Its talents

Brittany has inspired storytelling and tall tales, from wildly exaggerated Arthurian and saintly adventures to 19th-century Romantic tear-jerkers. It has set artists’ imaginations alight, Gauguin most famously becoming head boy of the unruly Pont-Aven school. While outsiders got madly enthusiastic about Brittany’s wild streak, the Bretons got on with enjoying their exuberant traditional singing and dancing, as many do to this day.

Picture 1 Its talents Picture 2 Its talents Picture 3 Its talents Picture 4 Its talents
  • Forêt de Brocéliande, détail d'un arbre


    Brittany teems with legends and mythical figures ; mischievous pixies, mermaids and giants pop up all over the place. In central Brittany, Arthurian figures get tangled in moral knots. In the southwest, accursed Tristan, Ysolde and Marc linger, while Gradlon’s daughter falls for the devil. Across Brittany, tales of Breton saints colour the imagination, and l’Ankou, the Breton Grim Reaper, stalks the land.

  • Breton à la canne

    Tales & storytelling

    The tradition was strong in Brittany of transmitting stories orally, often during veillées, evenings of fireside storytelling. Travelling craftsmen frequently passed on the tales and in the 19th century, La Villemarqué compiled Breton tales in his Barzhaz Breizh, a work complemented by further writers, that gives us written evidence of this oral tradition. Today, there’s been a revival in Breton storytelling.

  • Amadou et Mariam à Art Rock


    With its lilting rhythms and piercing cries, Breton music is as distinctive as anything else in the region. The biniou, or Breton bagpipes, and the bombarde, the Breton oboe, are the two most iconic instruments in any Breton band, although the harp, accordion, violin and drums can also play major parts. After a lull in the early 20th century, Breton music took off again post-war.

  • Dance

    For visitors, Breton traditional dancing at summer festivals looks wonderfully picturesque and quaint, especially performed in old-fashioned costumes. But for many Bretons, the regional dances are an ordinary part of life they relish, and that they don’t need to get dressed up for. The fest noz, or evening dance, is a Breton institution – be bold, and join in one if you get the chance.

  • Les textiles Armor Lux.


    Breton crafts and decorative arts are often colourful, from the potteries of Quimper to the embroideries on men’s formal waistcoats. Show was important; just look at the array of coiffes the region produced. Furnishings might be more sober and heavy, but geometric patterns added life. Today, two Breton brothers, the Bourollecs, are wowing the design world with their bold inventions.

  • Paul GAUGUIN (1848-1903), Deux têtes de Bretonnes, Pastel – 1894


    Gauguin springs immediately to mind when considering how Brittany has inspired artists. Many more before and after him were moved by Breton landscapes, seascapes and traditions, from Monet on Belle-Île to Picasso in Dinard. Visit the arts museums around Brittany, but also look out for the tourist art trails set up for you to follow across the countryside or along the coast.

  • Festival "L'art dans les chapelles" (2009) : Egide Viloux, éclaircie. Chapelle Saint-Nicolas, Saint-Nicolas Des Eaux, Pluméliau (56).

    Contemporary arts

    Surprising venues around Brittany have been turned into contemporary art spaces, from traditional chapels to historic châteaux and Pont-Aven isn’t the only Breton village to have seen an invasion of contemporary artists. As for the big cities, they have thriving contemporary art scenes, especially as the FRAC (the regional contemporary art fund) has a collection of thousands of works.

  • Audrey Tautou, "Un long dimanche de fiançailles"

    Cinema in Brittany

    Brittany’s obvious beauty has meant it has often featured large as a cinematic backdrop in films, in particular its spectacular coastline. Some French directors have come back time and again to shoot here and a few places have played major starring roles more than once. Film festivals are held regularly in certain towns. Brittany has also inspired some of France’s finest photographers.

  • Château de Combourg (35)


    The Bible and Book of Saints’ Lives constituted the library in most Breton homes in past times and just fragments of literature in Breton have come down the centuries to us. After the Revolution, St-Malo-born writer Chateaubriand caused a stir with his Romantic whirlwind and while outsiders were inspired to write about Brittany, much of the most moving regional literature has come from native writers.

  • Festivals & local colour

    Brittany hosts an exceptional number of festivals, from the traditional to the contemporary. Whether you’re interested in those putting Breton customs to the fore, or those featuring future talent, you’ll be spoilt for choice. It’s not just the big towns that propose major events, but also some surprising smaller places.

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