With its gorgeous landscapes and its 'Emerald Coast', Western France is a truly exceptional part of the world. Incorporating two of France's most beautiful regions, Brittany and part of the Loire Valley, the West is a popular tourist destination, though large parts remain entirely unspoiled, with architecture and culture remaining true to its historic past. Towns and cities such as Rennes, Saint-Malo and Angers couple with superb beaches and islands to create a truly magnificent holiday destination, whatever your budget.
Brittany is a stunning region whose coastline is a match for the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, but without the swathes of tourists you expect in these places. Off the coast, there are many magical islands, each striving to outdo the others in terms of beauty and serenity. Ãle de Groix, Ãle de Brehat, the Glenan Archipelago, the Ãle d'Ouessant and Belle-Ãle en Mer are just a few examples of the majestic islands lying just a few kilometers from the French shores. These combine with the exquisite beaches inland (such as La Baule) to make a truly marvelous seascape.
Some of the Brittany region's stunning towns include Vannes, a large walled town known for its beautiful timber architecture, and Rennes, the capital of Brittany. Rennes, a vibrant university city, has been almost entirely refurbished since a fire destroyed most of the city in 1720. Some original architecture remains, though, with the ruins of the city gates particularly striking, and this blends nicely with the new. The Combourg Castle is another fabulous site, its foreboding circular towers overlooking Lac Tranquille, a beautiful, privately-owned fishing lake, which can be hired at a cost of Â£200 per week per guest. In quieter months, Crozon is a particularly nice place to visit: a small market town exceptionally busy in season.
Saint-Malo, a medieval port-town with towering granite walls, is one of Brittany's highlights. Its cathedral is gothic and Romanesque in style, dating back to the mid-12th century. It is home to a high-class Grand Aquarium, home to over 600 species of fish from across the planet. Angers and Nantes are two more towns to visit when in the West. Angers typifies the archetypal French city, with its cobbled streets and vibrant, yet still historical, character. A day or 2-day City Pass here grants you entry to over 20 of the city's most important sites and museums, allowing you to explore at your own pace. Nantes is more industrial, yet is still of historic value, home to the ChÃ¢teau des Ducs de Bretagne, the restored former home of the Dukes of Brittany, converted into a history museum.
Le Mans is famous as the site of the 24-hour endurance race in motorsport, and a visit here on that weekend is truly special, but that is not to say there is nothing else going on. Indeed, the 20-minute walk along the cobbled streets between the old (Cite Plantagenet) and new towns at Place des Jacobins and Place de la Republique respectively, is not to be missed.
Food and Dining
This is a region where alcohol is popular, with Muscadet produced just south of the Loire, but the most popular drink here is cider, as it is the second-largest cider-producing region in France. FinistÃ¨re cider, using seven varieties of apples, is the most famous liquid produce of the region. It is also dairy country, with camembert, livarot and goats cheese all regional specialties. The coastal areas are also known for fresh seafood platters (plateau de fruits de mer), with mussels (try the classic dish of moules frites) and periwinkles particular highlights. Sweet and savory pancakes (known as crÃªpes and galettes respectively) are also traditional Breton foods, and can be purchased in most restaurants and from outdoor vendors. The Loire is known as the Garden of France, due to the vast variety of foodstuffs it produces, with vineyards, orchards (specialising in cherries and plums, which are then dried to make prunes) and fields of artichokes and asparagus, often served with the lambs reared in the region, and this produce can be seen prominently in the cuisine of the region.
Coach services are available to transport you from various areas within France to the West. Trains are also available, with TGV high-speed rail services going directly from Paris to a number of towns in the region, including Rennes, Le Mans and Angers, in approximately two hours. Ferries are also available from the UK to Brittany, running from Portsmouth to Saint-Malo between mid-January and early November. Brest, Dinard and Rennes all have their own airports, to which you can fly from various UK and other European airports, season depending.