The departments and towns of Brittany

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Copyright Geobreizh.comThe region of Brittany

Brittany is one of the 21 regions of continental France. With 3 million inhabitants, it is the seventh most populated of the French regions, and covers a surface area of 27,208 km².  The regional capital is the city of Rennes.
    As it exists today, the Brittany region only covers about 80% of the historic Duchy of Brittany. This stretched right down beyond the mouth of the river Loire, and included an area which is now the "department" of "Loire Atlantique". Ironically, this department also includes the historic capital of the duchy of Brittany, the city of Nantes; but when the modern French regions were created in 1941, it was decided that Nantes and Rennes should not be in the same region, in order to avoid a historic rivalry between the two cities.



The departments of Brittany.

A French department is the equivalent of a British county or a Swedish län.  Brittany is divided into four departments which are: Finistère (56) in the west, Côtes d'Armor (22) in the north, Morbihan (56) in the south, and Ille et Vilaine (35) in the east. Historic Brittany also includes Loire Atlantique (44) in the south.

Finistère, capital Quimper, is a rugged department, with a lot of granite moorland; but thanks to its mild climate, it is also has a thriving agriculture, growing early vegetables. The coast has a number of very picturesque fishing ports such as Douarnenez and Concarneau. The largest city in this department however is Brest (urban area population about 300,000), one of France's most important naval ports.

Côtes d'Armor, capital Saint Brieuc. Previously known as "Côtes du Nord", this department is mainly low lying, and characterised by a very pretty rocky coastline with many small islands. The most attractive parts of the coast are the Emerald coast, and the Pink Granite coast. The department is strongly agricultural, with pig-farming and cereals among the main activities.

Morbihan, capital Vannes. This department on the south coast of Brittany is famous for its mild climate. The coast offers many sandy beaches and small fishing ports. Fishing, boat-building and agriculture are among the department's major industries, along with tourism.

Ille et Vilaine, capital Rennes. The most easterly of the four departments in today's Brittany, Ille & Vilaine is a heavily agricultural department, with cereals, apple orchards and dairy farming. In the past, the people in this eastern part of Brittany did not speak the celtic Breton language, but a form of French.

Loire Atlantique, capital Nantes. No longer officially part of Brittany, the Loire Atlantique is a department surrounding the mouth of the river Loire. It is today part of the Pays de Loire administrative region. This region has two major seaports, Nantes and Saint Nazaire, with petrochemicals and ship-building among the major industries. As with much of the Loire valley, this department also has vineyards, producing mostly dry white wines, and is the only wine-growing area in Brittany. Following the reorganisation of French regions in 2016, Loire Atlantique may well demand its reattachment to Brittany.


Main towns in Brittany


Photo by somewhat - licence creative commonsRennes (photo), with over 200,000 inhabitants, is the regional capital and the largest city in Brittany. It is a major industrial centre, with two universities, and is also the cultural capital of the region. Situated in the east of the region, it is the hub through which all main lines of communication between Brittany and the rest of France pass. It is not one of the great historic cities of France, since most of the city burned down in 1720; but the centre was largely rebuilt in the eighteenth century, and retains plenty of narrow streets and old buildings.

Brest, population 150,000 is home to the French Atlantic fleet and is a major naval port. It has a modern university. The old walled city was fortified in the seventeenth century by the great military engineer Vauban, though much of the old town was destroyed in 1944. Today the city is an industrial centre and a popular sailing port. The city is sited at the end of a large sea inlet, the Rade de Brest.
Lorient, west of Vannes in the Morbihan department, now a fishing port of  about 60,000 inhabitants, was founded as a company town by the French East India company in 1664 - hence its name, which means The Orient.... or the port from which ships set sail for the Orient. Today Lorient is most famous for its sailing and its annual Celtic festival.
St. Malo, population about 50,000, is a magnificent island walled city on the north coast of Brittany. Heavily damaged in World War II, it has since been rebuilt virtually as it was, and is an architectural gem. In a way, it is France's equivalent of Plymouth, the seaport from which many merchants and adventurers set out in centuries gone by, to seek their fortunes trading and privateering in distant waters. The wealth that they brought back is reflected in the city's magnificent architectural heritage.
Vannes, population 50,000, is a port on Brittany's southern coast, with a boatbuilding industry

Nantes, population about 280,000, would be the largest city in Brittany if it were still officially in the region. In the past it was the seat of the Dukes of Brittany, located at the top of the tidal reaches of the Loire. It is France's fourth largest port, and is a major economic and cultural hub for the west of France. Its airport is convenient for people travelling to the south of Brittany.


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Picture right: Mont Saint Michel, on the eastern edge of Brittany.

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vannes sculpture
Mediaeval corbel on a house in old Vannes

Photo licences CC by Josh ClarkCôtes d'Armor
Brittany Accommodation choices
Gites in Finistère and Côtes du Nord
Gites in Morbihan, Ille et Vilaine and Loire Atlantique
Small campsites in Brittany
Hotels in Brittany
Seaside hotels in Brittany
Bed & Breakfast in Brittany

Photo P de Labarthe
Douarnenez,  Finistère
Photo licenced CC by jez Atkinson

Vannes