Culture in Brittany France (Bretagne)

Brittany is a land of traditions where religion and folklore mix to deliver the most amazing summer festivals of processions and traditional music events. Celtic at heart from its history and legends which remain alive still to this day from its avid followers, Brittany is, above all, a land of sea where fishermen scatter the waves along side sailing enthusiasts.

The Breton Flag

Breton Flag, Brittany France
Breton Flag, Gwenn ha du

Not surprisingly, the flag of Bretagne, called Gwenn ha du in Breton, is full of symbols just like the region it represents. Designed in 1925, each of its former dioceses are represented by a stripe, the white ones for the South and the black ones for the North, with the ermine as symbol of its Duchy.

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Traditional Breton Costumes

Breton Traditional Coiffes, Brittany France
Traditional Head-dresses

Brittany is known for its finest lace head-dresses or Coiffes worn by Breton women. Design and shape will vary upon the location. The "Bigouden" tall round coiffe from Pont-l'Abbé is probably the best known.
Nowadays, it is rare to see ladies wearing one unless it is a special occasion like pardons, other main religious days or festivals. With a coiffe, they wear deep coloured embroidered dresses with usually a white apron.
Men's outfit usually consists of a black felt hat with a large rubbon and a velvet embroidered waistcoat matching the design of the ladies.
For shoes, traditionally they would have worn clogs (sabots) but these are totally out of fashion nowadays. You might find a local shoes shop that sell them for the tourists rather than for the local demand.

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In 6C BC marks the first arrival of the Celts on the "country of the sea" which they named Armor later to be conquered by the Romans in 56 AD with the battle of the Veneti. Four centuries later, a second influx of Celts from Wales and Cornwall driven away by the Angles and Saxons arrived in Armor, while the Romans are busy defending Rome from barbarian attacks, and renamed the land "Little Britain" to later become Brittany.

826: sees the nomination of Nominoé as first Duke of Brittany
1341: the War of successsion starts with the death of the childless Duke of Jean III. After 23 years of battles and disputes, Jean IV, son of the Jean III's half brother, Jean de Montfort, finally succeeded to the duchy.
1488: Anne, daughter of Francois II, succeeded after her father's death and was Brittany's last Duchess, described as a frail but clever woman loved by her people.
1491: The Duchess Anne de Bretagne, aged 15, marries Charles III, King of France, first alliance with the Crown although still retaining her duchy sovereignity.
1532: marks the end of Brittany's independence with the duchy being officially united to the Kingdom of France by the Vannes' Parliament after the marriage of Claude of France, Anne's daughter, with François Ier.
1598: Signature by Henry IV of the Edit of Nantes which was supposed to end religious rifts between protestants and catholics.
1789: The French revolution begins.
1793: Breton Royalists rebel against the Laws condemning religious activities and join the Chouannerie movement.
1832: Failure of the last uprising attempt by the Duchess of Berry to regain Brittany's independence.
1914-18: Brittany loses 200,000 men to World War I.
1940: With the Vichy government, Brittany is caught up into the "occupied France" of World War II.
1941: 48 hostages are killed after the assassination of the German Army Soldier, Karl Hotz, as its murderers refused to give themself in. Nantes named one of its main avenues in honour of these people.
1942: The U-boat submarine station of St-Nazaire is bombarded and the town destroyed.
1945: Brittany "breathes" again after the end of the German Occupation losing three major maritime towns of Brest, Lorient and St-Nazaire.
1985: Introduction of bilingual French/Breton road signs.

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Land of Legends

The Imaginary Arthurian Centre in Brittany France
© Centre de l'Imaginaire Arthurien

Celtic at heart, Brittany is not surprisingly a land full of storytellers, legends and mystic tales that have captured the imagination of its people, its followers and writers for centuries from the Middle Ages to this day.

  • The Myth of King Arthur brought in by the original celtic settlers in 6C AD continues to live in the greatest Brittany's forest of Brocéliande found in the forest of Paimpont, where his Knights of the Round Table set their quest for the Holy Grail.
  • Merlin, King Arthur's Sorcerer also settled in Brocéliande forest after falling in love with his enchanting beautiful fairy Viviane that cast a spell on him to keep in forever.
  • Tristan and Yseult
  • King Gradlon ruled his vast Cornouaille land from its capital, the city of Ys, in the Douarnenez bay, which was protected from the sea by locked gates.

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Land of Sea

The Claire-Fontaine race in La Trinte, Brittany France
The Claire-Fontaine race © Spigoo

Sailing, is at the heart of Brittany's favourite sport and pastime. Home to some famous skippers like Eric Tabarly, it is also hosting several well known regional and world races including:

  • Spi Ouest-France departing from Trinité-sur-Mer on Easter week-end
  • The Obelix Trophy departing from Bénodet (1st week-end in May)
  • The Québec-St Malo (every 4 years)
  • The Route Du Rhum, solo transatlantic from Saint-Malo to Pointe-à-Pitre every fourth year in November
  • The Solitaire du Figaro from Lorient
  • Regional racing tour of Bretagne à la Voile from St-Malo to Trinité-sur-Mer (every 2 years)
To check exact dates of these race events, check our what's on page.

Clams picking in Brittany France
Clams picking © Spigoo
One of French and Bretons's favourites activities is collecting seafood (la pêche à pied). You will notice, especially days of high tide coefficients (la Grande Marée), the French will rush to the coast with bucket and tools. Some people will even take a day off for that special event. Bended down between rocks to catch crabs, lobsters (if you are lucky), wrinkles, limpits and mussels or digging the sand to look for clams, cockles or even razor clams, collecting seafood for the French is a family affair. If you are not sure what to do or what to look for, ask them and they will show you but do not expect them to tell you where the best spots are. It is like a secret garden ! Whatever you do, make sure you put the rocks moved back into place as to preserve the environment.

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Bookstore: Recommended travel & tourist guide books to Brittany with walking maps, Road maps, Children's books, Asterix, Breton Cuisine and much more