7 Places to Enjoy the Vibrant Culture of Brittany

Art and the landscape combine along the Loire river at Parc des Chantiers, île de Nantes
Art and the landscape combine along the Loire river at Parc des Chantiers, île de Nantes | © Franck Tomps / LVAN
Isabella Dally-Steele

Venturing through Brittany, in the northwest of France, offers a potential bucketload of cultural adventures and pursuits. From the electric green line in Nantes – which passes through the city’s main sights, showcasing colourful public artwork – to quaint medieval villages with distinct Breton architecture, the region has more culture than you might imagine.

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Enchanting seaside vistas and top-notch cider production are among the big draws here; plus, Brittany has long been a dream destination for cottagecore enthusiasts. But this region once known primarily for its storybook countryside is quickly becoming a heartthrob among jetsetting art junkies, as local artists mould its cities to their liking. As Breton parks and side streets burst into bloom with a renaissance of home-grown public art, local creatives are taking the wheel to curate a new Brittany, one that remembers and reimagines the rustic sweetheart that has captured the imagination of so many artists. Explore the region’s burgeoning arts scene and delve into local history with this sampler.

Let the Traversée Photographique be your tour guide

For a panoramic view of Brittany’s territory, history and artistic prowess, let its resident photographers guide you through the region’s nooks and crannies. With the help of a rental car (or judiciously scheduled train tickets) the Traversée Photographique en Bretagne takes you up and down the coast to 12 partner galleries, each showcasing photography that highlights the region’s unique history. Whether you only sample one of the Traversée’s suggested shows, or dedicate yourself to visiting them all, you’ll find that these expositions follow you out of the gallery; as you discover the featured artists, you’re also discovering the Breton land and traditions that still serve as their muse.

La Traversée Photographique en Bretagne is an artistic tour of 12 galleries showcasing photos that capture the region’s unique history

Follow the Nantes electric green line

If a jaunt around the entire region is too ambitious, take a walking tour of the artistic topography of Nantes. Simply find and follow the electric green line to discover around 50 of the city’s beloved pieces of public art. You can plan your Voyage à Nantes ahead of time to hit the art installations, architectural masterpieces and cultural heritage sites that most interest you, or dive in blind and let the trail surprise you with each new discovery.

The enormous Grand Eléphant at the Machines de l’Île project in Nantes

Le Voyage à Nantes event

Visit the city in late summer and you can witness the Voyage à Nantes trail blossom with even more talent than usual. From July to September every year, the green line becomes a hotspot for artists to display their latest works and connect with each other and the public. To make the most of the event, plan to immerse yourself in Voyage à Nantes for a few days – with 12km (7mi) of ground to cover, you’ll have your work cut out for you. This path is designed to tucker you out, so don’t forget to stop for snacks, or a glass or two of the region’s signature Muscadet wine, along the way. Don’t worry, France’s generous open container laws make a boozy art tour all the more appealing. Still peckish? Discover more of the local cuisine in restaurants chosen by local enthusiasts at Les Tables de Nantes.

Author and illustrator Claude Ponte has created Le Jardin des Plantes where you can escape among giant sculptures and underground tunnels
Walk on the moon at the crater-like playground, On Va Marcher sur la Lune, by Detroit Architects and Bruno Peinado
Voyage à Nantes encourages artists to design and display their artwork in the form of signs for local businesses

Discover Rennes street art

Saunter down any given major street in a French metropolis and chances are you’ll find yourself face to face with pixelated street art versions of your favorite video game characters. These Easter eggs were hidden around the country like Space Invader, one of France’s most prolific street artists. These tiny tiled avatars parachuted into Rennes and Nantes alongside a wave of murals by other artists, including by the equally anonymous Rennes-based artist WAR!

Squeeze in a self-guided tour of the expansive collection of street art in Rennes by following this map – or simply stumbling upon the masterpieces – or let yourself be transported by a guided tour of the city’s spray-painted gems. You’ll also find a former office building transformed into what is now known as Dédale, an empty space spread over four floors that street artists use to get creative, paint their murals and exhibit their work.

Rennes is famous for its striking street art, like this eye-catching piece in La Courrouze

Witness the evolution of Breton architecture first-hand

Brittanymay be famous for the half-timbered houses that line its quaint streets, but the buildings that steal the show have a more storied past. Acquaint yourself with the architectural – and cultural – adaptability with a visit to one of the countless historic buildings that have been refurbished for modern use. Read up on the history of the Guingamp Prison while taking in the same venue’s photo exhibition, or maybe indulge in an afternoon climbing expedition at the now-defunct Rennes maternity hospital – these venues are proof that you don’t need to pick between your dualling thrill-seeker and history-buff travel personas.

Once a convent, then a shipbuilding centre, the Ateliers des Capucins is a true melting pot in Brest

Wander among masterpieces at Château des Pères

While artists in Rennes are known for scaling buildings to adorn the city’s street corners, nearby suburb Piré-sur-Seiche takes the open air gallery experience into the third dimension. Located just outside of Rennes, this suburb is home to Château des Pères, a manor-turned-gallery whose grounds are now home to a sculpture park. Frolic among the château’s wooded sculpture garden or try your hand at the art form with a class in pottery, paper craft or woodworking. Take a liking to stonework or metalsmith classes at the château? You could always sign up for a short internship on the grounds – and come spring 2022, you could lodge in the neighboring tree hotel.

The Château des Pères is an ancient site that has been transformed into a space for creativity and expression

Lose yourself in the natural beauty of the region’s estuaries

On the southwest coast of Brittany, where its winding waterways meet the Celtic Sea, you’ll find a permanent open-air collection of original art celebrating Brittany’s contrasting estuaries. More than 60km (37mi) of works of art are spread out along the route, which is essentially an ode Brittany’s culture and heritage in the form of installations, giant sculptures and jaw-dropping architecture. From April to October, you can hop on an estuary cruise, which will meander you down from Nantes to the port of Saint-Nazaire. Marvel at the varying landscapes and the artworks along the way, where emerging artists make their mark and celebrate the compelling spirit of each unique estuary.
From early July to mid-September in the old market town of Pontivy, contemporary and religious art are brought together in a thought-provoking initiative, Art in the Chapels. For more than 28 years, contemporary artists have been invited to create bespoke artworks to display in chapels throughout the Blavet Valley. This unique fusion of creativity and time serves as a way to celebrate and embrace the religious heritage of this historic region. Previous artworks include immersive light installations among ancient walls as well as nature-inspired textiles.

Art in the Chapels in the Blavet Valley
Huang Yong Ping’s giant serpent is a masterpiece that emerges out of the ocean on the northwest coast of France off Nantes

Learn more about the fascinating history and culture of Brittany and start planning your trip at brittanytourism.com

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