stunning beaches, towering platters of just-caught seafood,
buckwheat crepes and curiously quaint lace headdress.
But to me, Brittany is France-on-Viagra.
This farfetched land of superabundance is too-too spectacular to render in plain English.
It's a Celtic cocktail of Alice in Wonderland, King Arthur's Court and Dorothy's OZ.
If you follow 'the yellow brick road' to this enchanting paradise,
you'll find great adventure and a fistful of fond memories.
The reference to King Arthur isn't just an exaggerated
aggrandizement of all-things-France.
Merlin and Arthur purportedly made headlines right here.
The forest of Paimpont, referred to as Brocéliande in Arthurian legend,
is located in the fairytale woodland of inner Brittany.
Confused? King Arthur's Merlin in France?
Back in the day, legend has it that petite Bretagne (little Britain) is where
Merlin made magic with his lady-in-the-lake, Viviane.
And I'm here to tell you, it would take a wizard to come up with a vacation spot like this.
For starters, it's long - 1800 miles worth of golden beaches and ports,
dramatic rocky bays, savage seas and a surplus of islands -- over 800 (!) of them.
An embarrassment of riches.
Names like the Cote d'Emeraude (Emerald Coast) and the Cote de Granit Rose
(Pink Granite Coast) conjure up visions of natural beauty that are
even more pleasing than their pretty names suggest.
Cotes d'Amour conjures up love and seduction, swanky villas and pristine resorts.
Use your imagination ..... What else do you need to start packing?
Filled with youth and vigor, it's home to about 50,000 students who
populate its fun sidewalk cafés and bustling bars.
It's quirky and inelegant -- just right for a quick escape from sophisticated Paris.
Do NOT miss the weekly market, one of the best in all of France.
The small city of Vannes is both lively and lovely as are the more famous
Breton towns of St-Malo, artistic Pont-Aven and legendary Mont St-Michel.
And then there's historic Dinan.
Please get out your highlighter pen so you don't miss it.
Timber-frame houses -- a crooked little river -- fortified walls
encircle an engaging chateau -- winding little streets
festooned with flowers -- all cuter than a baby's bottom --
Dinan will be a shoo-in on your short list of Best of France towns.
Brittany, like so much of France, boasts a wealth of chateaux where
castles and royal ruins pop up on nearly every corner of the region.
The Chateau of Fougères stands mostly in ruin but, lucky for us, enough stones
prevail to breathe life into a memorable visit as you contemplate life in medieval times.
Castles at Josselin and Vitré are both worth a tour; not only are they perfectly wonderful examples of Breton art and architecture, but the towns in which they reside are splendid
little stops to catch your breath and have a look around in a local bookstore or café.
Quimper, best known for its markets and faience -- charming, handmade
ceramic pottery -- still produces the decidedly country french collectible.
The town of Auray boasts a neighborhood called St. Goustan which I featured
in a blog about Lafayette and the American connection -- and that's exactly
what you'll find in this adorable river town that looks like a movie set
waiting for its celebrated leading man, Benjamin Franklin.
Beautiful Belle-Ile, justifiably the most famous of Brittany's many islands,
was once the hideaway of legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt.
If you have the time to laze about for a few days, put it on your radar.
Less known but equally amazing is tiny Ile de Brehat.
It's yea big and lushly green, but what surprises most is the beautiful QUIET
that sets it apart from most harbors where the table is set for tourism.
No cars, no engines, no sounds except nature.
Imagine what the world used to sound like.
It will take you by surprise.
Sweet silence, uncommon sunsets -- what more can you hope for --
and you can see most of it in only a few short hours.
Bird life is staggering in Brittany and you should treat
yourself to a tour around the island of Sept-Iles.
All manner of birds are protected, including
a wondrous peek at local puffins and gray seals.
But that's Brittany, a party around every corner.
A completely different kind of eye-opener, Brittany's famous calvaries,
granite platforms that tell the story of Christ & His Passion, are
dotted along the most traditional parts of the region.
This is the Finistère, where the isolated Breton language was still spoken
during the first half of the 20th century and ladies in lace caps reign supreme.
They keep the faith and cultural identity alive with their own brand
of costume, dance, music and saintly festivals.
Oddly gray and haunting -- but beautiful nonetheless -- you won't regret one minute
of the area's individuality so completely set apart from the rest of France.
If you like original, you'll enjoy Finistère's complex character.
Did I mention butter?
Salted butter puts the essence of Brittany into all things deliciously Breton.
It's an independent cuisine, certainly set apart from the rest of France.
If there's one thing to taste here, it's the butter.
You're probably already familiar with salted caramels from this
region (much imitated world-wide) but have you ever
taken a heavenly bite out of a Kouign amann?
Don't worry, no one knows how to pronounce it, just drool and they'll figure it out.
This pastry is so full of caramelized butter, I don't understand how it holds its parts together.
Butter, sugar, and heaven -- a simple recipe.
The same Breton butter marries with little rye rounds
served alongside just plucked fresh oysters.
Brittany's gourmet butter goes a long way into making their other
claim to fame -- buckwheat galettes, peerless in the crepe category,
filled with any one of a number of local savory ingredients.
So as you taste test a new part of France and discover its traditional,
often times conservative cuisine,
look first for the delectable, cream filled butter.
The salt marshes of Guérande are nearby, home to another Brittany Best.
Fleur de sel is the most celebrated of the lot, revered by top chefs around the world.
You can also find sacks and jars of the coarse gray stuff from the same waters -- all winners.
From culinary artists to culinary wannabes like me, you'll soon rely on the
indispensable commodity from this particular corner of France.
Rich in minerals, there are no additives and all you'll taste is the clean
suggestion of the wild Atlantic, elevating the flavor of every bite it touches.
totally unexpected, to have a mind-blowing experience that isn't anticipated.
I knew that Carnac, near the Morbihan coast, was
famous for prehistoric, megalithic remains.
Sounds mildly boring but at least worthy of a quick look, right?
This little stretch of Brittany is not just interesting; it rendered me speechless.
I was expecting some rocks -- aligned of course and kind of meaningful
for their testament to history and the presumed spirituality of the scene -- but
I was not prepared for fields of these things.
Literally THOUSANDS of them.
Is Carnac a holy place?
I'm not sure -- but I will tell you this.
It gave me the heebee jeebies -- in a good way.
If rows of isolated neolithic monuments is not your cup of tea, I understand.
Initially I felt the same way -- until I saw them silently standing, in perfect parallel lines.
Eerily mesmerizing, their puzzle is one you'll long to solve.
That's when I made the effort to learn a little about dolmens and menhirs
and words I had absolutely no interest in previously.
Trust me, it's the best kind of whodunit and even Sherlock Holmes (preferably
Benedict Cumberbatch) couldn't come up with who-what-when-where-why.
Suffice it to say,
A Worthwhile Stop.
The Brittany experience is fresher than the seafood you'll soon be gorging on.
Go ahead, overindulge.
Unprocessed, genuine, original.
This region will delight you in a tickle-me-Elmo way.
Brittany, it's a giggle -- and a sure thing.
Go for it!