Why use carhire.org for car hiring?
Touring Brittany by Car: Rennes and Quimper
Brittany (located in northwestern France) has a fascinating culture that can best be discovered while taking a driving adventure through the region.
Both located in Brittany, the cities of Rennes and Quimper are quite different from one another, but both offer unique glimpses into Breton history, art, handicrafts and culinary traditions.
Rennes is the capital of Brittany. It is a divided by the Vilaine river into two distinct areas (old city and new city). On the north bank of the Vilaine you will find the charming old city, characterized by cobblestone streets and traditional architecture from the 18th century (some older), traditional Brittany crêperies, and open squares surrounded by the city’s most important buildings (the mayor’s office and the opera/theatre, for example).
If you head across the river, you’ll find Rennes’ fine art museum, located on Quai Émile Zola (Émile Zola Quay) on the banks of the Vilaine. As you travel further south you’ll find the new city filled with modern architecture and many more museums including the Musée de Bretagne (Museum of Brittany) and the Espace des Sciences (science centre and planetarium).
Les Halles centrales, located at Place Honoré Commeurec, is a covered market with over 100 stalls selling regional food and home products. About 20 of the stalls have been converted into a long contemporary art gallery, featuring unique work in a variety of media by local artists.
Quimper is located in the Finistère region (the western part of Brittany). Three major rivers (the Odet, Steir and Jet) meet in this charming city. In fact, the word “quimper” comes from the Breton word “kemper” meaning “confluence.” Quimper is known for the traditional faïence earthenware pottery that is originally from this area.
There are still many artisans in the city who produce custom dish sets for locals and tourists. The medieval part of the town, Vieux (old) Quimper is absolutely charming with its cobblestone streets and half-timbered houses. Here you’ll find a variety of traditional shops and eateries.
Perhaps the best part of visiting Quimper is the fact that the Quimpérois (the term for residents of Quimper) know how to party! The majority of French cities have their major festivals during the summer months. However, the Quimpérois keep busy in the winter with the mid-February Les Hivernautes celebration.
During this time, a wide variety of traditional Breton music and dance performances are held at venues around the city and many restaurants offer special menus with traditional dishes. The summer months bring musicians playing traditional Breton instruments out into the street.
What to Eat and Drink in Brittany
While driving through Brittany, you absolutely must try some of the regional delicacies. Some of the best crêpes (Brittany’s culinary speciality) in the world can be found at traditional crêperies in both Rennes and Quimper. Black wheat (blé noir) crêpes filled with savoury bits of salmon, cheese, eggs or cured meats are served as entrées and white flour crêpes (farine) are stuff with fruit or slathered with sweet cream sauces or Nutella and enjoyed for dessert.
Another regional speciality is the far Breton, a custard/pudding cake (similar to a clafouti) with a dense, smooth, texture. Far Bretons are traditionally garnished with brandy-saturated prunes and raisins and is traditionally eaten either for breakfast or dessert.
Don’t forget to wash down your crêpes with some traditional Breton cidre (alcoholic cider). There are three types: cidre doux is a sweet cider, usually to 1-3% in alcohol strength. ‘Demi-Sec’ is a bit drier and 3–5% alcohol. Cidre brut is a strong, dry cider consisting of 5-9% alcohol. Why not try them all?!
Driving Through France’s Provence Region: Vineyards, Villages and Markets
Driving at one’s own pace is the ideal way to explore France’s beautiful and expansive Provence region.
Having one’s own means of transportation allows for opportunities to stop and smell the lavender, peruse fresh vegetables, handmade soaps and freshly baked breads at daily markets, sample wine at a local vineyard, or spend the afternoon at one of the in-tact medieval villages found throughout Provence.
Provence’s temperature is ideal for a road trip. Even in the winter, Provence maintains comfortable temperatures ranging from 10-20°C. This temperate climate is thanks to a cold, dry wind called “le Mistral.” Le Mistral is the result of an atmospheric phenomenon that occurs during the winter and spring throughout the Mediterranean gulf.
The Mistral first develops as a cold front moving down across France. The cold air accumulates up in the Alps, eventually coming out over the tops of the mountains and filling the Rhône valley. The Mistral effectively “blows” the bad weather out of Provence, allowing the sun to shine on most days.
Provençal Wines and Vineyards
Provence has a long and rich history of viniculture that dates back to the Middle Ages. Over the past 30 years, regional Provençal wines (especially their traditional rosés) have gotten quite a bit of attention from international wine critics (in the past they had been overshadowed by wines from other popular vine growing areas such as Bordeaux).
There are a variety of wineries and “caves” (wine shops/cellars located near the vineyards where you can buy wine in bulk at excellent prices) located throughout Provence. Watch for handmade signs along the side of the road to guide you to smaller wineries.
Every town in Provence has a weekly or bi-weekly outdoor market. Typically, smaller towns try to stagger their market days with surrounding towns, allowing inhabitants the opportunity to shop for fresh food within a 10-mile radius of their home each day.
Larger cities tend to have much larger markets. One of the best in the region is the market in Aix-en-Provence. Here is a schedule of markets (with food, pottery, soaps and other regional goods) in Provence by day:
Monday: Bédoin, Cadenet, Cavaillon, Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer
Tuesday: Aix-en-Provence, Gordes, Grasse, La Tour D’Aigues, St-Tropez, Tarascon, Vaison-la-Romaine
Wednesday: Arles, Digne, Draguignan, Fréjus, Salon-de-Provence, Sault, Sisteron, St-Rémy-de-Provence
Thursday: Aix-en-Provence, Beaucaire, Isle sur la Sorgue, Le Lavandou, Orange, Roussillon
Friday: Bonnieux, Carpentras, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Lourmarin, Moustiers-Ste-Marie, Remoulins
Saturday: Apt, Arles, Avignon, Digne, Draguignan, Fréjus Manosque, Sisteron, St-Rémy-de-Provence, St-Tropez, Uzés
Daily: Aix-en-Provence (fruit and vegetables), Antibes, Cannes, Marseille (fish), Menton, Nice, Sanary-sur-Mer, Toulon, Bédoin, Cadenet, Cavaillon, Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer
Medieval Villages: Les Baux de Provence
Les Baux de Provence is one of the most famous medieval villages in France. Just outside of the town of St. Rémy, there is a winding road that leads up to Les Baux de Provence, passing through lush vineyards and olive groves. Thanks to its elevated position, Les Baux de Provence offers impressive views of Les Alpilles, a chain of limestone hills running east-west (an extension of the Luberon mountain range).
The main tourist attraction is the chateau-fortress. Historically, Les Baux de Provence was used as a strategic defense site. The first inhabitants were believed to be the Celto-Ligurian peoples, followed by the Gallo-Romans. During Medieval times, the Baux family ruled between the 9th century and 1426. Some time after this, Baux was integrated into the rest of Provence (thus becoming Les Baux de Provence) and officially became part of France in 1481.
There are a variety of shops throughout Baux de Provence selling santons (small, hand-painted figurines) and other traditional souvenirs. There are also several restaurants, but I recommend heading back down the hill, visiting a market and purchasing goods for a picnic lunch near one of Provence’s ubiquitous lavender fields.
Exploring Normandy By Car – A Drive-By Guide
Whether you’re taking in the sights along a coastal highway or winding through quaint villages on a narrow inland country road, the Normandy region of France is easily accessible by car.
Given the area’s rich culture and history, travelling by car is one of the best ways to explore Normandy.
While driving between destinations, take time to appreciate the lush green landscapes, expansive sandy beaches, steep limestone cliffs and colourful apple orchards found in this region of northern France.
D-Day Beaches and Cemeteries
Without a doubt, the most famous sites in Normandy are found near the beaches and cemeteries associated with the D-Day invasion in 1944. The D-Day invasion coast spans 50 miles and makes for a very picturesque and historically revelatory drive. You’ll have the opportunity to stop and see the remains of German bunkers, war memorials and monuments, museums and, of course, the national cemeteries. Just inland of the beaches is a chain of lovely towns where many of the museums and memorials can be found. A great place to start your exploration is at the Memorial de Caen (located in Caen) or the Musée de Débarquement (Landing Museum) located in Arromanches. These visitor centres will give you a good sense of the historical background so that you can better understand what you are about to see.
Here is a list of beaches (organized from east to west) and some of the major sites associated with each of them.
Near Sword Beach you’ll find the Musée de la Batterie de Merville (a museum dedicated to the Sixth British Airborne), the memorial commemorating the Pegasus Bridge capture, the Musée No. 4 Commando (featuring scaled models and weapons), and the Ranville War Cemetery (over 2300 graves, many of them members of the 6th Airborne Division).
The five-mile wide Juno Beach is home to the 48th Royal Marine Commando Monument (located in Langrune-sur-Mer), Place du Canada (a square with museums and monuments, located in Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer) and Centre Juno Beach (a visitor’s centre dedicated to educating visitor’s about Canada’s role in the war).
When visiting Gold Beach one can see the Musée America Gold Beach , the aforementioned The Musée de Débarquement (Landing Museum), Bayeux War Cemetery (British Cemetery) and an interesting archival film called “The Price of Freedom” projected on 9 screens in a circular cinema (Arromanches 360).
Omaha Beach is home to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in the town of Colleville-sur-Mer, as well as a host of monuments and museums dedicated to American participation in the war.
Several important museums and monuments are located in Utah Beach, including the Musée du Débarquement (Utah Beach Landing Museum), The American Soldier Monument, 4th Infantry Division Monument, 90th Infantry Division Monument, the Musée de la Batterie de Crisberg (Crisbeq Gun Battery Museum), and the Memorial de la Liberte Retrouvée (Freedom Museum).
Touring Normandy by car allows you the opportunity to visit as many of these monuments, memorials, historic sites and museums at your leisure. Don’t forget to take time to go into the coastal villages or those further inland to get a taste of contemporary life.
After a full day of sightseeing, visit a local restaurant to enjoy regional culinary specialties like Camembert cheese, veal, Coquilles St. Jacques (scallops), andouille (sausage made from chitterlings), and duck. And there is no better way to end the day than with a cup of authentic French cider or Calvados apple brandy.
Bonne route (have a good drive)!