Lunch at Restaurant Le Pressoir, Vannes, Brittany, France


One of the gastronomic highlights of our trip to Brittany was lunch at Vincent David’s Le Pressoir, just north of Vannes. This restaurant has received many accolades and much recognition, including one Michelin star and three Gault et Millau toques. It is located in an attractive building on Rue de l’Hôpital, among residential properties in Saint-Avé, and about a 10-minute drive from the centre of Vannes.

The interior is equally attractive – high-backed chairs, tables adorned with crisp white linen tablecloths and napkins, and walls decorated with brightly coloured artwork.

We were warmly welcomed with an aperitif and sat down to some tasty morsels – pictured from left to right: tomatoes with sesame and black seed; ham, mustard and Parmesan; duck foie gras with lime, and smoked mackerel.

This was followed by a ‘black stone’ amuse bouche. In short, this was a delicious combination of salmon and cream enveloped in a black potato casing. Visually it was rather striking and the lightness of the salmon was an interesting contrast with the potato.

We then had a starter of warm foie gras Dariole with a light blue cheese mousse and beetroot coulis, enhanced with raspberry and lime. The mousse in particular was very light and delicious, and the foie gras not too overpowering.

Then came the highlight of the lunch: monkfish crunch with smoked bacon cooked at 45°C, with an asparagus risotto, hint of tarragon and morel mushroom emulsion. The monkfish was exceptionally tender – a real melt-in-the-mouth dish full of interesting flavours which alone makes Le Pressoir well worth a visit!

We then had an interesting pre-dessert, layered with strawberry marmalade, yuzu and basilic foam.

We finished our lunch with a red fruit Saint-Honoré gateau with a twist: raspberry cream, pistachio nut ice cream and whipped cream jelly. As you can see, another dish that excels when it comes to presentation, the plate decorated with choux pastry, chantilly cream, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, redcurrants and basilic sponge.

There were some petit fours also brought to the table although, to be honest, we’d had our fill by this point. The staff had been delightful throughout – welcoming, yet discrete – courteous and happy to help us with translations of the menu, but without being over-bearing.

It was a pleasure also to meet the chef on departure – I just wish my French had been better in order to properly convey how much we had enjoyed the lunch. Without reservation, we heartily recommend you give this restaurant a try if you are ever in southern Brittany.

Disclosure: Our trip was sponsored by Brittany Ferries and Brittany Tourism.



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10 great reasons to visit Vannes, Brittany, France


On our recent trip to in France, after moving on from Carnac, we also spent some time in Vannes, exploring the quaint Medieval streets and magnificent buildings of this historic walled town. Situated in Morbihan, on the southern coast of Brittany, Vannes offers interesting contrasts of old and new. Built on the foundations of a fortified Roman town, here you’ll find old wood-beamed houses and walled ramparts intertwined with the boutique stores and street performers. Here we give you 10 great reasons to visit.

The architecture

The long history of Vannes is reflected in its medieval lanes and architecture, whether it be the beautiful 13th century ramparts, the historic timber-framed houses or the Saint-Pierre cathedral built between the 13th and 18th centuries.

The variety of architecture is one of the most striking features of the town, and there are numerous contrasts between old and new buildings alongside each other.

One of the most impressive edifices in the town is Hôtel de Ville de Vannes, located on Place Maurice Marchais and modelled on Hôtel de Ville in Paris. This grand Italian Renaissance style town hall was built in the 1880s and registered as a historic monument in 1992.

The cathedral

The magnificent Cathédrale de St Pierre, with its beautiful facade, is an interesting mix of architectural styles. Originally constructed in 1020, but with a Gothic church later constructed on the same site from the 15th to 19th centuries, this Roman Catholic basilica is the seat of the Bishop of Vannes. It is free to enter and you can explore and admire the various chapels and beautiful examples of stained glass windows.

The aquarium and butterfly house

If the weather is not in your favour, a great way to while away a few hours is to visit Vannes Aquarium and the Jardin aux Papillons (Butterfly House).

The aquarium is not vast (unlike the one at Brest) but still worth a visit, housing a wide variety of species from sharks and manta rays to sea turtles and sea horses, and a whole lot more besides.

Heads to the hands-on section and staff will introduce you and your children to a variety of sea creatures that can be touched.

The butterfly house is right next to the aquarium so easy to call upon at the same time. It’s only very small and can be visited as part of a deal with the aquarium. Learn about the butterfly’s life cycle and expect to see a wide variety of species, including some quite large specimens.

The museums

Take a moment to visit the museums in Vannes; explore Château Gaillard, a 15th-century mansion house and museum of archaeology filled with medieval exhibits from the town, and La Cohue, a 13th-century covered market (and once the home of the Breton Parliament in the late 17th century), and now a museum of fine arts.

The harbour

10 years ago, the harbour area at Vannes enjoyed significant investment and each flank of the harbour has attractive promenades along which you can walk. The town’s tourist office can be found along the right bank as you look from the town, alongside a culture and entertainment pavilion.

There are many bars and restaurants around this area, so it is easy to soak up the atmosphere with a harbour-side drink or lunch.

If you are feeling particularly energetic, keep walking and you’ll eventually (after several kilometres) reach the popular port and peninsula at Conleau which is also worth visiting.

The food

There are a number of great places to eat close to the fish market and harbour area of the town. La Table de Jeanne is popular with both locals and visitors alike. Also look up Le Roscanvec on rue des Halles in the heart of the old town.

Vannes is in fact home to several Michelin-star restaurants. Among them is Le Pressoir, on the northern outskirts of the town. Click here to read more about our wonderful lunch experience there.

Shopping

Vannes has a wide range of boutique shops with the main shopping areas being within easy reach of the centre of the old town. One top tip is to take the road train as this will give you a good overview of what’s available. You’ll also find everything from fashion boutiques to gift shops.

If you have kids in tow, give them time to browse Bilboquet which is a great little, traditional toy shop.

The market

There is a regular market in Vannes on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Expect the town to be bustling as the market tends to very popular. It takes place in Place des Lices which once upon a time hosted jousting tournaments. You’ll find stalls selling everything from food items to fidget spinners.

The fish market

The fish market in Vannes takes place in the aptly named Place de la Poissonnerie, situated just between the town centre and the harbour and is also well worth a visit. Arrive early to get the best of the day’s catch. The market tends to start closing down by early afternoon.

Street art

I’m not generally a fan of graffiti, invariably finding it an eyesore and blot on the urban landscape. Street art, on the other hand – and I appreciate the distinction between graffiti and street art is not always clear – often intrigues me. And, when done well, it can make the most uninspiring parts of a town or city much more interesting.

These underpasses in Vannes were good examples, but numerous other pieces of street art could be found around the town.

Perhaps the most famous piece of artwork in the town is a colourful bird on the side of Jules Simon college that overlooks the Boulevard de la Paix. It was completed earlier this year by Brazilian street artist Luis Seven Martins, aka L7M, after being chosen by students at the college.

Disclosure: Our trip was sponsored by Brittany Ferries and Brittany Tourism.



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A day trip on a traditional boat (“vieux grément”) to Houat island


If you like the sound of an unforgettable day sailing to an island paradise, then this one is for you! Owner Jérôme Suillerot and boat captain Olivier will guide you across the Gulf of Morbihan aboard the 22-metre Krog E Barz, a traditional sailing ship with a white hull and distinctive green stripe – a replica of a 1909 lobster boat.

Departing in the morning from the quay at Port Navalo, this is a hands-on trip where you get involved with your fellow shipmates. The vessel carries up to 18 passengers and 2 crew. You’ll be shown how to hoist the jib, shouting to the captain when you are ready, and then pulling up the rigging as fast you possibly can when instructed to do so. The 100-square metre mainsail is an even bigger job, requiring four people to get the job done.

Once you’re out in the open sea, Jérôme – after preparing and serving coffee – takes a moment to teach you how to read a chart and explain the story of his boat. Passengers also get to take the helm, aiming for the easterly point of Houat island, having to think about which way to point the tiller whilst contending with the wind and waves also. The 5km-long island consists mostly of granite cliffs but a long beach lined with dunes can be found at the eastern end.

You arrive on the island in the late morning and have around 4 hours to explore before setting sail for the return leg back to mainland France. Just 250 people live there and motor vehicles are not permitted so any exploring is done on foot or by bicycle (you can hire them on the island).

Excursions to Houat island on Krog E Barz take place on every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday from May to September.

To see a video of this wonderful sailing experience in the Gulf of Morbihan, click on the play button below.

Disclosure: Our trip was sponsored by Brittany Ferries and Brittany Tourism.



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10 great reasons to visit Carnac, Brittany, France


Having recently spent around 10 days in Carnac in southern Brittany, we thought it would be fitting to share 10 great reasons to visit this popular French seaside resort. Located in the heart of Quiberon Bay, and close to Brittany’s Gulf of Morbihan, Carnac enjoys a healthy influx of tourists, particularly in high season (July and August). Read on for our top 10 reasons to visit.

1. The prehistoric stones

No trip to Carnac is complete without visiting what the town is most famous for – the standing stones (also known as menhirs). Menhirs, tumuli, dolmens and alignments span an area over 4 kilometres long, with over 3,000 stones still standing on a site dating back over 7,000 years.

There is evidence to suggest that the site was in use since at least 5700 BC which means it long pre-dates the likes of Knossos and Stonehenge (and the Pyramids in Egypt), making it the most important prehistoric site in Europe.

Theories abound as to why the stones are there. According to local myth, the wizard Merlin turned a Roman legion into stone, whilst others believe they are astronomical in nature, but the consensus is that they were erected during the Neolithic period.

2. The beaches

There are five distinct, sheltered, sandy beaches backed by pine trees in the Carnac-Plage area of the town. The largest is the 2 kilometre-long Grande Plage which is popular with families and has two children’s clubs. Légenèse and Ty Bihan are smaller and a little less crowded, the former having a morning fitness session in the main season. Windsurfers and kitesurfers will prefer Saint-Colomban which is a little more exposed to the winds from the west. Finally, Men Dû actually lies in Trinity but is at the limit of Carnac.

3. The town centre

Inland from the beaches (Carnac-Plage) is the town centre (Carnac-Ville) where you’ll enjoy a less crowded atmosphere. Carnac-Ville exudes a small town charm with its eclectic mix of shops and St Cornély church at its centre (Carnac’s patron saint is St Cornély, who is also the patron saint of cattle). Although still busy in season, Carnac-Ville has a more refined and relaxed feel about it when compared with the hustle and bustle of the shops and restaurants at Carnac-Plage. Head to the town on Wednesday and Sunday mornings for the market, though, and it does get very busy indeed!

4. The weather

Although it can still gets its fair share of rainfall and can be cooler than other parts of France, Carnac still enjoys a predominantly warm and temperate climate, with average temperatures in the 20s from June through to September – nothing blisteringly hot but warm enough to be in shorts and T-shirt. Even in April and May, and October and November, it can still be inviting. In fact, Carnac enjoys over 2,000 hours of sunshine per year and, thanks to warm currents, the sea temperature is comparable to a number of resorts further south.

5. The food

Most of our meals were taken around the Carnac-Plage area since that was closer to where we were staying. In all honesty, this is largely dominated by places selling crepes and moules frites, but if you look around you will find a couple of gems.

We felt the best crepes were at ‘La Thalasso’ creperie just next door to the thalassotherapy hotel we stayed in but, away from this standard fayre, we found two gems in the form of Le Cornely (away from the main hustle and bustle and just one street back from the beach) and La Potiniere (which was more in ‘the thick of it’ and deserving of the queue to get in).

Back in Carnac-Ville there are a number of other eateries, with La Brigantine being a firm favourite.

6. The drink

Of course, it goes without saying, being in France, that the wine is plentiful and great quality, although Brittany itself is not known for its wine (the weather just gets a little cold for the vines so head for somewhere like the Loire if you actually want to visit a winery). But did you know Carnac is also famous for its cider? And very good it is, too. There are a few producers in the area – it seems they have more success with apples than grapes in this part of France.

7. The sailing

The primary reason for this visit to Carnac (we had been before) was that our sons were competing in the RS Tera Sport World Championships. (You may recall us attending the same event last year, in Santoña in northern Spain, and me doing a similar post then.)

Carnac Yacht Club is situated at one end of the Grand Plage, is open all year round and caters for a number of watersports, not just sailing, and all abilities. It is in fact one of the most popular sailing venues in the whole of northern France.

Conditions tend to be favourable because the location enjoys the Atlantic breeze without the swell since it is sheltered by the Quiberon peninsula. The competitors enjoyed reasonable wind on all but the final day.

Our eldest son (pictured below) came 11th in the world, and our youngest 36th, out of a total of 67 entrants, so we are very proud of them! Next year they will compete in the RS Tera Pro (bigger same, same hull) World Championships so we look forward to that challenge.

8. The open spaces

When walking from Carnac-Plage to Carnac-Ville, we were pleasantly surprised by the open spaces, stumbling upon a park complete with play area and impressive climbing contraption, football pitch, well-tended gardens, ‘insect hotel’ and more.

A great deal of thought, effort and maintenance had gone into this area to ensure it remained inviting and, during the time we were there, it was well used by locals. We’ve also found that France seems to do a good job when it comes to parks and picnic areas!

9. Thalassotherapy

I have already written about the hotel where we stayed: Carnac Thalasso Spa Resort & Hotel, nestled between the ocean and the salt marshes. The thalasso area and spa is not exclusive to staying guests so, even if you’re not resident at the hotel, take a moment to make use of the facilities and experience the healing properties of salt water.

Saltwater contains minerals which are reputed to help with the nervous system and reduce stress.The heated indoor saltwater swimming pool extends outside and you’ll find various neck and shoulder massage jets, a large outdoor Jacuzzi, relaxing alcoves, aquabeds and massage chairs that will leave you feeling rested and refreshed, ready to tackle the remainder of the day.

The spa also offers a wide range of therapies, marine treatments and cures whether you’re looking for an active beauty programme, a new slimming regime or something else. You could even return home with some products from their BioCarnac cosmetic range.

10. The history

The seaside resort of Carnac was established in 1903, created on the old salt flats, and developed extensively through the 1950s, but it’s the standing stones and the prehistory of the area that is of particular interest so much so that there is a Musée de Préhistoire (prehistory museum).

It is the first museum in the world for megalithism and houses one of Europe’s finest collections of prehistoric objects that have been unearthed in the region. Here you can learn about what daily life was like in the Neolithic period. Floor 1 is devoted mostly to prehistoric finds and includes a 5,000 year old skeleton of a young woman, whilst floor 2 focuses more on the Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman periods.

Disclosure: Our trip was sponsored by Brittany Ferries and Brittany Tourism.



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