While our evenings were spent happily dining and sleeping in lovely Ste. Marine, three of our days were spent day-tripping to some cute villages, towns and cities in the south and west of Brittany (Bretagne to the French) within an hour or two of Ste. Marine.
We spent much of a day in Quimper, the capital of Finestere, one of the 96 Departments of France, and the largest city (at approximately 65,000 people) in the area. We admired their immense Cathedrale St.-Corentin, their half-timbered store fronts, and loved their new, modern indoor market.
We also saw plenty of the faience pottery for which the town is famous. While I know people for whom this would have been the big draw for the entire town, that’s certainly not me. So we chose not to burden ourselves with any as souvenirs of our stay.
We did, however, happily engage in a meal in Quimper at the modern, mid-range Le Steinway which bills itself as a fish restaurant. We started with oysters all around. Then Val stayed with the fish-theme having scallops, while both Al and I deviated to beef, him with bourguiel wine sauce and I with an Asian-flavored “boeuf tartare.” We finished off with caramel cake and raspberries/framboise. All in all, quite a respectable meal.
Returning to Ste. Marine, we stopped briefly in Fouesnant where the local children were awaiting a Guignol (famous French puppet) show in a tent set up by the church in the town center. This kind of activity is what seems to make the French countryside so damned charming. You see signs everywhere for itinerant “shows” of one kind or another (often circuses) moving from small town to small town to entertain the locals and bring them together—a real sense of community and shared experiences.
We moved on to Benodet, the larger town (though not by much) across the bay from our delightful Ste. Marine. We congratulated ourselves on deciding to stay in Ste. Marine rather than Benodet, which, apart from the boat ride across the bay which was fun, proved more commercial and less well endowed with good dining opportunities than Ste. Marine.
On our second evening the local “shared” entertainment in Ste. Marine wasn’t something Al found quite so charming as the Guignol puppet show. It was a Celtic music concert—right outside his hotel window on the harbor. Al professes to enjoy almost every kind of music—except Celtic. You can’t win ‘em all.
On our second day of day-trips took us to Daoulas, Plougastel-Daoulas, Douarnenez, and Combrit, certainly not in the top ten and maybe not even in the top 100 visited cities of France, but definitely worthy of exploration for those who enjoy charming countryside, interesting history, and good dining.
Highlights included the market in Daoulas, a tiny town with a very big outdoor market complete with pygmy goats and pot-bellied pigs for sale alongside stands of enormous wok-like pots of various French dining mainstays like cassoulet, au gratin potatoes, and paella (all right, the latter is Spanish in origin but a frequent sight at French markets.)
Beyond the market, Daoulas presented an interesting monastery and cemetery, both pretty well covered in hortensias, the ubiquitous purple, pink, white and blue pom-pom type flowers we call hydrangeas.
In Plougastel-Daoulas the big draw is their Calvary, one of the largest in Brittany at some 180 figures. A Calvary is a sculptural depiction of the Crucifixion often erected in the 15th to 17th centuries. The town is also at the center of the strawberry growing region of France.
Douarnenez is a harbor town and capitol of the sardine canning industry of France, but it proved not as pretty as others, so we moved on to the neighboring Treboul and a very pretty lunch at Ty Mad. On a warm summer day, the porch-like setting on the second floor of this hotel restaurant was cool, very green and enchanting and offered a nice view of the steeple of the local Church of St. Jean. It helped that the food was excellent and beautifully presented.
I celebrated the heritage of Douarnenez with a plate of sardines and followed with lotte with butter sauce and bio-veggies while Al had tuna carpaccio and Val a brochette of duck and iberico pork followed by seafood risotto.
After lunch our drive back to Ste Marine took us to Pont L’Abbe and Combrit, neither of which proved as much of a draw as our tiny harbor with its relaxing views out to sea and plenty of Rose Pamplemousse.
Day three out of Ste Marine took us to Concarneau and Pont Aven, two of our favorite towns from previous trips. In the former we hit both the indoor and outdoor markets then crossed the bridge from the main part of town to the medieval Ville Close, the walled island fortress area with its touristy but very attractive old granite buildings and shops.
Though not much of a shopper, I actually bought something in Concarneau—a waterproof tote bag of blue Brittany stripes on a tan background with red stripes on the handle. I used it throughout the trip and continue to use it periodically now that I am at home—a worthy and useful souvenir and very Breton.
After strolling Concarneau we made a deliberate detour on the way out of town to have lunch at Les Sables Blancs, a hotel/restaurant where we’d stayed and dined on previous trips. Sometimes you can go home again. Everything was as we’d left it–modern, with lovely outdoor decks giving onto a beach with children at play, and terrific food, served in a dining room that also looks onto the beach and the ocean beyond.
Note the fashionable Brittany striped tote on the chair to the left of an unseen diner.
Al and Val continued to binge on oysters while I started with coquillages in champagne, a delicate mélange of finely chopped sea critters. Al followed with monkfish with fennel, lard (pork belly) and fleur de sel, Val with a plateau des fruits de mer, and I with gnocchi with pork and andouillette, something I’ve actually worked hard to develop a taste for. This version of chitterling sausage was particularly edible, being served warm as a thinly sliced rosette. My reward for finishing my plate was buckwheat crepes with ice cream and raspberries.
Our plan to stop in Pont Aven, the artist town of Gauguin and other impressionists and a lovely place, was pretty much quashed by our inability to find parking for more than a half hour. Alas! But we did get some good shots of the main areas of town perched on a river that winds its way through flower-planted banks that serve as a perfect backdrop to the town’s wonderful weekly market.