A Break in Brittany…
So I’m staring a T-Rex in the face.
Last time I checked, this wasn’t the way of it in Brittany. Northwest France brings to mind Atlantic beaches, flowery villages and baguettes drenched in farm butter. Snarling dinosaurs were not part of the plan.
Yet that’s exactly what we find at Malansac’s Prehistoric Park. A forest walk throws up a succession of life-size (and life-like) models of Brachiosaurus, Stegosaurus, T-Rex and more alongside other depictions of the earliest human settlers in the area.
It’s the first of several discoveries on our family holiday in Brittany, a break which began a 14-hour ferry ride away, when Brittany Ferries’ Pont Aven set sail from Cork Harbour.
Trundling off the boat in Roscoff, we joined the stream of Irish cars heading south with bike racks and bodyboards attached. Our own little bolthole was a converted barn in the village of Pluherlin. We arrived to find an outdoor pool surrounded by lemon and plum trees, birds nesting in the stonework. The boulengerie was a three-minute walk away.
Our daytrips ranged all over the peninsula. When the weather was good, we loaded up the buckets and spades and headed for Damgan or Carnac, where hot sands ended in a spread of rock pools filled with crabs, periwinkles and sprats. Neolithic menhirs reminded us of Asterix and Obelix. We ate our bodyweight in ice-cream.
When the weather was bad (frustratingly often, it has to be said), we staged excursions to places like Branféré, a French version of Fota Wildlife Park, complete with a sprawling web of climbing nets where granddad could release his inner gibbon to startling effect.
Brittany is also famous for floral villages like Rochefort-en-Terre, a dead-ringer for Belle’s hometown in Beauty and the Beast (with a six-year-old in tow, everything is seen through the prism of Disney). Tumbledown timber houses lined the cobblestones, and we picked our way through salted caramel shops, artisan biscuit-makers and wafting creperies.
La Gacilly is another vibrant little village in Morhiban. It hosts an outdoor photography exhibition every summer, with huge, National Geo-style prints transforming gardens and gable ends into an al fresco gallery. Turn a corner, and you’ll find a wolf peering out from a flower bed, or an Amazonian rainforest mounted above an old Gallic shopfront.
La Gacilly also gave ridiculously good ice-cream: a fat scoop of lemon topped with a squirt of whipped cream and a drizzle of hot chocolate that hardened when it hit the cold.
One autumnal afternoon (Brittany was getting blackberries in July), we made the trip to Nantes, home to the awesome Les Machines de L’île. Inspired by Jules Verne and Leonardo da Vinci, the artistic project fills an old shipyard warehouse with fantasy machines, the highlight of which is a 30-foot mechanical elephant that bellows and snorts as it carries visitors.
From giant dinosaurs to mechanical elephants… By the end of our fortnight, a sweet routine had developed. We’d get up in the morning, mosey to the bakers, sit on church steps picking buttery bits off our croissants. Afterwards, we’d hit the roads for the next adventure.
Brittany Ferries (021 427-7801; brittanyferries.ie) sails on Saturdays from Cork to Roscoff. Return fares from €140pp based on a car plus four passengers sharing an inside cabin.
Pól and family stayed at Le Tenue au Galli in Pluherlin (abreakinbrittany.com). Prices from €600 per week for a cottage sleeping eight.
Brittany Tourism: www.brittanytourism.com
Prehistoric Park: www.prehistoire.com
Branféré Animal Park: www.branfere.com
La Gacilly: www.festivalphoto-lagacilly.com
Les Machines de L’île: www.lesmachines-nantes.fr
This feature originally appeared in The Irish Independent.
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