5 reasons why Brittany is so desirable for British property buyers
PUBLISHED: 10:32 15 December 2011 | UPDATED: 14:16 16 December 2015
Brittany is right up there among the most desirable locations for Brits moving to France. Andy Duncan looks at five reasons why
Stretching out like a finger into the Atlantic Ocean, Brittany is a mighty promontory of land. It is also a thoroughly beautiful one, not to mention popular. On the property website, France Property Shop, Brittany is always the most searched-for region among those looking to buy in France. Its departments dominate the top 10 departmental searches on the site too, with four places being taken by Morbihan, and one by Côtes-d'Armor. Sure, the proximity to the UK is no doubt a big draw for many people thinking of relocating to or buying a holiday home in France. But this only explains part of the appeal. There's also the stunning diverse scenery, the huge, domed skies, the little fishing ports, ancient monuments and historical towns and a fascinating culture that draws on Celtic, Catholic and maritime influences.
1 The coast
Brittany shares its 1,700 miles of coastline among all four of its departments (Ille-et-Vilaine, Côtes-d'Armor, Finistère and Morbihan) and, according to the Brittany Tourism website some 40% of the region's three-million-strong population lives along the coast.
From Cap Fréhal to nearly as far as Mont-St-Michel, just over the border in Normandy, there's the Emerald Coast (Côte d'Emeraude), so named because of the sparkling green of the sea. This stunning stretch of coastline spans vertiginous cliffs that afford spectacular views, and sandy beaches such as those found at Erquy and Val-André.
Along the way, there are towns to visit, such as Dinard, originally a fishing port that gained popularity in the 19th century as a resort, and now boasts many villas and sumptuous residences as a result. There is also the lovely St-Malo. So much more than "the place where the ferry stops", this town is well worth an explore, with some lovely walks and fascinating architecture, including the walled city (intra muros) which is encircled by intimidating walls. Much of the town was damaged during the invasion of France in 1944, but has been subject to an extraordinarily meticulous and faithful restoration.
Then there's the famous Pink Granite Coast (Côte de Granit Rose). It is a gorgeous, ethereal place, where the rare pink granite (it is only found elsewhere in Corsica and China) positively shimmers in the light of the setting sun, and contrasts beautifully with the blue of the sea. Hugging a stretch of Côtes-d'Armor between Plestin-les-Greves and Louannec, there is plenty to enjoy here, including family-friendly beaches and the huge pink granite rocks around Ploumanac'h, which have been weathered over millennia into fascinating shapes. A colourful twist on the cloud-watching pastime, I could spend hours looking for recognisable shapes among them.
Continuing the stone theme, if you head along the coast into Morbihan, you come to Carnac. It is one of the most extraordinary sights in France, let alone Brittany. Marching north from the pretty little village of Carnac itself are thousands of Neolithic standing stones, dolmens and menhirs arranged into three groups (known as Ménec, Kermario and Kerlescan). It is a place so steeped in mystery, you can almost feel the stones vibrate with it. They were hewn from the surrounding granite around 4,000BC but, while it is a safe bet that they have a religious or cultural significance, no one knows the true reason behind this amazing feat of human endeavour. You can head back to the lovely Carnac-Plage (five sheltered sandy beaches) to ponder this enigma, or enter profound contemplation of it at the thalassotherapy centre.
Carnac is in fact just one of many megalithic sites in Brittany. Other highlights include La Roche-aux-Fées (south of Rennes), Barnenez (north of Morlaix), Lagatjar (Crozon peninsula) and, on the south coast, Locmariaquer.
The timber-clad Côtes-d'Armor town of Dinan is a place I could return to again and again and still find something new. It is a beautiful place that sprawls over a hillside looking out over the River Rance. In fact, approaching it by river is a wonderful way to appreciate its perfectly preserved historical architecture. From the quayside, you can ascend the steep, cobbled Rue du Petit Fort and reach the old town. The walled citadel is a magical and fascinating place to visit, and is packed with architectural intrigue. There's the 14th-century Tower of St Anne (also known as the Castle of Dinan), the lofty aspect of which provides stunning views of the town and surrounding landscapes. Not only that, but these days it also plays host to a small museum.
There's also 15th-century La Tour de l'Horloge and St Saviour's Basilica, a fusion of Renaissance, Gothic and Romanesque styles that is notable for housing the heart of Bertrand du Guesclin of Brittany. Known as the Eagle of Brittany, he was a French military commander during the Hundred Years' War.
High over the river, there is also the stone viaduct, which was built by one Alexandre Gustave Eiffel.
Described as France's equivalent of Hay-on-Wye, Bécherel is a place of pilgrimage for lovers of French literature. In Ille-et-Vilaine, just to the north-west of regional capital Rennes, this beautiful little town houses no less than 15 bookshops (some of which also have cafés) that span lots of different genres. You can, quite often unearth a little gem there, such as a rare first edition. The town plays host to the Fête du Livre every Easter and there is a packed programme of bookish events throughout the year, including a reading festival in October.
But in its earliest chapters, Bécherel was established in the 12th century, and rose to prominence in the 16th, when it gained fame for producing fine linen and hemp. There are still fine examples of its textile history now, such as the handsome merchants' houses in La Place des Anciennes Halles. In this town, turning a street corner is like turning a page, and there is so much to explore and learn. Other architectural points of note in the town include the 16th century inn, Hostellerie de l'Écu de Laval, and, just outside the town is the Château de Caradeuc. This was once the home of the Prosecutor of the Breton Parliament. The gardens form Brittany's biggest park and are embellished by many statues, monuments and ornamental ponds.
5 Monts d'Arrée
The Monts d'Arrée form one end of the huge Parc Naturel Régional d'Armorique, which spreads over much of Finistère and spans 172,0000 hectares.
Situated in the centre of Finistère, the Monts d'Arrée are the highest hills in Brittany. It is a wonderful area in which to walk, with glorious scenery, high, peaceful moorland and peat marshes (a fascinating and increasingly rare ecosystem in which you can see strange plants, including carnivorous specimens). The nature reserve at Menez Meur, which includes wolves and wild boar among its attractions, is also well worth a visit.
Meanwhile, Lac du Drennec is a good spot for swimmers and boasts a good seven-kilometre walk, and there are also more Neolithic sites here, including an alignment known as the Wedding Party, and a giant dolmen at Mougau Bihan.
Choosing the property
If you'd like to set your attachment to Brittany in stone, then there is certainly plenty of choice when it comes to property. With that famous shoreline, there are some gorgeous, traditional coastal properties as well as the grander breton malouinières houses, many of which date back to the 17th century. They are luxurious manor houses, that were originally conceived of as second homes.
Home to the regional capital, Rennes (which has the added bonus of an airport), Ille-et-Vilaine has the highest average resale-home value of the four departments, followed by Morbihan, then Finistère and finally Côtes-d'Armor. You will find the latest average property prices here and hundreds of properties in Brittany for sale here.
Want to know more about Brittany? Read our comprehensive regional guide to Brittany here