Brittany was an omission to be rectified: so accessible, and so inviting with its sandy coves, seafood and separateness. And no region has done more to promote the cause of cyclo-tourism. This tour was a circuit from St Malo via Vannes, Lorient, Quimper, Morlaix, Lannion, Perros Guirec and Dinard. It took us a week, with a little help from the train (Lannion to Plancoët), a few boats and some excellent hotels, all but one sourced through Logis Hotels.
Brittany Ferries carries 50,000+ bikes a year. We enjoyed meeting the Biking Belles of Chichester.
Dinan, home of Bertrand du Guesclin, was our first stop. We had planned to get there by the voie verte from Dinard but Brittany Ferries arrives at 8, the first sea bus to Dinard sails at 9.30, and on a cold morning with 100km ahead of us we didn’t feel like hanging around.
The road across Brittany is not the most exciting; intermittent rain, an unrelenting headwind and a succession of punctures made it worse. Luckily General de Gaulle was waiting in Brusvily to rally our flagging spirits. Another highlight was the bill for lunch at Les Templiers in Yvignac le Tour: 12 euros for the menu du jour, including wine. It was one of those places where you ask for a glass and she plonks the bottle on your table and says ‘help yourself’.
We were beginning to worry about the deadline for supper in Ploërmel when we found the voie verte, a former railway line, at Mauron. Not a particularly interesting ride, but a fast surface with a minimum of ups and downs. We covered the last 20km in under an hour, and were grateful for it. We saw 4 walkers, one dog and an assortment of depots, industrial buildings and former station hotels mostly in a state of advanced dilapidation. The café in the background is the Relais de la Voie Verte. It was empty, and seemed to sum up our ambivalent feelings about voie verte cycling.
Mickaël Suire of Hotel Le Cobh used to work in HR for Bateaux Mouches in Paris, and runs a tight ship in Ploërmel with more dynamism than you often find in quiet French country towns. Instead of tut-tutting about the late hour (20.45) he was happy to chat over a fizzy saumur and cointreau cocktail. A great stopover, and there’s a bike shop across the road. We stocked up with innner tubes.
South of Ploërmel, our disused railway track crossed the 385km Nantes to Brest canal (a succession of rivers linked by short sections of canal) several times. The towpath looks pleasant enough and peaceful, to a fault. We pressed on for the sea.
The Spa Hotel Tumulus in Carnac was our grandest stopover, and we didn’t really have time to do justice to its R&R capability. They asked us to remove our bikes from the railings, because they were ‘spoiling the view.’
Lorient’s sea bus network is an easy way through the city. Port Louis to the Quai des Indes: 1.45 euros with bike.
In other respects, Lorient is not a particularly bike friendly city, favouring shared pavements with a 6kph speed limit and instructions like this.
Brittany has all too few bits of coast and bike paths like this (between Larmor Plage and Guidel).
By the overland route, our lunch target on the other side of the Laïta would have been an hour away. A net mender told us about a ferry service. We began to have our doubts, as the scent of moules marinières wafted to us on the breeze, and the sky darkened.
Ten minutes earlier would have been nice, but he did reduce the fare from two euros to one. We were glad the boat had a roof.
Lunch at the Hotel du Pouldu. Our bottle (right) looks empty. Le Pouldu brings Gauguin to mind …..
“We found this in the attic when we were redecorating ….”
The Belle Vue: beautiful place, charming people, good food. “My great aunt started it in 1919, then my mother, now me and my brother.” He’s the chef.
Brittany may not be the most mountainous corner of Europe, but it’s a far from level playing field. Near Concarneau we confronted, and conquered, our first ever 3-arrow hill on the Michelin scale.
After an early morning swim below Fouesnant, we headed north: from Cornouaille to Léon was a long day of hill cycling and churches. The top of Brittany reminded (a bit) of upland Wales. The north slope, to Commana, seemed steeper. Fortunately we were going down: a 40mph moment.
The Parish Close is a speciality of western Brittany.
For me it was a return visit to the excellent Auberge St Thégonnec. It was disappointing to find the restaurant closed (the Sunday evening problem), but luckily for us the village has a crêperie open nearly all hours.
The main road to Lannion was unpleasantly busy, and steep, around St Michel en Grève. Various signs seemed to imply the existence of an alternative route for cyclists, but we couldn’t make it work.
The Hotel de la Plage at Ploumanac’h overlooks one of the prettiest bays on the Côte du Granit Rose, which lives up to its name.
Another illustration of our ambivalence. Voies vertes aren’t always ideal for the long or even medium haul cyclist.
After a three stage train ride from Lannon to Plancoët we got to Dinard in time for the last Corsaire sea bus of the day to St Malo and a rampart walk before our dinner date with Brittany Ferries.
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