Brittany is (or was originally referred to as) La Petite Bretagne – did you know that? It was a place of refuge for Britons escaping from the Anglo-Saxon invaders of their homeland. Or maybe they just wanted to go somewhere a bit warmer, as millions of Britons still do. Having had a holiday home in Charente (just a bit further south) for over 20 years I have spent little time there during the last two decades, but that wasn’t always the case. In the late 90s we used to go quite often with friends, especially to Saint-Cast le Guildo. In fact Brittany provided my first taste of holidaying in France.

***

Back in July 1977, having finished my Finals, I was at a loose end, as they say. I had failed to get a job, even a summer job; perhaps I wasn’t trying very hard. One day I received a letter from my best friend at Queen’s who was working for Canvas Holidays at a campsite in northern Brittany. He said I could come over and join him if I had nothing better to so. I hadn’t, so a few weeks later I “borrowed” the necessary funds from Mum and set off by train for Plymouth, staying overnight in a B&B. The next day I took a ferry to Roscoff.

Arriving later than I’d expected, I discovered there were no trains to anywhere until the following morning.

I had not planned it well, or indeed at all

I started walking along the main road. After about 10 minutes four French students in a deuch returning from holiday in Cornwall picked me up. They took me to a crêperie and bought me supper, then put me to bed in a house near Morlaix. I awoke to find that my host, Alain, had forgotten about me and left for work. I wasn’t quite sure what to do but at least I had a map, so I set off by foot for the town centre, then took a bus to Lannion, and another to Ploumanac’h.

Finally I made it to the campsite

I peered over a hedge to find Pete playing keepy-uppy. Although I had written back to say I was coming, he had not got the message, so he was a bit surprised to see me.

Liz, myself and Pete outside his tent

I had a great time at Le Ranolien. Pete’s sister Liz and her boyfriend Simon joined us a few days later. We helped him clean and prepare the tents, living mainly off the scraps of food and half-empty wine bottles left by the punters. It was sunny and warm, and the beach was just a few yards away.

Phare de Mean Ruz; Liz and Simon at Le Ranolien

I recall seeing shooting stars for the first time, from the Perseid meteor shower so it must have been mid August. When it was time to go home I hitched a lift to Saint-Malô via Dinan and thence back to Blighty.

Le Ranolien today: posher than I remember it

It was the first time I had visited France, apart from a day-trip from San Sebastián to Biarritz in June 1976. I’d given up studying French after my “O’ Levels. Foreign travel was expensive back then and my parents had taken me on only one European holiday, to Achensee in the Austrian Tyrol in 1968. So I didn’t know France at all (in contrast to Spain, Greece and Portugal) and didn’t see Paris until I was 23.

***

Last month Anne and I were about to jet off to Greece for a short seaside holiday in the Peloponnese when I started to have cold feet. An early morning drive to Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, a long queue followed by a four-hour flight on a packed plane, temperatures of 35C along with the risk of wildfires… it really didn’t appeal to me.

So we came up with Plan B

We would take our usual ferry to Saint-Malô and, this time, stay in Brittany rather than go on to La Bréchoire.

So it was that I saw Ploumanac’h for the first time in 44 years. This little resort lies on the Côte de Granit Rose. The coastal path and the views are stunning and like nowhere else.

Beach and rock formations near Ploumanac’h

We would not have gone to Brittany had the forecast been unfavourable, but even so the weather can change very quickly. Fortunately it stayed warm and sunny for the whole of our stay. An unexpected bonus was seeing the Patrouille de France aerobatic team over Perros-Guirec.

Eight of the Alpha jets… where was the ninth?

We spent just one night on the north coast before heading south to a campsite at Bot Conan, near Concarneau, on the Baie de La Forêt.

The Baie de La Forêt also holds happy memories because we spent our honeymoon here in August 1990.

Off we went to France

For some reason we had not thought to book anywhere to stay! After driving around all morning in a Citroën AX10 with no air-con in extreme heat, finding every campsite full, we finally found a tiny pitch at La Forêt-Fouesnant. Luckily we only had a tiny tent.

Penn Ar Ster at La Forêt-Fouesnant

Unlike Le Ranolien it has hardly changed in three decades.

***

This time our destination was more picturesque. The main attraction of Bot-Conan is a glorious little beach just a few metres through a field from the glampsite and with direct access to the pine-shaded coastal path. We enjoyed excellent meals in Beg-Meil and Cap Coz, both only a 30-minute walk away. Why had we not found this stretch of coast, with its numerous inviting creeks, all those years ago? Unlike back in 1990, we just explored our immediate surroundings and only had to get the car out once to go to the supermarket.

It’s not the med, so the water is a bit colder. But by late August it is certainly very pleasant, and the crowds have largely gone.

Brittany has something special about it

It’s not just the beaches and the excellent food (there is a lot of both to be found in France!), but the ancient and distinct culture, as evidenced by the famous Neolithic sites, the holy wells, and those churches with curious calvaries that tell a story through sculptural ensembles, like a 3-D book of Bible stories.

Part of the calvary at Guéhenno

As we now enter what is very obviously autumn, with rain coming almost daily, that last gasp of summer already feels like a long time ago. We’ll go back to Greece another time – maybe next spring – but for now we will make do with happy memories of Brittany.

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