(More maps of Brittany)
Though archeologically Brittany is one of the richest regions in the world The alignments at Carnac rival Stonehenge its first appearance in recorded history is as the quasi-mythical "Little Britain" of Arthurian legend. In the days when to travel by sea was safer and easier than by land, it was intimately connected with "Great Britain" across the water. Settlements such as St-Malo, St-Pol and Quimper were founded by Welsh and Irish missionary "saints" whose names are not to be found in any official breviary. Brittany remained independent until the sixteenth century, its last ruler, Duchess Anne, only managing to protect the province's autonomy through marriage to two consecutive French monarchs. After her death, in 1532, François I took her daughter and lands, and sealed the union with France with an act supposedly enshrining certain privileges. These included a veto over taxes by the local parlement and the people's right to be tried, or conscripted to fight, only in their province. The successive violations of this treaty by Paris, and subsequent revolts, form the core of Breton history since the Middle Ages.
As their language has been steadily eradicated, and the interior of the province severely depopulated, many Bretons continue to treat France as a separate country. Few, however, actively support Breton nationalism (which it's a criminal offence to advocate) much beyond putting Breizh (Breton for "Brittany") stickers on their cars. But there have been many successes in reviving the language, and the economic resurgence of the last three decades, helped partly by summer tourism, has largely been due to local initiatives, like Brittany Ferries re-establishing an old trading link, carrying produce and passengers across to Britain and Ireland. At the same time a Celtic artistic identity has consciously been revived, and local festivals above all August's Inter-Celtic Festival at Lorient celebrate traditional Breton music, poetry and dance, with fellow Celts treated as comrades.
If you're looking for traditional Breton fun, and you can't make the Lorient festival (or the smaller Quinzaine Celtique at Nantes in June/July), look out for gatherings organized by Celtic folklore groups Circles or Bagadou. You may also be interested by the pardons, pilgrimage festivals commemorating local saints, which guidebooks (and tourist offices) tend to promote as exciting spectacles. In truth, unlike most French festivals, these are not phoney affairs kept alive for tourists, but deeply serious and rather gloomy religious occasions.
For most visitors, however, it is the Breton coast that is the dominant feature. Apart from the Côte d'Azur, this is the most popular summer resort area in France, for both French and foreign tourists. Its attractions are obvious: warm white-sand beaches, towering cliffs, rock formations and offshore islands and islets, and everywhere the stone dolmen and menhir monuments of a prehistoric past. The most frequented areas are the Côte d'Émeraude around St-Malo; the Côte de Granit Rose in the north; the Crozon peninsula in far western Finistère (Land's End); the family resorts such as Bénodet just to the south; and the Morbihan coast below Vannes. Accommodation and campsites here are plentiful, if pushed to their limits from mid-June to the end of August, and for all the crowds there are resorts as enticing as any in the country. Be aware, though, that out of season, many of the coastal resorts close down completely.
Whenever you come, don't leave Brittany without visiting one of its scores of islands such as the Île de Bréhat, the Île de Sein, or Belle Île or taking in cities like Quimper or Morlaix, testimony to the riches of the medieval duchy. Allow time, too, to leave the coast and explore the interior, particularly the western country around the Monts d'Arrée, even if the price you pay for the solitude is sketchy transport and a shortage of hotels and campsites.
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