Celtic roots in Brittany

Brittany, or Bretagne, in Northwestern France is our favourite region in France. It has a long stretch of rugged coastline, to the north along the British channel and to the west beside the Atlantic ocean and the beaches are the most remote, wild and beautiful we’ve ever seen and this region is renowned for it’s Celtic heritage.

We are an Irish family living in a campervan who have been travelling for over a year and a half around Europe and we all agree that some of our best memories were made in Brittany. I don’t know what it is, maybe because it’s the first place we went to as we took the ferry from Ireland to Roscoff. We spent a month there last year where we travelled around the north and western parts of the region and this year we explored the central and eastern areas.

The Breton people are very friendly. They strongly embrace their local customs and traditions and like the Irish, they are very proud of their Celtic roots. Although everyone you meet in Brittany speaks French with a little bit of English and there are many people here who still speak the Breton language, which apparently has become more popular in recent years.

There were Celtic tribes all over Europe at one point. The Celts who lived throughout France were driven west by the Franks and the Celts of England were driven west and north by the Saxons. Celtic regions of Europe today include Ireland, Brittany, north western Spain, Wales, Scotland, Cornwall and the Isle of Man. Together we share something that’s difficult to put your finger on. It’s a connection, a shared culture, folklore, spirituality and language which survived invading tribes, armies and empires for thousands of years.

Some of our favourite places to see in Brittany so far are:

La Jument, a beautiful tall lighthouse built on a rock off the north coast of Brittany, made famous by the photographs that photographer Jean Guichard took in a storm in 1989. The lighthouse keeper managed to close the door just in time before a wave crashed in around it.

La Jument.

La-Roche-aux-Fées, the fairies rock is a magical dolmen and huge passage tomb in Essé, Brittany. The stones were mined in the forest 4km south of Essé and it is thought that fairies brought them to the site, hence the name.
The dolmen is around 5,000 years old and just like Newgrange in Ireland, it would have been covered with a mound of stones and earth and it is also aligned with the sun’s first rays at Winter Solstice.
Weve been to a few neolithic, tombs, dolmens and standing stones but this one was special as it is so grand, untouched and we could explore it all by ourselves with no one else around. Ellen felt that the fairies lived inside the huge rocks. Magical.

La-Roche-aux-Fées.

The sculptured rocks in Rothéneuf (Les Rochers Sculptés), on the emerald coast of Brittany in the north west of France.
The man who created them in the 1800’s suffered a stroke in his 30’s and spent the rest of his life living as a hermit in this village of st-malo. He was deaf, mute and partially paralysed as a result of the stroke but that didn’t stop him single handedly creating over 300 carvings and sculptures in these steep granite cliffs with only a hammer and chisel.We loved exploring it all, there was carvings of sea monsters, pirates, animals and other picture carvings too. We had a lovely swim off the rocks in the crystal clear water afterwards.

Les Rochers Sculptés.

The fantastic, creative, eco-artistic Rocambole Gardens in central Brittany. The couple who own it opened it to the public only 8 years ago. Everything in the gardens was built using upcycled materials to create unusual structures, a dome solar greenhouse, water circuits, ponds, the garden of colors and the garden of sounds, a wooden play area and lots more. It was such a colourful and inspiring place full of life and character.

The Rocambole Gardens.

Phare d’Eckmühl, located in Penmarch is one of the worlds tallest lighthouses with at 213ft tall with 308 steps to the top. Even Liam, who is used to heights felt a little woozy on the balcony.

Phare d’Eckmühl.

Brittany lace, there is a Breton lace display stall and shop right outside the Phare d’Eckmühl lighthouse! There we met Janelle who was just one of (and the youngest) the ladies of a group of local lacemakers who run the shop and one of the few who are keeping the craft alive in Brittany

Breton lace is just like traditional Irish lace.

Châteaux de Suscinio in Sarzeau.
We spent hours exploring this castle imagining princesses, Merlin, knights & dragons. It was built in the late middle ages to be the residence of the Dukes of Brittany. In one of the drawings rooms you can try on lots of medieval costumes. We learned loads in the various medieval tents located in the castle gardens where there was exhibits for children to learn about the different animals names & matching footprints, identifying various types of poops and we learned how to do macramé.

Châteaux de Suscinio.

Not to mention the sea views, the exploring at low tide, the incredible rock formations, chatting to the locals, the castles, the ruins, the countryside, the dolmens, the mill wheel stones, so much to see and explore which is why we love Brittany.

3 thoughts on “Celtic roots in Brittany”

  1. Hi Niamh , Liam, Ellen and Alex.
    Nice to hear from you again.
    I’m in Suryalila at present for a week working on the “Garden of Stillness “. We’re going to put an Irish touch to it. At the entrance we’re going to put a feature, in old Gaelic lettering, with attaching ancient Ogham symbols of the word “Ciunas”-Be still, be calm, appreciate the silence. I’ve moved the design forward, with pergolas, an arch, and some other things.A huge amount of planting has taken place, cacti and succulents. I’m going back in November to help with the tree planting behind the garden. It’s going to be spectacular., and we’ll generate some lovely quiet energy. Hopefully you can come back to Suryalila to see it in it’s finished form- maybe when I , or maybe Michelle guide a meditation session.
    Give me a call at some stage Niamh 087 2316505. Glenn, can you copy this to Michelle.
    Regards
    Jimmy

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  2. Love reading your blog. We too are a home educating family, of 5, and last year bought a campervan, which I think is quite similar to yours. But the opportunity has come up that we may be able to travel soon. Redundancy is coming up for my husband and we would love to do something like ye have done and go exploring.
    We should be able to head away late December but will have to be back For March. So we had originally thought we should just do Ireland and perhaps Scotland, Wales etc but…I’d love a bit of sun for the winter months.

    Just not sure if we crazy trying to get to Spain / Portugal for the short amount of time. Or for a first trip stay closer to home. Anyway I’ll look up ferries and see the options but we may meet you ..on the road 😀

    Caroline

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    1. Hey Caroline, that’s so great good for you! Spain was lovely last year in Dec, Jan, and especially nice at Christmas and the Jan 6th festivals are huge. Ferries from Cork to Santander used to stop at Halloween till Easter but I think that’s changed now and I believe they’re running all year. You should ring them on that. Also ferry tickets are great as you can get a full refund or change the date right up until 24hrs before departure they’re very flexible. Three months is long time to travel! Also near Malage is a town called la Herradura on a beach you can park up for free and there’s a huge worldschooling community there. We thought about going back there ourselves for Christmas as we have a few friends doing that. Check out the “roadschooling Europe” group on facebook, its a group for van life families to swap tips, arrange meetups etc.
      Very best of luck on your journey, no doubt we will meet up soon. Niamh xx

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