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Gulf of Morbihan in Southern Brittany
Brittany is a very large region; it is the most westerly part of France. Like all French regions, this one is composed of several departments.The north coast of Brittany is on the English Channel and is generally called Normandy. Both climates and vegetation are very different in the northern part and the southern part of Brittany. There is a lot more sun in the southern part of Brittany.
Mor-bihan: in the local language (Breton) Mor means “the sea” and bihan means “small”. Gulf of Morbihan means “the small sea”. The Gulf of Morbihan is an inland gulf which means that it has a very narrow opening (1km) onto the ocean which means that large amounts of water are squeezed through that small opening and a large current is created inside of the Gulf. The Gulf of Morbihan is 20 km (14m) wide east-west and 15 km north to south.
This area is famous because of its microclimate, it gets a lot more sun and the rest of Brittany. Lorient and Quimper also get a fair amount of sun and this is an area where they can grow palm trees. The department we’re talking about is number 56, Morbihan. The largest city in this department is the city of Vannes, on the northern edge of the Gulf. From Toulouse it is 800 km away. It is 400 and something kilometers away from Paris going almost due West.
Train service is excellent to go to Vannes, but once you are in Vannes, you need a car. There are lots of lovely small towns and small cities to visit along the Gulf, but there is only one city and not a lot of public transportation. At the Gulf of Morbihan you are never more than a couple of kilometers away from the water, which is one of the things that makes it wonderful.
The city of Vannes has a small university, but it is mostly famous for being beautiful and for having been the home of the Dukes of Brittany. There is a large château in Vannes, there is also a large old city center with many have timbered houses, it is as charming as can be. Of course, Vannes also has a port and gives the gateway to all areas surrounding the Gulf. Vannes to Brest is 300 km.
Presqu’île de Rhuyz and Port-Navalo are the places Elyse visits and from there you can see the other side of the opening of the Gulf which is only 1 km wide. From there, if you turn to the West, you can see the islands of Belle-Île-en-Mer where Sarah Bernhardt buit her house. You can take a day cruise from Port-Navalo to Belle-Île-en-Mer and visit the museum dedicated to Sarah Bernhardt, among other things.
Locmariaquer is in the area called the Côte Sauvage and Quiberon. The Gulf itself is full a tiny islands, some uninhabited, some of them private, some with a few houses. There are two islands inside of the Gulf of Morbihan that you can visit: the Île aux moines which used to belong to monks who used it as their garden. There is no monastery on this island but many houses. Most people visit it on bicycles. No lifeguards in these areas!
If You’d Like a Little Bit of Culture
Elyse recommends you visit the Château de Sucinio (in a town called Sarzeau) and Saint-Gildas-de-Rhuyz. Auray is also worth visiting: it is a lovely medieval city, it is a very clean, and it has a large up-scale Spa (the French word Elyse used is “thalasso”), and it is a lovely port.
Local Food Specialties
Seafood in general: Oysters and Mussels, fish, including some unusual fish. Crab and lobster. It’s not cheap, but it’s delicious.
Wine: Muscadet is the wine of Southern Brittany, it is a dry white wine. “Sur lie” is a type of slightly effervescent dry white wine of the area and it’s fantastic for 3€ to 4€. Another local dry white is called Gros-plant-du-pays-nantais. Both go great with seafood and fish. They also produce hard cider in the area.
Cream and butter: everything in this area is cooked with cream and butter. It makes it all delicious and fattening.
Crêpes: everybody has heard of sweet crêpes, but in Brittany you will also find savory crêpes called “galettes” and hard cider goes well with it. You will also find great apple juice locally.
Pre-Historic Sites in the Gulf of Morbihan
The Gulf of Morbihan is filled with pre-historic sites sprinkled all over the place. In Southern Brittany you will find tumulus (burial sites), menhir (large standing stones with carvings on it), and dolmens two large standing stones with one across the top). The village of Carnac is where you can see the largest collection of standing stones anywhere in the world.
Who Loves the Morbihan?
This area is best suited for active people, families with children, people who like a little bit of culture, but mostly like to get out and enjoy nature, boating, swimming, riding, etc. This area also has a lot of rentals, gîtes, large campgrounds. This is the kind of place where you could go rent a place for a week and explore and truly experience France “like a local”.
Head’s Up: there are a lot of summer rentals that do NOT have heat. If you want to try to go when the weather is colder, make sure the place you rent has central heating because it gets cold in the winter months! Most English-speaking visitors are British, but Elyse spotted a few Americans on her last visit. The vast majority of people who visit this area are French.
There is a museum in Vannes, but it’s really not an area that has a lot of that type of culture. There are cultural spotlights in nearby cities: Redon and Pont-Aven that are famous because they were artist colonies. Gauguin lived in Pont-Aven for a while. Quimper is another lovely city nearby. But we’ll save those for another episode.