Brittany Steam Railway Holiday
Brittany is a land of rolling hills, sensational seascapes and quaintly preserved towns and villages. This part of France remains a Celtic land with a language and culture all of its own and similarities to England’s West Country with the Knights of the Round Table legends and a passion for cider evident. Whilst there aren’t tourist railways galore in the region our varied itinerary is heartily completed with scenic “local” rail trips, boats, museums, rocks (!) and even a fantastic day trip to Jersey – there’s so much more than meets the eye.
We take a late morning Eurostar to Paris and cross to Montparnasse for the direct TGV service to Rennes. From the station it’s a very short stroll to our hotel.
A relaxed day touring the most picturesque and historic towns in Northern Brittany beckons. We kick off in Dinan with a visit to the Dinan Railway Museum where models and memorabilia abound. Time now to wander the medieval streets, gardens and walls of this pretty place and to take lunchtime refreshments. In the afternoon we journey north to St Malo – this iconic town was painstakingly reconstructed after WWII. Window shop, visit the beach or walk the town walls circuit before a late afternoon train back to Rennes.
We’re off to the high seas today. An early start and breakfast on the Jersey bound ferry ensures that we make the most of the time available. We see the sights with an island tour amid the leafy lanes and scenic seascapes of this enchanting place. We find railway interest, and even a ride, at the fascinating Steam, Motor & General Museum and learn social history at the awesome Jersey War Tunnels. An early evening meal on the island is included before sailing back to France and finishing off with a swift drive down to Rennes – a full and extremely rewarding day out.
A coastal combination of steam, luverley steam, river and island scenery, and maybe even some cider. With a morning coffee stop en route we drive to the Pointe de l’Arcouest. Here we board a pleasure boat for the gentle circular cruise around the picturesque Ile de Brehat, famed for its flowers. Afterwards we call in at Paimpol’s quaint marina on our way to the village of Pontrieux where we join the Chemin de Fer du La Vapeur du Trieux for an afternoon of steam. This is a splendid journey as it follows the winding River Trieux up to the northern terminus at Paimpol. We complete the rest of the branch line later by SNCF to Guingamp where we connect into an express train for the direct service to Rennes – splendid!
Away to the south coast today as we travel by rail to Quiberon along a “summer only” branch line with the sea on both sides. Next we visit Carnac to marvel at the megalithic alignments – this is the French equivalent of Stonehenge and every bit as awesome. In the afternoon we find ourselves in the beautiful town of Vannes – an amazing place. We first take a “dotto” trip to learn the history and the layout before setting down for independent explorations. Half-timbered houses and shops, medieval ramparts and archways, tranquil gardens and a yacht filled marina provide picture postcard settings. Late afternoon we set off back to Rennes reflecting on a relaxing day out.
Our last full day starts by rail from Rennes, via Redon, to Nantes. By road now to Mortagne sur Sevre for our railway finale – courtesy of the Chemin de Fer du Vendee. This is a fantastic trip of pure rustic pleasure as we chug through rolling countryside, across towering viaducts, and pass by traditional farms and villages. After an afternoon of steamy indulgence we return to Rennes cross-country including a riverside break, by the Loire, and, perhaps, a stroll around the imposing grounds of Chateaubriant.
Today we retrace our steps back to Great Britain with the TGV to Paris and Eurostar to London arriving early afternoon.
Mercure Gare Central, Rennes
We stay in the capital of Brittany, Rennes, at the modern Mercure Hotel, just a couple of minutes stroll from the station. The hotel has well-appointed rooms and serves a hot buffet breakfast. There’s no restaurant for evening meals but there are cafes aplenty in the locale and Rennes has an interesting old quarter should you venture further afield. In fact getting to the historic part is simple as Rennes boasts the easiest to use Metro system anywhere.