Travel tales

Four reasons to visit Brittany (from child to grown-up)

Brittany beach

My childhood travel memories all start with France. Driving down to the south coast of England in our old camper van, catching the ferry over the Channel, pitching up at a gîte for the week, spending our days running wild on the beach and stuffing ourselves with cheese and pastries. There are lots of great memories, and some of the best come from Brittany. This patch of north-west France, where the Channel meets the Atlantic, is France’s version of Cornwall. It even has historic links to Cornish culture back when it was settled by a Cornish princess and known as Cornouaille. Like Cornwall it has miles of glorious beaches, from sandy crescents to rocky coves, bags of history and pretty coastal villages to explore. Granted it might not have pasties or cream teas, but you can’t complain when there are crêpes and buttery galettes instead. So here are four reasons why I loved Brittany as a child – and why I’d love to go back again as an adult.

Read more: 10 fabulous French weekends

Childhood holidays in Brittany

Embarrassing childhood photo alert!

The beaches

What kid doesn’t love the beach? From digging holes (the classic occupation of any Brit on the beach) and burying my dad in the sand, to rock-pooling and trying to catch tiny shrimp, a lot of our trips were spent on the beach. There were always games of boules, picnics with sandy baguettes and occasionally we’d have turn a groundsheet into a tent to shelter from a shower (we’d never let rain stop a beach day!). Brittany has over 700 miles of coastline so there’s tons of beach space. Some of our favourite stretches of sand were the Grand Plage at Quiberon and the seaside towns of Dinard, Bénodet and Les Sables d’Olonne.

I still can’t resist the beach so I’d definitely be heading back to the coast. But I’d be mixing up the lazing (and hole-digging or course) with a few coastal walks this time. The Côte de Granit-Rose is a stretch of beautiful coastline in northern Brittany that’s made up of an unusual pink granite which you can only find in Corsica and China otherwise. Or there’s the 60-mile path that runs around the coast of Belle Île. This is the biggest of the islands lying just off Brittany’s coast. It’s about 45 minutes by boat from Quiberon and has 60 beaches to explore as well as 100 small villages full of whitewashed houses and lighthouses.

Côte de Granit-Rose, Brittany France

The Côte de Granit-Rose

The history

Brittany has a fascinating history – from ancient Celtic tribes and Roman invaders to becoming part of France and its part in the Second World War. I can’t say that I was particularly interested in the historical stories as a child. But what I did like was that it meant there were loads of cool things around to explore. Like the Carnac standing stones – over 3000 menhirs which are older than the Pyramids. Or the medieval castle the Château de Josselin, straight out of a fairytale with its pointed turrets. And the Point Penmarc’h Lighthouse, with 307 stairs you could climb up to the top (minus my mum with her fear of heights).

I’m much more interested in the history of places these days, but still can’t resist exploring somewhere cool. Top of my to-see list is St-Malo after reading a book set in the city during its Second World War siege. It’s an ancient walled town on the coast that’s full of tall granite buildings and used to be home to pirates. But that’s just one of many historic towns and villages to visit. There’s Dinan with its cobbled alleyways and half-timbered houses. Or Quimper with its Gothic cathedral and bridges covered with flowers.

Dinan in Brittany, France

Dinan at dusk

The food

One of the best things about going to France when I was young was always the food. I had (and still have) a bit of an obsession with French markets and supermarkets. All that smelly cheese, piles of fresh seafood, juicy fresh fruit, jars of cornichons and Bonne Maman jam. We’d head to the local boulangerie each morning to pick up croissants and baguettes (which were likely to have the end broken off and the fluffy bread inside scooped out by the time we got back). There were also wafer-thin crêpes covered in Nutella, tasty tiny mussels straight from the harbour and a sticky, buttery Breton cake called a Kouign-amann.

Unfortunately I can’t eat gluten these days so the baguettes and croissants are out. But I can still tuck into a buckwheat savoury crêpe, eat all the cheese I can get my hands on, and feast on local seafood specialities like Cancale oysters, Moules Marinières and Cotriade (a fish stew). Plus I get to drink now! Like the south-west of England, Brittany is known for its cider. And although Brittany isn’t a big wine-making area, the Loire Valley isn’t far away so you can get some great local wines, like their dry, white Muscadet.

Cheese in Brittany France

Fromage fest

The accessibility

Having three children within six years, you can see why my parents didn’t want to spend hours in the car on holiday (even if the camper van meant we were sat far enough back that they couldn’t hear us fighting!). So Brittany was easy to get to from the UK. The ferry trip was always the start of the holiday, and we’d either do a daytime crossing and sit on deck waiting to spot land, or travel overnight and wake up in a new country. It made it easy to bring everything we needed for the week (see some of the other benefits of taking the ferry as a family in this post from Brittany Ferries). We’d usually stay in one place and do day trips out to local beaches and attractions, before loading up the camper (mainly with wine) and heading home.

Now I’m old enough to sit in the front of the car, I’d love to do a road trip around Brittany. In a week you could easily combine some beach time, a few historic towns, a castle or two and a lot of eating and drinking. Having the car means you can get off the main roads too and discover some of the area’s tiny villages and tucked-away coves. There are some gorgeous driving routes around, like the Crozon Peninsula with its mix of strange rock formations, caves and sandy beaches. Or the scenic town tour through St-Malo, Dinan, Montauban and Rennes. There’s plenty to keep me occupied – however old I might be.

Ferry to France

The ferry to France

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Four reasons why Brittany in north-west France makes a great holiday destination – from food to history to beaches – whether you're a child or a grown-up

This post is brought to you in association with Brittany Ferries, but all opinions and embarrassing childhood photos are (unfortunately) my own.

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  • Reply
    May 17, 2017 at 8:44 am

    Looks wonderful!!

    • Reply
      May 17, 2017 at 7:50 pm

      It’s been so nice to go through a few old memories!

  • Reply
    May 17, 2017 at 10:07 pm

    I think you’ll just have to do it, Lucy! I’ve never been but those pink granite rocks are definitely a magnet for the camera. 🙂

    • Reply
      May 21, 2017 at 8:02 pm

      I think I might Jo! One for next summer maybe, the rocks will definitely be on the agenda too.

  • Reply
    Nitin Khanna
    May 18, 2017 at 12:03 pm

    It looks amazing! Beautiful pictures and I would love to visit at beaches. I love to travel and explore things as much as I can.

    Thanks for great information!

    • Reply
      May 21, 2017 at 8:01 pm

      Thanks, yes it’s lovely part of the world, I was very lucky to get to visit when I was young!

  • Reply
    Jaillan Yehia
    May 25, 2017 at 5:13 pm

    I love your old pictures from family holidays as a kid, makes me want to dig mine out, not sure I I am brave enough to put them online though! This part of France looks amazing and I’ve never been.

    • Reply
      May 29, 2017 at 1:48 pm

      Haha, I set my mum loose with the scanner as the old pics are all at my parents’ house so this is what she came up with – those 80s NHS specs and perms were not my best looks!

  • Reply
    Kathryn Burrington
    May 29, 2017 at 9:06 am

    This brought back memories of my first trip abroad. I was ten and my sister was 12. We travelled by ferry, by ourselves to France and were met the other side by a lovely family. We had a wonderful time but I hated the food. They even tried to feed us raw mince, the likes of which we’d never seen before and we thought it was disgusting. I remember I lived off bananas and hot chocolate for a week. How times change. I certainly adore the food now.

    • Reply
      May 29, 2017 at 1:45 pm

      I did a few French exchanges with school when I was a kid too and remember being especially horrified when my exchange family’s mother tucked into some raw steak! Definitely not what I was used to. Though do love a good raw steak now – and always loved the pastries and cheese from France.

  • Reply
    Sussex Bloggers
    May 29, 2017 at 9:09 am

    Love seeing your old photos Lucy and that shot of Dinan at night is wonderful. This region of France is so easy to get to from here on the south coast.

    • Reply
      May 29, 2017 at 1:41 pm

      Yes you’re in the perfect position to get to France!

  • Reply
    June 1, 2017 at 1:58 pm

    ‘Love this post Lucy. Brittany is my favourite part of France!

    It’s also the place that I taught my son to love oysters. He was 5 at the time and I wanted him to experience the real stuff so I rented a house in Cancale, and we spent everyday at the coast withe the fisherman. It worked!

    p.s. I love the picture of you and your siblings with your mother. You look very much like her 😉
    pps. Did you know that you could also take the ferry to Jersey from St. Malo and on a Saturday night is packed with people going hither and thither!

    • Reply
      June 2, 2017 at 12:50 pm

      I have such great memories from Brittany! I’ve not been to Jersey yet so the ferry sounds like a great idea for a two-destination combo trip!

  • Reply
    Mikail David
    June 7, 2017 at 1:37 pm

    Hi Lucy,

    Wonderful post 🙂 I love to travel too. Would love to visit Brittany once. Thanks for the information!

    • Reply
      June 12, 2017 at 3:16 am

      Glad you enjoyed it – and hope you get to visit Brittany sometime!

  • Reply
    Adrian Kilchherr
    February 4, 2019 at 11:11 am

    Hi Lucy,

    great information. I have one more tip for those visiting Brittany. I am a photographer and I was shooting for a beautiful castle built in 1886 that was reopened as a design hotel last year. Château du Nessay is a great place to stay or just enjoy a drink on the terrace. I loved the atmosphere there. You can have a look on some pictures on my website

    • Reply
      February 5, 2019 at 8:50 am

      Thanks for the tip!

  • Reply
    November 18, 2019 at 5:20 pm

    Hi Lucy,
    We are considering traveling to this region. In the past I almost always went on a trip with my parents to France, but mostly to the south of France. Fantastic times … It is a shame that you can no longer eat baguettes. They make it nowhere better than there. Maybe they will make gluten-free baguettes someday! Greetings Wim

    • Reply
      December 12, 2019 at 9:49 am

      A gluten-free baguette would be wonderful – maybe someday! Lucky I can still have all the amazing French cheeses though.

  • Reply
    August 3, 2020 at 8:38 pm

    We have been to Brittany earlier and totally enjoyed every part of it. This time around looking for a serene village to spend a week with a toddler. Any suggestions you may throw?

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      August 11, 2020 at 11:14 am

      When I was a kid we used to visit the Plouescat and the Côte des Sables area – close to Roscoff for the ferry and lots of sandy beaches and shallow waters.

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