Pornic to Pont Aven

Trip Start Apr 10, 2012
Trip End Jul 13, 2012

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Flag of France  , Brittany,
Tuesday, June 5, 2012

As we set off from La Rochelle it was a wet day, so not the best for sight seeing, but a good day for driving.  We were getting close to Brittany, and we stopped for a walk at Pornic, the most southern Breton port.
As we wandered into the town, the tide was out, and the boats in the harbour were sitting in the mud. Shops and eateries lined the the street along the harbour, and if the day had been better it would have been a lovely place to sit for a coffee. Behind the main street the roads climbed steeply up the hill. 
Here the bell on the church was ringing, and as it was early afternoon the streets were almost deserted. It never fails to amaze us how quiet and empty these towns can seem.  Market day seems to be the only exception to this.

We walked around the Chateau de Pornic, which has the harbour on one side and the town on the other. It has been restored and is not open to the public but adds some grandeur to the harbourside. The tide was coming in, and by the time we left the boats in the harbour were floating. 

As we crossed the huge bridge over the Loire River as it enters the ocean it seemed we were truly entering north-western France.
Next morning, we stopped briefly at La Roche Bernard. Built on the banks of the Vilaine River, the town has a history of involvement in the French revolution, and the Second World War, and the use of the guillotine. We We stopped by the bridge and viewed the town and the many little boats in the river.
Vannes, the next stop, was a gorgeous town. Once again parking was hard to find so we walked from uphill down along the canalized port to Vieux Vannes, the old city. The ramparts are in very good condition, and from these we could see the beautiful formal gardens and the original lavoirs (wash houses). Then through the Porte St-Vincent, and we were in the midst of the weekly market. Tiny cobbled streets and half-timbered houses painted in bright colours were lovely on their own, but with the market hubbub it always seems livelier. Strawberries were truly in season, cherries were piled up and apricots looked delicious. We bought some to take back to the van, but it was pouring by now. So a coffee and crepe inside a warm cafe was just the thing.
It was only a short drive from Vannes to the standing stones (menhirs) near Carnac. There are  around 3000 standing stones around this area. They were were set in place between 5000 and 2000 BC, and it is one of the most important prehistoric sites in the world.  They were erected by pre-Celtic people, and like all prehistoric sires such as these, we wonder how how on earth they managed it, and then why? With all the daily tasks they would have had to execute to survive, why would they take on such massive tasks.
Gorgeous Pont Aven was our last stop. Until the 19th century known for its water-mills, from the 1850s its beautiful natural surroundings, local traditional clothing, the light and the low budget existence possible here made it very attractive to artists.  Most well known of these was Paul Gauguin. 

Not only were the surroundings conducive to painting, the introduction of oil paints in tubes allowed the artists to leave their studios and paint in the countryside.  The Musee Beaux Artes has a collection of paintings from Gauguin and his group. We were disappointed there were not more Gauguins on show as they were mostly from his associates, but it was a nice little gallery.   
The artists colony that was created here has given the town a lasting affiliation with the arts, as there is a large arts school and many art galleries around town. 
But there is more than art here. The Aven River is very attractive, with rocks and rapids, an old bridge, a water wheel, and lots of moored boats as it flows out of town. This is a town worth seeing.
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