Looking for an out-of-season getaway? Skip the tourists and dive into Brittany, the beautiful northwesternmost region of France. Our foodie highlights, essential travel info and insider knowledge will get you set
The summer holidays might be over but Brittany is a year-round foodie destination and even more affordable out of season.
Local cuisine is irresistible and adventurous; who’s going to be brave enough to tuck into a bowl of garlicky bulot? (That's snails, by the way). And beyond all the classic French dishes we know and love – we’re looking at you duck confit and soupe de poisson – these are the foods you can't leave the country without trying:
Dry or sweet cider lies at the heart of Britannic culture (a bit like what Guinness is to the Irish). Not keen? Sip a crisp and dry muscadet from the neighbouring region Nantes and take some bottles home with you. It’ll only set you back around 4 or 5 euros per bottle at a food market.
2. Salted butter
Brittany is renowned for its salted butter as it was the only region exempt from the unpopular 14th-century salt tax. It’s divine on its own with a chunk of fresh baguette but also used to make galettes (all-butter biscuits) and garlic butter to go on those snails.
3. Food markets
As Brittany is the "foremost agricultural region of France", you’ll find tables at food markets laden with seasonal and splendid fresh produce anytime of the year you visit.
The Marché des Lices in Rennes is particularly lively. Practise your Breton (yes, like the Welsh, Breton folk proudly retain their own language) and if you love cooking, book self-catering accommodation.
Lobster, crab, scallops, whelks, prawns; you name it, Brittany’s got it. The good news is that seafood is in plentiful supply when there’s an ‘r’ in the month. The best place to eat it has to be Au Pied d'Cheval in Cancale, which dishes up enormous seafood platters. Honestly, you won't believe your eyes.
Although we've talked about seafood already, Breton oysters deserve a singular mention. Farmed or wild, you’ll be overwhelmed by the opportunity to tuck into these jewels of the sea and connoisseurs should head to Cancale where most of them are harvested. Do as the locals do and enjoy a light supper of oysters with rye bread and Breton butter; it’s almost better than fish and chips.
From chunky pollack and monkfish to delicate turbot and sole, there are more than 1,700 miles of coastline (that’s lengthier than the whole of North Korea, by the way). Brittany is one unbelievable place for the freshest of fins. The best we had was at the restaurant Le Bulot in Saint-Malo, but wherever you go you'll be spoilt for choice.
Is it a croissant? Is it a Chelsea bun? No, it’s the kougin-amann, a soft, rich buttery pastry best served warm just out of the oven. Warning: these pastries are addictive and it’s likely you’ll be craving them on your outbound flight, never mind when you get home. Like croissants, they’re a labour of love to make so it’s worth twisting the arm of any keen baker you know, or even giving them a go yourself.
8. Far Breton
Another addictive dessert, this prune-based sweet-batter flan is just as tempting for breakfast as it is after dinner. Enjoy one whenever the mood takes you (although most hotels will offer it as part of their breakfast buffet so keep your eyes peeled).
9. The crêpe
Yes! Brittany is the home of the crêpe! Can you believe that? Take the kids to a crêperie and order the savoury crêpe-complete made with wholesome buckwheat flour and usually topped with egg, cheese and red onion. Or you could tuck into sweet crêpes topped with homemade chocolate – we ate ours at the lovely Crêperie du Port in Saint-Quay-Portrieux.
Local folks also love a sausage wrapped in a buckwheat pancake from food trucks at markets ... it's the ultimate sausage roll.
If you’re going to splurge on a steak, Brittany is the place to do it. François-René de Chateaubriand was a poet and writer descending from an old aristocratic Breton family. Considered the founder of Romanticism in French Literature, this rich steak dish of beef tenderloin is thought to be named after him and makes for a special, indulgent dinner for two.
What to do in Brittany:
Brittany encompasses the best of France without the pretension or prices of Paris. Dive into the old Celtic culture and walk off all that food through historical towns and windswept walks along the coastline. There’re plenty of Michelin-star restaurants and luxury hotspots to relish in too, such as Julien Lemarié's foodie haven at La Coquerie and the saltwater spa pool at Spa Marin du Val Andre Thalasso and Resort; both sure to be cheaper out of season.
Ferry, car, train or plane, find everything you need to know about getting to Brittany here. It’s only 20 minutes in the sky from London Southend Airport to Rennes. And once you're there, you're only two hours away from Paris by train (although we doubt you’ll want to leave).
Tours: for someone who knows Brittany like the back of their hand, seek out the tour guides at Rennes.
Tourisme de Bretagne: want to know where to stay? You’ll find loads of info on the comprehensive tourist board website.
Literature: winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (Paperback, RRP £8.99, 4th Estate) is set in Paris and Brittany, against a backdrop of WWII.
Guide Book: DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Brittany 2013 edition (RRP from £14, Dorling Kindersley)