Brittany is for explorers. Its wild, dramatic coastline, medieval towns and thick forests make an excursion here well worth the detour off the beaten track. This is a land of prehistoric mysticism, proud tradition and culinary wealth, where fiercely independent locals celebrate Breton culture, and Paris feels a long way away indeed.
The entire region (Breizh in Breton) has a wonderfully undiscovered feel once you go beyond world-famous sights such as stunning St-Malo, regal Dinard and charming Dinan. Unexpected gems – including the little-known towns of Roscoff, Quimper and Vannes, the megaliths of Carnac, the rugged coastlines of Finistère, the Presqu'Île de Crozon and the Morbihan Coast – reveal there's far more to Brittany than delicious crêpes and homemade cider. Its much-loved islands are also big draws – don't miss the stars: dramatic Île d'Ouessant and the aptly named Belle Île. And wherever you go, keep an eye out for korrigans (fairies or spirits).
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Brittany.
Predating Stonehenge by around 100 years, the Carnac (Garnag in Breton) area is the world's greatest concentration of megalithic sites, with no fewer than 3000 of these upright stones, erected between 5000 and 3500 BC. One km north of Carnac-Ville a vast array of monoliths form several distinct alignments, all visible from the road, though fenced for controlled admission. The best way to appreciate the stones' sheer numbers is to walk or bike between the Ménec and Kerlescan groups.
Guarded by its three round towers and overlooking the canal, the extraordinary town château is an formidable sight that remains the home of the Rohan family today. Beyond the entrance gate, the castle fans out into tree-filled grounds and a central courtyard, which affords a great view of the castle's Flamboyant Gothic façade. The château is filled with treasures, including a medieval-style dining room, a 3000-tome library and a grand salon filled with Sèvres porcelain, Gobelins carpets and an astronomical clock.
Dominating the town, Vitré's medieval castle rises on a rocky outcrop overlooking the River Vilaine, and is one of the most impressive in Brittany – a real fairy tale of spires and drawbridges. Beyond the twin-turreted gateway, you'll discover a triangular inner courtyard and a warren of semi-furnished rooms. Don't miss the top of the tower of San Lorenzo where paintings by Raoul David and others reimagine Vitré and you can wander around a circular walkway.
Few places in France can match Pointe du Raz for its coastal splendour: on every side gorse-cloaked cliffs plummet to the waves 70m below, gulls trace lazy arcs overhead, and a statue gazes out to sea towards the île de Sein and the winking light of the Ar Men lighthouse. On a stormy day, with giant waves hurling themselves at the cliff faces, it feels like the end of the world. On a clear day, the sunsets are quite unbelievable.
This special walled town, fortified in the 14th century and modified by the architect Vauban two centuries later, sits on a small island linked to place Jean Jaurès by a stone footbridge. Just past the citadel's clock tower and main gate, look out for the 18th-century Tour du Gouverneur, which is one of the access points for strolling the ramparts . As you continue, rue Vauban leads to place St-Guénolé and the former church – and later hospice – of the same name.
This unusual neolithic site on the eastern edge of the village of Locmariaquer (13km south of Auray) sits in an area rich in dolmens. This one features three distinct forms. A giant broken menhir (20m long and the tallest in Western Europe) was made from a type of granite that indicates it was transported (it is not understood how) several kilometres. The Table des Marchand dolmen boasts an incredible geometric carving in its interior, while an enormous tumulus covers multiple graves.
This enormous ancient series of hilltop tombs is set spectacularly overlooking the Bay of Morlaix, on the edge of the modern-day village of Plouezoc'h, 10km north of Morlaix. Built between 4500 and 3900 BC, the cairn measures 75m and comprises two sets of tombs, built in successive eras but attached to each other. You can walk through the centre of the cairn, where it was once, amazingly, used as a source of stones in the 1950s.
At the core of Locronan, this beautiful and very sacred church dates from the 15th century. It contains the tomb of St Ronan, as well as a green wooden pulpit that is a marvel to behold, carved and painted with scenes from the saint's life in Brittany. Ronan was an ascetic pilgrim from Ireland who established a hermitage in the woods here, around which the village eventually formed.
Three kilometres southwest of Camaret, this spectacular and sublime headland is bounded by steep, sheer sea cliffs. On a peninsula known for its breathtaking scenery, this might be the most impressive lookout of them all. The series of offshore rock stacks are known as Tas de Pois. There are also two WWII memorials, and just inland 80 neolithic menhirs comprise the Alignements de Lagatjar. There are plenty of short walks in the area, as well as a handful of small cove beaches.