Palmy Days in the Bretagne

Low-Key Three Weeks in August

On Holidays:- Wednesday, 21. August 1996:- The 'holiday in a garage' thing had spooked us and all we had against Normandy was the sweater-wearing, so when we got a good offer for a whole house in the Bretagne - Brittany - you live here so long that some foreign names, seem foreign, then you use the real ones - we took it for three weeks.

Why the Bretagne? Well, as far as sea goes, the southern part faces away from the channel and by extension - the North Sea, and it is almost at the Loire line where the weather breaks into good and what the northern part of France gets, so - after the garage, a whole house! - we went to Josselin for three weeks.

chateau/castle I should have looked at the map more carefully because it turned out to be a fair drive to the sea - as a seaside guy, this Josselin is nearly in Kansas! - but you take the autoroute A11 out of Paris and head for Chartres, Le Mans and straight west to Laval, whirl around Rennes and take the nationale 24 from there to Plörmel and there's Josselin.

We got there and the house did not look too promising. In fact it looked pretty much like a 300-year-old roadhouse that it had been, and it had parts where we were not to go. Most of the upstairs bedrooms were well fixed-up and the bathroom was modern, but the ground-floor kitchen was paved with these huge stone blocks and they kept the place cool, although there were no heatwaves while we were there.

Off the kitchen-living room - it was one big room - there was a raised terrace in the large back garden, that contained crumbling stables and there was a high wall between the garden and the canal. Kid-wise, it was perfect and the kids immediately put up their mini-tent and commenced to kill the grass.

uphill view While they were doing this I scouted the town quickly for the bar-tabac, the boulangerie and the paper shop. This took ten minutes, most of it a walk uphill and back. Most visitors who come here, and a lot do, come only for the chateau. They look at it and leave. They may have a café or a beer at one of the cafés, but in general, you see the people that live in the town. It is very low-key.

The river, now part of the Canal de Nantes, used to be called the Out and one thing you have to get used to in the Bretagne, is unusual place-names. So we start off with Guéthenoc and the year of 1008, when he sets off from Guilliers on a 20 kilometre trip to build a primitive chateau on a promontory with a steep fall to the river. Guéthenoc's son was named Josselin and history rompers on through the ages with the chateau getting destroyed by Henri II in 1168, rebuilt by Eudes II who had it before, and the succession settles down in 1231, when it began to be traded among three families.

Around 1490, with subsides from king Charles VIII - for what? - Jean II de Rohan commenced reconstruction of the chateau that had been damaged in 1488. Thus, it was that the place reached its height of glory at the end of the 15th and beginning of the 16th centuries - and this is about what you can see today. Despite its formidable exterior, the interior is quite cozy and not at all rough old 'knights-in-shining-armor' stuff.

The booklet I am getting all this imposing information from was written by Antoinette de Rohan in 1985. A certain 'Cardinal de Rohan' figured in my story, 'Bastille Attacked and Captured,' in Metropole number 21 - he had, while prisoner there, thrown an dinner party for 20. I can't be sure, but it probably involves the same branch of Rohans, but there is also a tiny town - more likely a hamlet - named Rohan about 20 kilometres to the northeast of Josselin.

One day we went down to see the menhirs at Carnac on the sea and they were not as large as those tossed about with such abandon by Obelix, and they were parked in sort of a vacant lot-looking sort of place, and the rest of the town looked like 'France by the seaside,' and these places are always sort of frenzied, as they are less organized than similar places in say, Holland or Germany, or even Britain.

On another day at a totally unorganized place by the sea, the wind was too brisk to brave the water and it was too cold for a snake like me in any case. On the way back we stopped off at a park full of stone dinosaurs; that had tableaus of stone-age gents and their girlfriends fighting off various terrifying prehistoric animals made out of cement, and it was hot as blazes there in the pines around and down in the quarry.

Mostly, we went to a lake near to Josselin and the kids liked that. It was half-organized and half-okay - but I have never cared much for lake water, so I did not try it. Unlike the seaside, it was not gaudy or expensive and there were free things for the kids like ordinary swings and slides.

Around the middle of the month there was a farm-fête, held over a weekend at a nearby village. The attraction was the harvesting a specially-grown field of wheat, by men and women using the tools of the last century. There was even a working steam tractor running a threshing machine and there were some plough-horse competitions. This was all very dusty and was accompanied by a certain amount of food and drink - crêpes! - as well as displays of all sorts of local crafts from the last century. The sound system was modern and kept breaking down while the entire field was harvested and threshed, with mere muscle and a bit of sweat.

village Another thing you could do in Josselin was to hang out by the canal. Right across it from us there was a place that rented pontoons with outboard motors, for fitting to caravans, in order to turn them into canal boats. In fact, the outfit rented caravans too, with the pontoons already on them, and seemed to do a fair but less than landslide business. There was also a fair amount of traffic all the time on the canal - and since some of the craft were sailboats with stepped masts I assumed that they were coming from some sea and going to another.

palm trees Otherwise, it was an ordinary town with its marchés and its repair shops for getting the cooker fixed and the TV reception was all snow, but it didn't matter, because there was not much news in France that summer. I give Josselin a solid two stars as a place to spend a couple of weeks, mainly because I discovered two palm trees there. Any place that has palms, you can be sure it has got something going for it.

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