Thursday, 2 June 2016

C'EST LA VIE! - Two weeks in Brittany, France

Because of budget airline, Ryanair, it was cheaper for us to fly back to UK from Porto, and then onto Dinard in Brittany rather than direct from Portugal to France, so we took a week to spend in Cambridge and catch our breaths. And what a week it was!! We felt like we had arrived in a different country to the one we had left two months previously. Gone was the cold, grey, drizzly weather.....the sun had come out brightly, people had stripped off to shorts and t shirts, and were lying around in parks in the sun, and we loved the explosion of blossoms and flowers, with green leaves everywhere. The sun streamed into our room every morning, and we even ate our dinner outside a couple of times, with the temperature hitting 26 degrees!! Two day trips- one to the historic town of Saffron Waldon past the gloriously yellow oil seed rape fields and quaint little villages, and the other walking and lunching at the Millpond area in Cambridge town were equally enjoyable, and so great to catch up with family again.

It was the tulip's turn to flower in May, Cambridge, UK

Tudor building in Saffron Waldon, UK

Pub in Cambridge, UK

Nesting swan, Cambridge, UK

We had a seen nine euro flights to Dinard from London, and couldn't pass them up (although these flights aren't as good a deal as they first seem, when they charge 25 pounds for one check-in bag!). We found a very convenient Air B and B host almost next to the seriously tiny airport, were picked up by a lovely, non English speaking couple (no handshakes or hugs now, we were in France- only kisses!!), and spent a night in their beautiful house. The added extra was breakfast which was spread out over a huge table, and included pastries, buns, crepes, fresh bread, loads of preserves, yogurt, fruit and coffee/tea/chocolate!!

Massive coffee cup at breakfast- we were a bit confused! Pleurtuit, France

 We then caught our first Bla Bla Car to Rennes, where our good friends for many years live. Having met them in 2004 in Laos, stayed with them eight years ago in France, and kept in contact through email, it was actually only the third time we had all met up! Chris picked us up and took us to Moigne, near Le Rheu where we met the rest of the family, including two lovely little boys that had been added since we last visited! They were the ultimate hosts, making us feel very comfortable in their home, and spoiling us with their generous hospitality. We're sure they rearranged their house to give us the grand room in the quietest spot at the top of the house, for which we were very grateful.

We were very lucky to have such friends who appreciate fine food and drink- Yann being an expert for many years about French wine especially. We, of course, are complete heathens when it comes to this field, but we surely loved tasting the amazing wines he produced from his garage every night and trying to educate ourselves!

Yann contemplating a nice red

Chris is a wonderful cook, whipping up delicacies every day for us and the family. French eating habits are quite far apart from British/Australian, and we liked the routine of a small breakfast of toast and coffee, usually a light lunch of starter, main and dessert (!!), and a dinner, again with starter, main and dessert. It sounds like a lot of food, but when the portions are modest, the quality good, and there's no snacking, it seemed the perfect balance. Yann, being a plumber, makes sure he has at least an hours break at lunch every day, and it always involves a main meal, dessert and coffee at a worker's restaurant (he skips the wine at lunch time!).
We tried many new dishes, as well as ones we loved from our last visit. Saturday was crepe day- a great day in our opinion, and after an outing to a fabulous market with food straight from the farm, we ate savory crepes with ham and cheese and sweet crepes with lemon and sugar- it's a specialty of Brittany. Another eating observation- the little boys mostly ate everything we did at meal times, including half a grapefruit each  for our first meal- very cute!
Other dishes we tried/retried (just to make sure!) were rabbit, pate, rillettes (similar to pate, but with only flesh and fat), far breton (a pudding specialty of the region) , ossau iraty (not from Brittany, but the most divinely smelly and tasty cheese), the best heavy sourdough bread, out-of-this-world cakes from the patisserie, and specially made for us by Yann was the French version of custard- what the French call "English cream", with rice pudding! Who would have expected that?



Sal's first taste of rabbit

Excited about the cakes!

Far Breton
Unusual cordial flavour

We enjoyed many outings, some with the family, some alone on bikes, and found the countryside around Le Rheu and Moigne to be flat, pastoral and attractive- full of oak trees (Rich's favourite), sweet chestnut and beech, and flowering azaleas and rhododendrons. Some of the villages and areas around lakes and rivers had short and long distance walking routes, the same as Britain, and filled out heads with future cycling/fishing trips here. Pleasant discoveries included a grand nearby chateau, old mills, picturesque cottages, forests, and random paths through farmland.

Jesus hiding in the woods, around Le Rheu, Brittany, France
Old farmhouse, around Le Rheu, Brittany, France

Perusing the menu at grand chateau, around Le Rheu, Brittany, France

Millhouse, around Le Rheu, Brittany, France

Miniature yacht enthusiasts on lake, around Le Rheu, Brittany, France
Cottage made from typical Brittany stone, around Le Rheu, Brittany, France

Beautiful forests, Le Rheu, Brittany, France
Walking through the trees, Le Rheu, Brittany, France

Other days we spend hanging out in the beautiful, big backyard, playing with the kids, and chatting about life. No lawnmowers are allowed in France on Sundays, and as we had the best weather one Sunday, we appreciated the peace and quiet. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't the best for most of our stay, with a couple of full days of rain, and the rest a bit cloudy and cool, but luckily the day we decided on Dinard beach as a day trip, the sun eventually came out, and we enjoyed a lovely day warm day with a picnic on the beach, over looking the splendid view of St Malo in the distance.

Some ritzy old buildings in the wealthy town of Dinard, France

Beautiful sand, but too early for swimming yet! Dinard, France

Our last weekend, we all piled in two cars and made our way south to Nantes, a bigger town than Rennes, and one where Chris's brother's family lived and had kindly offered to host us all for the weekend. We first stopped at Les Machines de l'île, a former industrial site, that had been transformed into a unique and whimsical experience, based on local lad Jules Verne's literature. It was quite an amazing place, with giant fantastical mechanical creatures walking around the site, old style carousels, and in old atmospheric buildings workshops had been set up with new, experimental machines. We learnt a new word for this style-Steampunk, or science fiction designs inspired by 19th century technology. It reminded me in atmosphere of the film Hugo, and Chris of Tim Burton's films. Quite charming.

Amazing mechanical elephant wandering the site, Nantes, France

Eccentric carousel, Nantes, France
Loved the poster art around the place, Nantes, France
More carousel, Nantes, France

Slightly freaky mechanical spider in the works, Nantes, France

More funky posters, Nantes, France

That night included much happy chatter (luckily for us everyone spoke some English!), along with a BBQ including merguez, a spicy Arabic sausage made of lamb and beef, and sausages with white wine, and the next day a family walk alongside a railway track and the Loire River.

Old industrial site, Nantes

Old style fishing boat, Nantes

On the way back to Rennes, the heavens opened, but we still had time for a stop at Chris' aunt's house- a wonderfully atmospheric old farm house from the 1600s. We loved the heavy beamed house, sweet garden, menagerie of rescued animals, and a special walk to see the baby donkey that had been born a few days before.
Garden at Chris' aunt's, Brittany, France

Baby donkey, Brittany, France

On our last day we had our all time favorite meal in France- confit de canard. Who knew duck in a can could taste so deliriously amazing??!! Apparently, the duck fat is a "good" kind of fat, and not to be felt guilty about, so we took this on board, and scoffed the duck, and the potatoes cooked with the fat to make them taste SO delicious.
Melt that duck fat......
.....cook the potatoes in it......

.....Take the duck out of the oven.....and eat!!

As our departure date grew near, we were quite worried about getting out of the country, as France's famous strikes, combined with some violence in places and a shortage of fuel, meant potential delays and cancellations for buses and public transport, but with a lift to Rennes in Yann's truck, a bus to Pleurtuit, a charming walk through the forest to Dinard airport (with a trolley borrowed from the supermarket!), a train to Cambridge and a bus to Rich's sister's, we finally made it back! The week after we returned to the UK, the news was full of dire news for Brits holidaying to France, with even some ferry routes closed- we made it out just in time!
Taking the easy way for the one hour walk to Dinard airport from Pleurtuit!

Flying back over the UK, we caught the breathtaking sight of all the blackthorn bushes in the hedgerows out in white flower, looking as though the countryside was covered in snow. Although the temperature wasn't as high as our previous visit, and there was some heavy rain, we still loved the ever greening landscape. A outdoor family BBQ made the most of one of the best warm and sunny afternoons, while a morning helping with the massive bank holiday car boot sale in Fulbourne was freezing and windy, but lots of fun. A trip to the seaside town Felixstowe, was grey and breezy, but so lovely to see the decrepit and run down old market, seafront rides, colourful beach shacks and tatty old shops. The coming injection of funds to renovate the place, will surely change the atmosphere. Old Felixstowe was particularly quaint, with small wooden fishing huts and little boats moored in the inlet. We had to escape the wind inside a cozy cafe to warm up!
Beautiful flowering blackthorn bush
And the pink version

Our usual route to the supermarket in Fulbourne in full bloom
Art Deco design at Felixstowe
Beach shacks, Felixstowe
British fish and chips at the seaside

Creels, Felixstowe

Fishing hut, Old Felixstowe
Felixstowe pier- soon to be restored


  1. Spiders sure are a phenomenon, as is the contemplation of fine food and wine. I really like the forest path.

  2. French food wine and cheese , yum. Specially envious of that duck dinner