Bretagne


Saint-Malo is a port town famous for Intra-Muros, a medieval city next to the sea surrounded by tall walls. It’s quite picturesque and worth a visit when in Bretagne. Intra-Muros is the most centric area, so it’s best to stay here, specially if you don’t have a car since St. Malo lacks public transportation, besides a few buses that run during the day.

This area is also famous for the small “disappearing” islands that you can only visit when the tide is low. The tide changes so dramatically that if you are in one of the islands during high tide, you’ll be stuck there for about 6 hours until the tide comes back down again. One of the memorable spots near Intra-Muros was Le Velvet, a cozy and vintage looking bar that serves delicious mulled wine in the winter.

low tide
Saint-Malo during low tide

Another historical landmark to visit when in St. Malo is Solidor Tower, it is beautifully light at night. I loved walking around it at night listening to the beach waves. 

Dinard is another Bretonne beach town. It is right next to St. Malo. I recommend visiting during the day and visiting the Market. There are many places to try delicious Bretonne goods such as cider, cheese and pastries. After this, I went walking along the “board walk” that actually surrounds some rocky hills offering both an ocean view, as well as views of my “future homes” aka really beautiful and large houses by the beach I will never be able to afford but I can still appreciate and dream about.

Dinard
“board walk” in Dinard
gallete
Gallete du St- Jacques (Scallop crêpe)

After the walk, I found myself at a local pub that had the best thing to eat in both St, Malo and Dinard, the Coquille St. Jacques, aka Scallops. They are served in a crêpe, with pasta or in their shells. I lost count of how many I had during my visit to Bretagne. That’s where most of my money went. I also spent it in Kouign-amann (buttery cake) aka Bretonne Cake pronounced “Queen Aman”. Another thing to try while in Bretagne. The server at this local pub called Le Skipper was so nice and patient with my “baby French”. She was mainly intrigued, since it seemed I’m the first Mexican they had ever seen in that town. At least, that they know of.

 

 

 

The most curious thing about the Northern French, is the way they drink coffee.

Coffee bowls are a thing! Their excuse is that they have to get the energy from somewhere else due to the lack of sun. Sounds legit. 

My reaction to coffee bowls

I noticed the trend when I saw the bowls with names on every souvenir shop. I thought there were for dogs. Later, a local explain the logic behind them. Quite a contrast from the rest of Espresso drinking Europe. My though was “And they saw Americans super size everything”, but then again, to each its own.

A curious rumor about Dinard is that the house from Hitchcock’s Psycho was inspired by a house along the coast of Dinard. This explains the random Hitchcock statue with birds, that ironically was covered in bird poop.

Hitchcock

There are many beautiful cities and towns to visit while in Bretagne besides the mentioned above, such as Rennes and Nantes. Pays de la Loire is also very near and worth a visit. Remember to bring an umbrella, even when visiting in the summer, since the weather changes drastically. No matter where you stay, enjoy the delicious French wine, cheese and bread. Give seafood and Kouign-amann a try when in Bretagne, walk it all off with a stroll around the coast (during low tide please) and always BE PRESENT!

 

 

Nantes

Nantes left an impression on me despite its gloomy weather so much so that I’ve been here both during Christmas time, as well as summer. This college town offers so many attractions as well as good public transport. I’m a sucker for Belgian beer and Nantes’ Delirium Cafe was never as crowded as the original in Brussels.

What to eat
The center is pretty walkable with plenty of restaurants where to try the famous Gallete Bretonne (salty crêpe) as well as the Kouign-amann (buttery cake) aka Bretonne Cake pronounced “Queen Aman”. Don’t forget to pair your Gallete with the Bretonne cider. A small but great spot in the center is Crêperie Au Vieux Quimper.

L'Epicerie
L’Epicerie is a cosy and delicious tavern looking restaurant that is opened late and serves delicious and local food. A good option for a cute date night. I can’t even remember what I had, but I do remember it was cheesy and damn delicious. Sorry for the blurry pic, but I also remember being hungry.

 

What to see

…serves as a canvas where a stunning and colorful images are projected to the beat of the music.

 

Catedral
Cathédrale with Christmas light show

Cathédrale Saint-Pierre et Saint-Louis is beautiful and has an amazing show during Christmas season. The front of the cathedral serves as a canvas where stunning and colorful images are projected to the beat of the music. Not that it was related to Christmas, but I saw exotic birds flying in a forest, among other landscapes. You can get a glimpse of this odd but beautiful show in my Instagram Highlights.

Another beautiful landmark in the center of Nantes is the Castle of the Duques, shown as the Feature Image on this post. There’s an entrance fee but if you have the time, I truly recommend exploring this Château. It is not far from the train station, so def worth a visit if you got an hour to kill.

 

One of the most visited areas in Nantes, apart from the castle is the Passage Pommeraye. This Renaissance inspired mall is quite fancy. I personally do not care for high end brands, but walking through this mall was free and offered many great selfie corners. It is beautifully decorated during Christmas as well.

 

 

Passage 2
Passage Pommeraye

Last but not least, my favorite place in Nantes, even more so than Cafe Delirium, is Les Machines de l’Île, The Machines of the Island. This place is hard to describe, but it’s basically a steampunk paradise. There’s a gorgeous and sophisticated carrousel with a variety of mechanical creatures. You can also ride through the center in a larger than life size mechanical elephant. Or if you decide to pay the museum fee, you are also able to get to get inside and drive a mechanical spider and look at other mechanical animals such as hummingbirds. Even if you’re not into steampunk, this place is worth a visit when in Nantes. You don’t need to pay the entrance fee to appreciate most of the machines.

 

Where to shop
After living in a small town and riding horses everyday for two weeks, I was in dire need of a new pair or jeans. Passage Pommeraye is not an option for my unemployed self, so I had to resort to my well known chains such as H&M, Zara, Bershka, etc. You can find these stores, as well as some small locally own boutiques near the center on Rue de Calvaire. It leads to other small streets like Rue de Budapest. It’s all very walkable.

Where to party

I was drawn into the “Canadian pub” out of curiosity and because of

Bar Tabarnak
Bar Tabarnak

Being that Nantes is a college town, some bars are more affordable but crowded with college students, specially during the weekends. I was drawn into the “Canadian pub” out of curiosity and because of their “vin chaud”, hot wine or mulled wine. One of my favorite winter drinks.  Bar Tabarnak was quite spacious, with outdoor seating and friendly staff.

Le Chait Noir (The Black Cat) is cool speak-easy type bar with live music and a good wine selection… because France. Delirium Café is always a good idea if you’re a beer fan. It’s a good spot to go as a group or start the night, maybe even a pre-dinner drink, maybe before dinner and after dinner… I could have Belgian beers anytime of the day, no judging here. If cocktails are your thing, La Ribouldingue, which can mean “party” is cool spot with a terrace and a DJ on some nights.

Whatever your reason may be for visiting this jolie ville, you are guaranteed a memorable time. Enjoy your visit, bring an umbrella or rain coat and always BE PRESENT!

Pays de la Loire

I had the privilege of doing volunteer work through Workaway at an equestrian center in Pays de la Loire where I also got to explore a bit of Bretagne. Which deserves its own post where I write about towns like Saint-Malo, Dinard and Nantes. And as always, I’ll list my fave food spots and what I ate in beautiful (and butter covered) Brittany, Bretagne in French.

Horsey
Bae doesn’t like selfies

Workaway is for travelers who want to live, work and eat like a local. My work at the center included teaching English, helping with the stables, assisting in the kitchen, as well as supervising and entertaining the campees. In exchange, I received free lodging, all 3 meals a day (including plenty of French cheese!), beach trips, private equestrian lessons and most importantly, I practiced French everyday. Also, my amazing host was gracious enough to drive me around to explore the surrounding towns.

I arrived at the St. Nazaire train station and my lodging was located at Saint-Brevin-les-Pins. My work schedule was so flexible that, some mornings, I could run to Plage L’Ermitage, a beach next to a small forest, or to Plage de Saint Michel. Neither beach was ever overcrowded despite it being the middle of summer. Not even on Bastille Day where we had an evening picnic to watch the fireworks.

Pornic (1)
Pornic and la femme enjoying her strawberry ice cream

Among some of the most memorable towns I visited were Pornic, Le Croisic and La Roche. Each town has its own water views, landmarks, boutiques, cafes and ice cream shops that are best exploring on foot since the summers are pretty tempered here due to it’s northern location. You’ll find delicious strawberry ice cream everywhere as well as affordable Belgian beers at the bars and cafes. Pornic was busy with Parisians during the summer making it a bit more expensive, but still beautiful. Le Croisic is famous for its WWI US Naval base and Le Roche is a bit more local and small, a hidden gem.

Guérande 2 (1)
Les Remparts de Guérande

Being that I am the product of the Disney generation, I’m a fan of castles, especially medieval looking castles. Guérande is a medieval town next to Le Croisic where you’ll find several castles and old churches, mostly used for events such as weddings but open to the public when there are no events. Here is a list of several castles in Guérande.

My Workaway host has a sweet tooth and I’m grateful because French pastries quickly became my addiction. Cheese already was, I totally adored that French people have cheese for dessert! If it wasn’t for my horrible pronunciation, I could so fit in with this culture.

Pastry
Christophe Roussel pastry (I just remember there being lots of chocolate)

 

If you’re craving some sweets or damn tasty bread, I recommend Fournil du Pays Blanc and Christophe Roussel. On Sundays, we also visited the market where you can find every local product imaginable such as bread, pastries, jams, all kinds of cheese, coffee, cider, hand made jewelry, etc. Definitely visit and bring cash to the Marché de la Pierre Couché. I have videos of the market and the pastry shops in my Instagram Highlights of Pays de la Loire.

There’s so much to see, do, drink and EAT in North Western France. I’m sure no matter where you go, you’ll have a delicious time. When visiting, keep in mind this area of France is not too far from the UK. Don’t expect a lot of people to speak English but do bring an umbrella, even in the summer. I found the weather would change dramatically one week from the other. En fin, also remember to always BE PRESENT!