Meeting new friends in France

Sylvia MS shares her 2019 cultural and historic journey through parts of Brittany and southern France with you.

What a holiday! France is known for its medieval cities, alpine villages, Mediterranean beaches, wines, and sophisticated cuisine. I rented a Toyota Aygo to visit Brittany after my bicycle tour of Normandy and visited seven Servas families.

My first stay this trip was with a nice couple, Catherine & Philippe C. in Taden near Dinan. I was their first Servas traveller ever! The second day with them, I visited Cancale, which lies on the coast, a picturesque fishing port, oyster capital of Brittany. The waterfront was a relaxing place to stroll and soak up the atmosphere. I continued on to Pointe du Grouin, covered with heath and coastal grassland, typical of Brittany’s rocky coast. From there, I went on to Dinard. It has a nice beach and is a popular holiday destination. Catherine and Philippe offered to show me Dinan that is known for its medieval ramparts, cobblestone streets, and half-timbered houses. We saw Dinan Castle from the 14th century.

I left Taden in the morning headed towards Plerneuf near Saint-Brieuc in the countryside to find Marc and Josiane. First I headed to Cap Fréhel, a peninsula surrounded mainly by cliffs, a spectacular headland that is one of the most beautiful landscapes in Brittany. I found Marc and Josiane, my new Servas hosts without too much trouble. We went for a hike from Étables-sur-Mer to St.-Marc. We had Coquilles St. Jacques for dinner. The next day after breakfast, Marc and I walked around the countryside and through the village. That day, the three of us did a hike at St. Brieuc Plage de Valais and later on to Port de Dahouët. It was interesting during low tide seeing boats that were grounded.

The next morning, I drove to Paimpol, a former fishing harbor that now has many pleasure boats as well as to Pointe de Guilben. I visited Catherine V. (Servas) in Ploubazlanec just for a couple of hours on my way to Morlaix. Ploubazlanec is a small quaint place with windy roads. She showed me her garden. I don’t remember seeing gardens as beautiful as those in France. We went for a beautiful walk up and down among the cliffs. She pointed out across the pensinsula, the house of Lucille Bettencourt, daughter of the founder of the world’s largest cosmetic company, L’Oréal. Marie Curie also had a house there in the past.

When I left, I headed to St. Sève, near Morlaix to stay with Christine and Emmanuel. We were invited to have dinner at their friend Agnès’ place in Morlaix. We had a nice evening and Christine and Emmanuel showed me Morlaix before driving home. The old quarter of the town has winding streets of cobbled stones and overhanging half-timber houses constructed of stone and timber. The next day, Christine, Emmanuel, their friends, and I went for a longish hike at Pointe de La Lande. Later, we were invited to a large dinner party at other friends’.

From Morlaix, I drove to Roscoff, a fishing port renowned for its picturesque architecture. Roscovites fought naval battles with the British and suffered their raids, they were also accomplices in smuggling. I drove to Morgat Beach on the Crozon Peninsula. It is one of the most scenic spots in Brittany with superb beaches and awesome panoramas. Morgat was built as a summer resort in the 1930s by the Peugeot brothers of motor-vehicle fame.

From there, I drove to Pointe du Raz, a promontory that extends into the Atlantic. It has a rough and windy climate, it was quite a long walk to the overlooking cliffs. I finally got to Quimper, my final destination for the day, or so I thought. Catherine L. had tickets for a music festival in Pont-Croix near where I’d just come from, but I was happy not having to drive. I treated her to a crêpe dinner and cider, of course. Quimper, a bigger town than the others, has slanted half-timbered houses and narrow cobbled streets with slate roofs. René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laennec from Quimper invented the stethoscope.

We visited the outdoor marché Saturday morning. We had lunch and afterwards visited the sights, the Cathedral St. Corentin, la Place au Beurre, and Monoprix, a department store. There were many, many crêperies, a Breton specialty. I treated Catherine to cider at Place Terre au Duc and we watched people.

I next headed to Concarneau, a bustling fishing port, a charming walled town enclosed in granite ramparts. The walled town is Concarneau’s ancient centre. It has narrow paved streets and picturesque houses. I walked along the ramparts as far as I could. Today, Concarneau is France’s sixth largest fishing port, producing 10,000 tons of fresh fish a year. Next, I drove to Port-Aven, a much smaller town. It was originally a small fishing harbour and surrounded by mills with a busy port. From the 1860s, Pont-Aven owed its fame to painters who settled here, for example, Paul Gaugin, and Claude Monet.

After I got to Fabienne’s in Auray, we walked into the ancient part of town, where the port was. It was beautiful with a few old walls from the castle still remaining from the 1300s. The next morning, Fabienne and I drove to Carnac. We visited the Maison des Megalithes and the Musée de Préhistoire. There are rows and rows of megaliths or large stones all aligned in rows, smallest to largest, four kilometres long. Fabienne returned to Auray by bus and I drove on to Quiberon, a peninsula surrounded by ocean with a beautiful sandy beach at the end. It was once a busy sardine port, but has been a resort since the early 20th century. Fabienne’s friend Karen came over for dinner.

The next day, I took Fabienne to Vannes. She had a couple of errands to do and she helped me find my next Servas family, Marie and Thierry. I had lunch with them and walked to town. Vannes is a partially walled town. The old town is characterized by narrow cobbled streets and medieval gates. The medieval centre of Vannes has many narrow streets lined with well-restored timber-framed houses. Marie invited me to go the beach Corleau with them and their grandson. The water was a bit cold for me, but I read, chatted, and enjoyed the scenery.

My longest drive was to La Rochelle, 250 kilometres or so. I found the La Rochelle airport and returned my Aygo Toyota. Françoise, my last Servas host was nice enough to come get me. She is friends with Servas host Virginie who I visited in Bordeaux three years ago. We had lunch and off we went. La Rochelle is a coastal city in southwestern France and capital of the Charente-Maritime department, not a part of Brittany. There are half-timbered medieval houses, Renaissance architecture, and passageways covered by 17th century arches. We walked and walked and walked. The following day, Françoise had to work, so I took the bus downtown. I visited Cathédrale Saint-Louis, the marché, walked the streets, bought a few snacks, and went to see a movie. We had a nice dinner and Françoise and I exchanged some ideas about Paris.

Françoise took me to the train station the next morning. It was so sad to leave my last Servas friend. From there, I headed to Paris and then back to Toronto.

The Servas hosts were all wonderful to me. Every family has its own background and story. It is so interesting to share all of our thoughts and ideas. I hope that all my Servas hosts will come to visit us in Canada. S’il vous plaît!

Au revoir France! I will be back.

Did you appreciate Sylvia’s tale? If you have travelled with Servas Canada and would like to share some of your news and a couple of photographs as a Travellers’ Tale, please contact us.

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