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January 11, 2008
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Brittany Hideaway - Weekend Report

Hotel Plage - isolation and luxury on Finistère’s Atlantic coast.

Hotel Plage, Brittany - a room with a view
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Ar-Mor, “Land of the Sea”, is the poetic name the Celts gave to their western fastness. To the early French, however, the furthermost reaches of their great Atlantic peninsula were known more forbiddingly as Finistère, the “End of Land”.

For information on organising your own hideaway weekend in western Brittany click here.

Celtic outpost

Brittany has always been the least French of France’s mainland provinces, an observation that remains valid to this day. For most of its history, the French have been outsiders here, if not downright invaders, in what has remained a stubbornly Celtic land.

Drive down any country road and chances are when you reach a junction, the French version of the bilingual signpost will have been removed or defaced. Over the centuries hostilities have cooled, of course; but less than you might think. In 1987 the French government invited the SAS over to put down a simulated Breton revolt.

These days, though, Brittany chooses to celebrate its distinctiveness mainly through the cultural richness of its Celtic roots. Aside from language and literature, dance and music are enjoying a revival - especially at summer festivals, the biggest of which attract performers across the Celtic fringe, from as far as Scotland’s Hebrides and Galicia in Spain.

Cornish roots

Closest of the other Celtic territories is Cornwall, just across the Channel, and the Cornish peninsula was once used extensively as a staging post by waves of immigrants and missionaries who repopulated “Lesser Britain” following the Roman collapse.

For several centuries it remained easier to cross the narrow seas to kith and kin back home on the British mainland, than to venture east inland through the trackless forestsand moors. But, in time, the immigrants did found two petty kingdoms of their own – Lyonesse in the north and Cornouaille further south; names that still echo through the Arthurian legends, where they were presented as fey and ill-omened lands of magic and sorcery.

Whispers of the south

The truth is much more benign. Cornouaille (as Brittany’s south-west tip is still known), is a kinder, gentler place than its namesake across the Channel, but otherwise has much in common.

It shares a countryside of small fields and narrow valleys running down to little harbours with intractable, alien-sounding names. It has windswept capes, sheer cliffs and jagged, treacherous reefs. It endures winter storms wild enough to swamp whole islands. It offers clean, rainwashed air and pellucid skies. Above all, it is bounded on three sides by the tireless sea—adding a salty tang to the land and its people even when out of sight. But compared to its English namesake, Cornouaille also has more warm days that whisper of the south, soft dewy woodlands lapped by still backwaters, fields of exotica such as chicory and artichoke, and showy swallowtail butterflies fluttering in the breeze.

And a taste of France

On top of this, alongside Breton pride, comes an unmistakably Gallic approach to the business of living well. Markets are stocked full of charcuterie, fresh regional produce, and sweet local shellfish – widely regarded as the finest in France. Each morning boulangeries bake their own baguettes and housewives queue to catch them still warm. Bars are open from breakfast onwards for croissants and warming hot chocolate, and the typical neighbourhood brasserie bears no comparison to its British counterpart (and is much less threatened than in more metropolitan areas of France). Even the cliché beret is alive and well.

Easy weekending

Brittany has long been popular as a fashion-proof and attractive summer holiday destination, offering huge helpings of restorative fresh air, deep blue sea and golden sand. Until recently though, relatively lengthy sea crossings have restricted short break visits to within an easy drive of the eastern Channel coasts. However improved air services to Brest from London Luton and several regional airports (and to Lorient from Ireland), have opened up the exciting prospect of weekending further west, in Finistère, as a realistic option.

Beachside bliss

Wide-open to the ocean and a winning mix of Celt and Gaul, western Brittany offers reason enough to travel. But the icing on the cake is a gem of a beach hotel idyllically tucked right into the sheltered corner of a sandy bay facing the open Atlantic and stretching along the coast seemingly to infinity. Standing in glorious isolation, it is a perfect place for an escape and an ideal base for a deeply restful and hugely relaxing weekend.

For information on organising your own hideaway weekend in western Brittany click here.
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