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The 20 essential maps you need to understand Brittany

A land of mysticism, rugged natural beauty and an identity that’s different from the rest of France - these 20 maps will give you a real understanding of the beautiful region of Brittany.

The 20 essential maps you need to understand Brittany
Photo: Brittany/Deposit Photos

Little Britain?

Brittany or Bretagne (Breizh and Bertaèyn in Breton and Gallo) is a region in the northwest of France with a distinct cultural identity.

It gets its name from the Latin Britannia, as modern-day Brittany was once part of the Roman province of Britain. There are also claims that Brittany was referred to as Lesser or Little Britain (Britannia Inferior) but this also is said to have been the case for northern England and Wales.

What is clear is that the Romans called Brittany Armorica, and after the fall of their empire Britons from what is now the UK crossed the channel and populated northwest France. So historically Brittany and Great Britain share at the very least linguistic and genetic roots (as well as the rainy weather).

Source: Wikicommons/GwenofGwened

It used to be a Duchy (a what?)

After expelling the Vikings, Brittany became an independent kingdom in the early Middle Ages and then a duchy- a type of medieval feudal state ruled by an all-powerful duke – from 939 up until 1547.

The Duché de Bretagne covered a greater area of northwest France than present-day Brittany and was often at loggerheads with the Normandy Duchy, then it was invaded by Henry II of England in the mid-12th century (who became Count of Nantes) and eventually succumbed to the French crown after centuries of pressure.


Celtic symbolism

Brittany’s flag is the Gwenn-ha-du (meaning white and black in Breton).

Along with the Corsican flag it stands out from the other coats of arms across l’Héxagone’s regions and flag fanatics may have noticed it shares the colours of Cornwall’s Saint Piran's flag (cultural links between both places are well recorded).

French authorities used to see the Gwenn-ha-du as a separatist symbol, but attitudes have since changed and it’s now accepted as a symbol of Breton identity.

Source: Deposit Photos

Western Brittany was and is more traditionally Breton

A quick look at the following map shows the stark difference in place names between west and east Brittany.

To the west, there’s an abundance of Breton town names ending with “ac” (Neulliac, Carnac, Scrignac) as opposed to the more French “é” ending in the east of Brittany, with the imaginary Loth line splitting the two sides, named after the Celtic linguist who noticed the divide, Joseph Loth.

Source: BCD

The Breton language is dying out but lives on in the west

Most Breton speakers are now in their seventies and estimates point to a drop in 10,000 speakers annually. In 2011, UNESCO put the total number of speakers at 250,000. That’s in stark contrast to at the start of the 20th century, when two million spoke Breton.

As the following maps illustrate, those who still use this Celtic language (first brought over by Britons from the British Isles in the early Middle Ages) are concentrated in the west, with different areas using different dialects.

Gallo, another ancient language of Brittany, is derived from French.

Source: pmx/wikicommons

Coastal quaintness galore

Brittany’s rugged coastline together with its wonderfully preserved medieval towns and dense forests make it a great destination for history buffs and lovers of the great outdoors.

This old tourist postcard showcases the sheer number of activities and days out that are available in Bretagne, from visiting the coastal treasure town of Saint Malo to the dramatic cliffs of Finistère and the megalithic Carnac stones.

There’s also the amazing Breton cuisine, which we’ll cover further down.

Very clean bathing waters in the south of Brittany

The water at 97 percent of beaches in Brittany in 2016 was of good enough quality for swimming, with some coastline in the northwest and north scoring low and most of the southern shoreline getting an excellent rating. 

Take a closer look here


It rains the most in the west

The fact that the Breton peninsula sticks out into the ocean – a northerly stone’s throw away from “grey” Britain – can make it fairly wet and windy.

In fact, you can expect rain even during the warmer summer months. Bretagne’s average total rainfall in 2017 was 749mm (7th overall), better than in next door Normandy (819mm, 4th in the rain tables) or than in easterly Franche-Comté (955mm, 1st in France for rainfall).

West Brittany gets the highest rainfall in the region, centred largely around the city of Quimper and the Armorique National Park.  


Breton geography in a nutshell

With the granite slopes and dense forests of the Armorican massif in the middle of its territory and 1,700km of coastline defining most of its borders, Brittany is a topographic land of contrasts.

The region also encompasses 800 offshore isles and small islands that are considered to be protected areas, including Ouessant, Sein, Hoëdic and Houat.

Brittany’s coastline combines grassy dunes and sandy beaches with jagged cliffs, the highest being the Crozon Peninsula (100m). The highest peak inland is part of the Monts d’Arrée, which have a summit of 384 metres.

Source: Topographic Maps 

Brittany’s big cities

There were 3.27 million people in Brittany according to the 2014 census.

The largest cities in the region are Rennes (206,00 residents), Brest (142,097), Quimper, 63,929, Lorient, 58,148, Vannes, 52,983, Saint-Malo, 48,211, and Saint-Brieuc, 45,879.

Then there’s Nantes, the sixth biggest city in France and one that belongs historically and culturally to Brittany but under modern administrative changes came to fall under, rather controversially, next door Pays de la Loire.

The same goes for the Loire-Atlantique department in which Nantes lies, no longer considered part of Brittany alongside the official Breton departments of Finistère in the west, Côtes d'Armor in the north, Morbihan in the south, and Ille et Vilaine in the east.

Source: actualitix


Very few foreigners

This map shows how Brittany has one of the smallest number of étrangers in l’Héxagone, with only 2.3 percent of the region’s population not French.

However, a 2016 study by The Local found that Rennes was the best city for foreigners in France to live in thanks to great quality of life and welcoming nature.


Source: La Web Pedagogique

Plenty of airports and flights

There are direct flights from the UK to airports in Brittany such as Dinard, Brest, Lorient, Quimper, Nantes and Rennes.

From Ireland you can fly direct to Nantes and Rennes.

If you’re flying to Brittany from somewhere else, look for a connecting flight rather than driving from a Paris airport, as this will add anything from three to five and a half hours to your trip, depending on what part of Bretagne you’re going to.

Source: Culture Bretagne

No actual motorways in Brittany

There’s an urban myth that claims there are no road tolls in Brittany, with some people even saying it’s down to a 16th century decree by duchess Anne de Bretagne to guarantee free travel in the region.

This is unfortunately false. What is true and rather bizarre at that is that there are no official motorways running through Brittany, but rather four-lane national roads where the speed limit is 110km/h.

A 60km section of the A84 motorway running from Normandy to Rennes is the only exception. And in this particular case, it’s true that there aren’t any road tolls!

Source: ViaMichelin

The train network is getting a revamp

Four-year renovation works on Brittany’s rail network are set to end this year including the arrival of the high-speed line between Le Mans and Rennes.

Source: Ouest-France

Lots in store for hikers and cyclists

Just like its neighbour Normandy, Brittany has some outstanding green trails for locals and visitors to enjoy. In total, hikers and cyclists can enjoy 1,700 km of dedicated itineraries, for beginners and professionals.

This website contains all the information you need to plan the perfect rambling holiday in Bretagne.

Source: Bretagne Rando 

Natural parks with a coastal connection

Brittany has two official natural parks – Armorique and Gulf of Morbihan- as well as the Marin d’Iroise, the first marine park established off French shores.

All three of Bretagne’s parcs naturels have a close connection to the sea and the flora and fauna that inhabits this coastal environment. Expect beautiful panoramas, stunning cliffs and memorable hiking throughout. Plan your trip here.  

The Natural Park of Brière is just over the border in the department of Loire-Atlantique in the Pays-de-la-Loire region.

Source: Parcs Naturels Regionaux

France’s first gastro map

This gastronomic map, dating back to 1929, is believed to be one of the first of its kind in France. The Parisian chef who created it focused on the myriad dishes and delicatessen available in Brittany, even back then.

Although perhaps a bit outdated by now, this amazing find unveiled in 2017 by the National Library of France (BNF) includes staple Breton foods such as crèpes, sardines, oysters and other seafood, all washed down with a glass of Breton cider.

Source: BNF Gallica

Food is serious business in Brittany

Breton cider gets most of the attention from outsiders but there are numerous other food products from the region that can only be made by producers with a permit, these include the Roscoff onion, black wheat flour, paté and poultry.

Source: AOC 

Breton beers are making a name for themselves

The craft beer industry is taking off in Brittany. This map shows the 22 breweries that took part in the 2015 Breton Beer Awards, the first event of its kind in the region.

It takes place around the end of May each year and they often recruit regular beer drinkers rather than professionals to be part of the jury. If you can’t wait to try the best Breton beers at the event, here is the list of the latest winners.  

Source: Le Télégramme

They’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth

If you’re in Brittany and want a break from nutella crèpes, there are plenty of other biscuits and cakes available that will supply the desired sugar rush.

Head to your closest Breton patisserie for a few Galletes Bretonnes, a Craquelin de St Malo or a Quatre-quarts cake. Bretons may not be known for their cheese as much as their Camembert-creating Norman counterparts, but they sure know how to bake.

Source: l'

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For members


What changes in France in July 2022

Summer's here and the time is right for national celebrations, traffic jams, strikes, Paris beaches, and ... changing the rules for new boilers.

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer holidays

The holiday season in France officially begins on Thursday, July 7th, as this is the date when school’s out for the summer. The weekend immediately after the end of the school year is expected to be a busy one on the roads and the railways as families start heading off on vacation.

READ ALSO 8 things to know about driving in France this summer


But it wouldn’t really be summer in France without a few strikes – airport employees at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports will walk out on July 1st, while SNCF rail staff will strike on July 6th. Meanwhile Ryanair employees at Paris, Marseille and Toulouse airports will strike on yet-to-be-confirmed dates in July.

READ ALSO How strikes and staff shortages will affect summer in France

Parliamentary fireworks?

Prime minister Elisabeth Borne will present the government’s new programme in parliament on July 5th – this is expected to be a tricky day for the Macron government, not only does it not have the parliamentary majority that it needs to pass legislation like the new package of financial aid to help householders deal with the cost-of-living crisis, but opposition parties have indicated that they will table a motion of no confidence against Borne.

Parliament usually breaks for the summer at the end of July, but a special extended session to allow legislation to be passed means that MPs won’t get to go on holiday until at least August 9th. 

Fête nationale

July 14th is a public holiday in France, commemorating the storming of the Bastille which was the symbolic start of the French Revolution. As usual, towns and cities will host parades and fireworks – with the biggest military parade taking place on the Champs-Elysées in Paris – and many stores will remain closed.

As the national holiday falls on a Thursday this year, many French workers will take the opportunity to faire le pont.

Festival season really kicks in

You know summer’s here when France gets festival fever, with events in towns and cities across the country. You can find our pick of the summer celebrations here.

Paris Plages

The capital’s popular urban beaches return on July 9th on the banks of the Seine and beside the Bassin de la Villette in northern Paris, bringing taste of the seaside to the capital with swimming spots, desk chairs, beach games and entertainment.  

Summer sales end 

Summer sales across most of the country end on July 19th – unless you live in Alpes-Maritimes, when they run from July 6th to August 2nd, or the island of Corsica (July 13th to August 9th).

Tour de France

The Tour de France cycle race sets off on July 1st from Copenhagen and finishes up on the Champs-Elysée in Paris on July 24th.

New boilers

From July 1st, 2022, new equipment installed for heating or hot water in residential or professional buildings, must comply with a greenhouse gas emissions ceiling of 300 gCO2eq/KWh PCI. 

That’s a technical way of saying oil or coal-fired boilers can no longer be installed. Nor can any other type of boiler that exceeds the ceiling.

As per a decree published in the Journal Officiel in January, existing appliances can continue to be used, maintained and repaired, but financial aid of up to €11,000 is planned to encourage their replacement. 

Bike helmets

New standards for motorbike helmets come into effect from July 1st. Riders do not need to change their current helmets, but the “ECE 22.05” standard can no longer be issued – and all helmets sold must adhere to a new, more stringent “ECE 22.06” standards from July 2024

New cars

From July 6th new car models must be equipped with a black box that record driving parameters such as speed, acceleration or braking phases, wearing (or not) of a seat belt, indicator use, the force of the collision or engine speed, in case of accidents.

New cars II

From July 1st, the ecological bonus for anyone who buys an electric vehicle drops by €1,000, while rechargeable hybrids will be excluded from the aid system, “which will be reserved for electric vehicles whose CO2 emission rate is less than or equal to 20g/km”.

What’s in a name?

Historically, the French have been quite restrictive on the use of family names – remember the concern over the use of birth names on Covid vaccine documents? – but it becomes easier for an adult to choose to bear the name of his mother, his father, or both by a simple declaration to the civil status. All you have to do is declare your choice by form at the town hall of your home or place of birth.

Eco loans

In concert with the new boiler rules, a zero-interest loan of up to €30,000 to finance energy-saving renovations can be combined with MaPrimeRénov’, a subsidy for financing the same work, under certain conditions, from July 1st.

Rent rules

Non-professional private landlords advertising properties for rent must, from July 1st, include specific information about the property on the ad, including the size of the property in square metres, the area of town in which the property is in, the monthly rent and any supplements, whether the property is in a rent-control area, and the security deposit required. Further information, including the full list of requirements for any ad, is available here.

Perfume ban

More perfumes are to be added to a banned list for products used by children, such as soap-making kits, cosmetic sets, shampoos, or sweet-making games, or toys that have an aroma.

Atranol, chloroatranol (extracts of oak moss containing tannins), and methyl carbonate heptin, which smells like violets, will be banned from July 5th, because of their possible allergenic effects.

Furthermore, 71 new allergenic fragrances – including camphor, menthol, vanilin, eucalyptus spp. leaf oil, rose flower oil, lavendula officinalis, turpentine – will be added to the list of ingredients that must be clearly indicated on a toy or on an attached label.

Ticket resto limits

The increased ticket resto limit ended on June 30th, so from July 1st employees who receive the restaurant vouchers will once again be limited to spending €19 per day in restaurants, cafés and bars. The limit was increased to €38 during the pandemic, when workers were working from home.