Brittany welcomes student journalists
The French Government Tourist Office saw the Festivales Transmusicales in Brittany, France as a good opportunity to show American student journalists what the music scene in France is like, as well as to promote a smaller region in France that doesn’t get much media attention. For the journalists attending, the weekend was a mix of sightseeing,
concert-going, eating, talking to locals, and exploring. And though most tourists go to Paris, the few days spent in Brittany proved that it’s a great place for outsiders, particularly for young people. Here is the best food from the trip, as well as the highlights from each city visited.
You can find the region of Brittany poking out of the Northwest part of France. A large area with almost 5 million people, Brittany has an impressive breadth of character in its cities. During the weekend, visiting journalists traveled to several of the cities in the region, each one with its own distinct flavor. Within Brittany, there’s a large diversity of things to do, especially for young people, from beach sports to jazz clubs, and the people are nice everywhere you go. Here are the highlights from each city.
Rennes is the capital of Brittany, with about 600,000 people living in the metropolitan area. Though this is significantly smaller than Pittsburgh, Rennes is well centralized, meaning that most landmarks are either in walking distance of most hotels or a short bus ride away. This serves the city well, considering that 20 percent of the population is college students. Like Pittsburgh, the city tailors itself culturally to the large student population. There are both upscale and moderately priced restaurants, as well as art museums, concert halls, and jazz clubs. A great hangout in Rennes is Rue St. Michel, which is kind of like Craig Street on steroids. Packed to the brim with restaurants and bars, this narrow cobblestone street is a fabulous spot to grab a beer with friends or people-watch if you’re flying solo.
Saint-Malo is a beautiful port city Brittany. Unlike the more built-up, urban city of Rennes, Saint-Malo has soothingly quiet cobblestone streets and charming buildings that are rarely higher than two stories. This small city is lined with rustic walls that date back to its military days; today these walls help keep the mainland dry, since the water that surrounds the city fluctuates rapidly between high and low tide. Since Saint-Malo is on the water, the city, and especially one house that was once home to a successful French tradesman, became a hub for lucrative trade deals. At one point, this house held 10 percent of France’s GNP in money and spices. Today, the house offers tours to the public, and is definitely worth checking out. Other interesting parts of the city include its beautiful streets, which, like Rue St. Michel in Rennes, are small and almost exclusively cobblestone. However, its loquacious atmosphere is met with great restaurants, as well as plenty of fashionable clothing stores.
Travelers looking for a little sun and relaxation during their visit to Brittany should stop by Quiberon. The city is at the tip of a peninsula in the south of Brittany and, like Saint-Malo, is along the water. However, it’s not walled in, and instead has massive beaches and cliffs that let you get right into the ocean. During the summer, Quiberon is a fabulous place for ocean swimmers and lovers of water sports. During the winter, these activities are sometimes unavailable because of the weather conditions, but the heavy winds make for beautifully massive waves that remind you of The Perfect Storm, or perhaps even a Monet painting.
Breton food is both innovative and tasty. Unlike regular French food, Breton food is unique in its twists on standard dishes. Even when dishes sound excessive, the concoctions end up blending together modestly for a satisfying experience. Another fabulous quality of French dining is the patience of the experience. Meals will often take two hours, with as much as a 15-minute break between the appetizer and the main course. This is great when you’re with friends; you don’t feel rushed out of the restaurant, nor do you feel like you’re inhaling your food, which usually results in an unpleasantly stuffed feeling at the end of the meal. In addition, the service at Breton restaurants is much more pleasant than at cafés in Paris, where waiters are frequently irritated by Americans. Here are a few standout dishes from the weekend, with the restaurant’s name and region in Brittany included.
Café Breton, Rennes
Though “surf and turf” — a combination of steak and shrimp — is a popular dish in the States, it is interpreted slightly differently in Brittany. Café Breton calls the dish Méli Mélo. The restaurant swaps steak for veal, which gives the dish a lighter feel. The switch might be a little disappointing for fans of the heavy and intense taste of steak, but here the shrimp and veal are served over a lively risotto, which mixes in perfectly. Surprisingly, there’s no sauce or gravy on the dish at all. Instead, the juice from the veal and the cream on the risotto provide enough moisture to make the dish a savory treat.
La Brigantine, Saint-Malo
Unbeknownst to most Americans, Brittany is actually the hometown of the famous French galettes, thin pancakes served with anything from onions to sausage. When served with sweeter foods like chocolate, it is known worldwide as crepes. In Brittany, galettes are made with buckwheat, as opposed to white wheat, which is more commonly used in other parts of France and worldwide. At La Brigantine, a three-course meal is the norm. You start the meal off with a simple butter galette to warm up your taste buds. Then, for the main course, you order something more elaborate, perhaps a galette stuffed with fresh peppers, mushrooms, and sautéed onions, with two slices of fresh ham on the outside of the pancake. For dessert, perhaps a crepe stuffed with caramel ice cream.
Le Bistro de Marin, Quiberon
Since Quiberon is right by the water, it’s only fitting to visit a seafood restaurant. Particularly memorable is a combination platter, called L’Assiette Marin, which includes everything from oysters to winkles (small snails). Though some of the platter is tough to eat — you have to use a thin fork to scrape out the little snails — the smooth texture of the oysters and the chewiness of the clams make for a salty and delicious meal.