France’s westernmost promontory might be called Finistère, meaning ‘land’s end’, but its Breton name, Penn ar Bed, translates as the ‘head of the world’, highlighting how Bretons have long viewed the peninsula, and, by extension, the rest of this independent region.
Historically cut off from the rest of the mainland by dense, impenetrable forest, in an era when sea travel was all, Brittany (Bretagne in French) still stands with its back to the rest of the country, looking oceanward.
The sea crashing against the granite coast and scattered islands provides numerous nautical pursuits as well as prized mussels, sea bass, oysters and lobster – ideally accompanied by cider, Breton beer, and Muscadet wine from its former capital, Nantes (Naoned in Breton). Within its deep, mysterious interior, Brittany’s magical forests and wending rivers and canals are ideal for hiking, cycling, or punting lazily by boat.
Brittany harbours its Celtic customs, celebrations and costumes, as well as its Breton language, which is not only reviving but forging beyond its former frontiers. Dancing needle-and-thread style, interlinked by little fingers, to music played with biniou (something like a bagpipe) and bombarde (a double-reeded oboe) at festoù-noz (night festivals) is a fantastic way to experience Breton culture – which is as interwoven with French culture today as the intricate lace of women’s traditional headdresses and the grey churches’ filigreed stone steeples.