber houses. The top picture was taken somewhere in the middle of old Vannes.

You can see the cobblestones, the half-timber houses, and how the houses are stepped outward, almost closing the overhead space. And, of course, you can see the tourists.

We walked up by the main cathedral and then over to the hôtel de ville (city hall), which is a little outside the town’s wall. The hôtel de ville is a much grander and newer building than much of what is inside the walls.

Then back into the walled area and to lunch. We all had steamed moules (mussels), which came with frites, and shared a pitchet (pitcher) of cidre (fermented cider). We each got a dessert treat that was three small dessets and a café espresso. Two of the desserts were Bretagne-specific, one being fruity and the other chocolate. The third was crème brûlée.

Thus fortified, we walked to the east side and up onto the wall. There is a park just outside the wall in this area. The park is between the wall and the current road around town.

The park is all a jardin in the French style. That is, all neatly and symmetrically laid out. (It is English gardens that are seemingly random and usually not highly trimmed.)

The workers were out. It is still early in the tourist season and they were preparing.

The symbol used in this area is a stoat with an ermine cape. You see it quite frequently. And, sure enough, there was one in the jardin.

All of this brought us back to the marina and thence to the parked car. We now started our drive to Arzon.

Our first stop was La Maison du Cidre. For a modest fee, they had a film showing how cidre was made as well as today’s techniques, a number of small exhibits of old equipment, and finished up with a tasting of four cidres.

Their cidre comes in brut, fruité, et doux (dry, fruity, and sweet). The fruité is somewhat sweet, but quite apple tasting.

The specialty is Cidre Royal Guillevic. This is the only AOP cidre in Bretagne. That is, it abides by a lot of special rules as AOP wines do. Only a single type of apple. Fermented a certain way at a certain temperature, etc. They suggest using it as an apéro (aperitif). You would not use it with a meal, just as, of course, you would not use champagne at a meal!

Next was a stop at Château de Suscinio. Started in the 1200s, this was a residence of the Ducs de Bretagne until it fell into disuse and disrepair. The local area government bought it in 1965 and restorations started in 1980.

The restorations have been quite extensive and are extremely well done. There is still more to do and there is still archaeological work going on.

The tour goes up three flights of circular stairs in the mostly restored front section through lots of rooms and banquet halls. Then along of top of the castle’s wall to the back section. Then down a circular stairway, across the building, up two more circular flights, out onto the roof, around and then down circular stairs to the ground level. Phew! Lots of stairs up and down. It is well worth visiting if you get to the area.

Finally, to my host’s home in Arzon. Colette and I catch up on our email while Jean-Yves makes dinner. I ask if I can help and am shooed out of the kitchen. Colette says he loves to cook and likes to do it all himself.

Dinner is some calamar (squid) that Jean-Yves got from the Golfe (Gulf). It was the most tender I have had. It was the bodies sliced lengthwise into pretty large, as in thick, slices. Larger than I have seen. But, very tender. He made a nicely spiced sauce with it. That came with a vegetable and, of course, pain (bread). They nicely provided red wine for me; they had white wine.

Then a salad and fromage (cheese) course. There was Camembert, chèvre, et Petit Breton. The Petit Breton is a local, cow milk, semi-soft cheese. Everyone went to red wine with the fromage.

We ended with a dessert of fruit. We each took a fresh peach, cut it up, and ate it.

It was a long day as I got up at about 5h45 to get ready and make the TGV. I went to my room to read a little at about 22h00. We agreed to start the next day at 8h00.

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