many hundreds of years, Brittany
has been on the international map for travellers. Long before the age
of tourism, this westward province of France, jutting boldly out into
the rolling Atlantic, was one of France's major gateways to the rest of
the world. Through the region's historic ports such as Lorient, Saint Malo or Brest,
seafarers and travellers passed en route to and from the distant
corners of the earth. From Breton ports, explorers set out to discover
the New world and the Indies; and through these harbours and ports once
passed a good proportion of France's foreign trade; coffee and spices
from the Orient, furs and tobacco from the new World, and all the
products that France sent out to the rest of the world in the days of
galleons and clippers.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, the arrival of steam trains
made Brittany relatively easily accessible from Paris; and being
somewhat closer than the South of France, and somewhat milder than the
area to the north of Paris, Brittany became a popular region,
developing seaside resorts much in the same way as Devon and Cornwall
did on the other side of the Channel.
More recently, with the development of
international travel, cross-Channel
high-speed trains and motorways, Brittany has become a region
that is very accessible for holidaymakers from neighbouring
countries, as well as from the rest of France; and Britttany is now
the fourth most popular tourist region in France, and the most
popular in northern France. It is also the region of France with the
longest coastline - 2730 kilometres or over 1600 miles.
If the region seems to have particular appeal for
and travellers from the UK, the reasons are not hard to discover. In
many ways, both culturally and historically, Brittany has more in
common with parts of the British Isles than it does with the rest of
France. The name itself is a clue to this; Brittany and Britain come
from the same root, and in French the connection is even more obvious;
the French call Brittany "la Bretagne", and call Britain "la Grande
Bretagne" - or "big Brittany", if we translate it litterally. For
thousands of years there have been comings and goings across the
western reaches of the English Channel, and many of the Britons who
holiday in this western province of France may actually be visiting an
area where some of their own distant ancestors came from.
Significantly, the centre of the western tip of Brittany
"Cornouailles", which is also the French for Cornwall.
Brittany is one of the administrative regions of France, and covers
four French departments, Finistère in the west,
Côtes du Nord in the north, Morbihan in the south, and Ille
Vilaine - around Rennes in the east. This is not actually the whole of
the historic province of
Brittany, as a fifth department, the area around the mouth of the
Loire, known as "Loire Atlantique", has been detached from
rest of the region since 1941. Today, this department, whose capital
Nantes was once the capital of the whole of Brittany, is attached to
the Loire valley administrative region, much to the displeasure of many
in Brittany, notably the nationalists. In Brittany, as in the
Celtic parts of the British Isles, nationalism is a strong force.
Geographically and topographically,
Brittany has a
lot in common with the English westcountry, from Devon to Cornwall; it
is an undulating region of hills and valleys, stone-built
and small towns, with wild moorland rather similar to Dartmoor
Bodmin Moor. The highest point in Brittany is a granite tor called
Roc'h Ruz, 387 metres (1270 ft) above sea level.
While the classic image of Brittany's coastline
of massive Atlantic breakers bursting over defiant granite
Brittany's coastline actually offers a wide range of
from small sandy or pebbly coves to sand dunes and broad sandy beaches;
it also offers a wealth of inlets and harbours, making this region the
most popular in France with sailing enthusiasts. The south-facing coast
of the Morbihan benefits from a particularly mild climate.
Along with tourism, agriculture is one
other main economic activities; Brittany is one of France's leading
vegetable growing regions, with artichokes, cauliflowers, carrots and
potatoes among the most important crops; but Brittany, with its mild
climate, is also a region well suited to dairy farming and poultry
breeding, and butter and chickens are also major regional exports.
the downside however, over-intensification of agriculture in the Breton
countryside has led to major problems of pollution from surface water
runoff, and many of the region's streams and rivers suffer from high
levels of nitrates and phosphates. On occasions, excessive runoff of
agrochemicals into the coastal waters has led to serious but localised
cases of algal bloom, with rocks and the seabed getting covered with a
mass of seaweed. The problem is now recognised as a serious issue, and
hopefully the introduction of new more eco-friendly farming methods
will mean that Brittany's agro-pollution problems, which have often
made headline news in France, will be a thing of the past.
in 2011, the problem is still causing headaches for the authorities.
The worst affected areas are on the north coast of Brittany, near river
mouths. But it must be stressed that local authorities work night and
day to remove the thousands of tons of green algae that wash up on
their beaches, and also that on every coast there are areas that are
not affected, and beaches that remain more or less pristine.