Why cycle in Brittany?
First off of course is that Brittany is a part of France... Anyone who has ever cycletoured in France knows exactly why this large European country is the 'Mecca' for cycletourists coming from all over the world. Not only is cycling the national sport, but it is one that has a presence throughout the country. Ride for a week here and you'll be passed by groups of Lycra clad cyclists, see enthusiastic messages of encouragement to racers painted on roads and the enigmatic "MG" and a line across the road at the top of many hills. Local people are used to seeing cyclists every day, are quite likely to cycle seriously, or at least know someone who does, and so the image of cycling is hugely positive rather than being 'poor man's transport'. The result is that drivers are used to giving room to cyclists, that turning up in a bar or small restaurant in Lycra and soaked with rain doesn't get you asked to leave (as can happen elsewhere) and that as a cyclist you are viewed with interest and perhaps sympathy:-)
Of course cyclists have other 'requirements', primarily food and somewhere to stay. Food in France? Though no cyclist is going to be impressed by a peeled prawn, sprig of dill and an artistically pooled drop of red sauce, the curse of 'Nouvelle Cuisine' is hardly likely to be encountered by the average cycletourist. In the countryside you'll find small 'ouvrier' (literally "worker's") restaurants that for 10 euro will provide a four course meal, often with wine and coffee, that you couldn't cook yourself for that money! Evening meals aren't much more and of course the range of fresh food is enough to keep you in picnics for a lifetime. Though the idea of us super-fit cyclists (ho ho!) indulging in wine isn't something we should advertise, it's amazing just how good a 1.50 euro bottle can be:-)
Then there's the unique range of campsites. Even if you've never camped before it's worth doing at least one cyclecamping trip in France and wondering at the wealth of cheap municipal and private websites covering the country. For those looking for a bed for the night most small towns will have hotels where a simple but good room will run at around the 40 euro mark per night, making it easy to piece together a tour on an on-the-fly basis.
So why Brittany rather than other areas of France?
When people think of cycling in France their minds turn almost automatically to the Loire Valley. Beautiful though it is, it's not the ideal place for cycletouring, especially during the peak season. No, the best place for cycletouring in France is Brittany. Of course I'm hopelessly biased but in these few words I hope to at least make you wonder...
OK so what has Brittany got to attract the cycletourist? Just think a minute, what does the average person think of when they dream of France? Beautiful unspoilt countryside, little market towns, sleepy villages, friendly natives, stunning chateaux, quiet country lanes, vineyards. On that reckoning Brittany has the lot, with the one exception of vineyards, but to be honest once you've visited one of these havens of intensive agriculture you've probably had enough. On the other hand Brittany has a few tricks of its own. It has the most spectacular and varied coastline in France, with sweeping kilometres of golden sand one minute, rocky coves and cliffs the next. Inland you'll find lakes and forests linked by canals, (notably the 172 mile Nantes-Brest canal) all of which have towpaths perfect for cycling. In the heartland of Brittany there is little intensive farming so you are left with small fields, tall hedges with magnificent trees and of course the remnants of the great Pan-European forest are everywhere. The landscape is littered with stone-age monuments, ancient Celtic churches and all this linked by a maze of tiny lanes where a car per hour is the norm.
But... All this is travel brochure stuff, "see the magnificent Chateau at Josselin, marvel at the dramatic Pink-Granite coast etc", but the secret of Brittany is that it is cyclist sized. The countryside is small scale, intimate, it wraps around you like a cloak, drawing you into its folds and into your heart. Here tiny villages, unlike so much of rural France, still manage to support a bar, or a baker and often a little lunchtime restaurant. Even in the darkest depths of the interior you will pass a watering hole every few kilometres where the locals will shake your hand and smile at your loaded bike. Larger villages often have a tiny hotel, perhaps with half a dozen rooms, or a campsite by a lake maintained by the commune to attract passing visitors. And yet this heartland of Brittany is ignored by almost every tourist. Yes go to the south coast in August and it'll be busy, but 10 kms from that coast you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between April and August.
For me it is this unspoilt, largely unexplored centre of Brittany which is one of the truly great cycling areas of France - it will capture your heart, as it has done mine.