Travelling out of Season in Brittany, France

With travel now readily available, especially within Europe, many little ports, towns and villages in Brittany have become inundated with visitors and holidaymakers during the Northern Hemisphere summer, from June to August, making travel less appealing. The British fly to Rennes or Dinan in Brittany very cheaply with Ryan Air, Fly Kiss or Easy Jet, take a car on the ferry, or drive through the tunnel via Paris. And so you would expect this area of France to be busy. Those not travelling independently are met by a 16 to 45 seater bus which then tours the area. These buses are out of place in tiny villages, clogging town squares, a reminder of those disgusting towering cruise ships dominating the Venetian canals which the Italian authorities are too cowardly to deal with.

Centre of town, Pont Aven. Late September, evening.

Considering Pont Aven as a microcosm of this phenomena, there’s only one way to avoid these invasions: travel in late September or anytime out of season. The weather won’t be so gloriously sunny, and at times it will be quite moist, but I consider this to be a fair trade-off. You will find a quiet market square and a village getting on with its business in a ‘post seasonal’ way and you will hear French spoken. On some days, a few buses might land in the square- arriving at 11am, most stay for around 30 minutes or so, as the tourists disembark to buy the local buttery biscuits, canned fish products from the conserveries, or stare through the windows of the ateliers, the 40 artist workshops flogging colourful paintings of sea themes. And then the town returns to normal.

Boats along the Aven River. The walk to the sea is around 8 kms.

Pont Aven has always been popular with travellers. Paul Gauguin spent extended periods in this town in the late 1880s and early 1890s, establishing, with others, the Synthetist style, a break from Impressionism. Their work is often characterised by the bold use of colour, the abandonment of faithful representation and perspective, with flat forms separated by dark contours, and geometrical composition free of any unnecessary detail and trimmings. The modern Pont Aven art school tends to follow this style.

Boats on the Aven River, Pont Aven

His legacy has left its mark on the town. Some walks follow in his footsteps, with little plaques dotted here and there, depicting Bretagne scenes of the local people or boating scenes. Art workshops dominate the retail scene here, but most are closed after August or only open during the weekend. The result of their presence, as well as the proximity of an Intermarche supermarket less than 1 km away, means the loss of a second boulangerie and a functional epicerie within the town. The town’s commerce is out of balance with a preponderance of outlets catering to the visiting tourist and not the locals. There are two or three good restaurants in the centre, often with reduced opening times, a creperie, one boulangerie, a bar, and a wine cave. A small market operates weekly in the town square. Many shops have closed and will be replaced, most likely, by yet another art gallery.

Pont Aven waterways through the centre of town

The district of Finisterre, in which Pont Aven is located, is heavily populated along the coastal area, in contrast to my recollections of the coastal areas in Morbihan. Beautiful farming land, away from the sea fringes, is dotted with smaller hamlets and villages, and larger medieval towns, such as Quimper. On cool days, motoring around the countryside is a pleasant way to spend the day. A visit to Locronan, one of ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages de France‘, is worth the drive, but go early before the buses arrive. Like many a designated belle village, Locronon is on the cusp of becoming too faux. Once the tourist shops move in, the rent goes up and local retail suffers. The up side of this designation means these beautiful medieval buildings are carefully restored.

Locronin, Brittany

But then, this is the story of any lovely spot in France. Travel slowly, go outside of the tourist season, and most of all, attempt to speak French, however poorly, and always use your inside voice, even when outside. Intrusiveness, I’ve found, comes down to the volume of voice used by fellow travellers.

Wet day mist over the Aven.
City scene in Quimper, Brittany. Once the capital of Cornouille.

 

A Walk in the Bois d’Amour

If you go down to the ‘bois’ today, you’re in for a big surprise!

The Bois d’Amour, an hour’s walk through a dense and ancient forest, begins right in the heart of Pont Aven’s village. It is surprising, enchanting, mysterious and gentle. You’ll emerge from these woods transformed.

The walk begins just under the one lane bridge near the centre of town. After passing a wild garden of flowers, raspberries and pumpkins, tended by a nearby Merlin, the woods turn deep, dark and mossy, with old cypress, oak, beech and chestnut trees shading the way. Fallen Autumn leaves drift across the moist muddy path.

Who tends this garden in the no man’s land under the bridge?

Unlike in the centre of town where the Avon river races by with enough speed and force to turn mighty water mills, here it runs like a liquid stream of dark molasses, with an occasional skip rover rocks and fallen logs.

Near the Moulin Neuf, the half way point in the walk, a quaint old building appears out of nowhere, probably the remains of that ninth mill. On our return, a quiet older man in a crumpled beige suit, silver hair streaming over his shoulders, magically emerges, his head bowed over a bowl, replenishing some cat food. Bonsoir, bonsoir.

The woods darken in places and become almost frightening, then all is gentle again as a love seat rises in the bend of the river.

Love Seat, Bois d’Amour

Fallen chestnuts litter the ground, opened and devoid of their nuts, like exotic birds or creatures from another time.

The things you find in the woods- ordinary things, like love, nature, beauty and peace.

Included in pedestrian, this weeks photo challenge on WordPress.

Bois d’Amour, Pont Aven