Apéro Oiseaux® in the heart of the Brière marshes
A gourmet trip in a traditional barge
The stunning landscape of the Brière marshes extends across a 7500 hectare area between the estuaries of the Loire and the Vilaine. At the water’s edge, a long barge is getting ready to glide along the canals, passing right by the pretty thatched cottages of the little village of Bréca. Daniel is the pilot, and also the storyteller, ornithologist, naturalist and historian all rolled into one… This natural park has 1001 facets to explore, from its waterways and birdlife to its local specialities.
Get on board between the fields and thatched cottages
We quickly climb aboard the barge with the help of Daniel’s guiding hand. The flat-bottomed traditional barge is actually incredibly stable and comfortable. With a few pushes of the pole, our pilot pushes us back from the pontoon that’s been built in the semi-wilderness. The Tadorne glides noiselessly beneath the tree-lined waterway, making its way towards the marshland’s many canals.
Our local guide has a keen eye and a vast amount of knowledge at his fingertips, and peppers his wide-ranging commentary with local stories and anecdotes. He explains the meaning of the local Breton word ‘piarde’ (a type of marshland) as he tosses out a fishing line to catch some plaice… Here in this stunning landscape, which is below sea-level, people have been gathering reeds, peat and of course fish for centuries. Locals call this area the ‘black country’ – echoing the ‘white country’ of the Guérande salt-gathering area – and this is a wonderful way to experience the variety of colours in between.
As the day draws to a close, a quiet calm settles on the landscape of reeds and clumps of grass. It’s a peaceful scene, but it’s teeming with life! Ducks and cormorants take off as we approach, then Charles spots a heron and a beautiful Eurasian spoonbill. A flotilla of swans glides along the canal past the boat’s prow, while a gathering of mallard ducks form a V shape in the boat’s wake just as a flock of swallows skim the surface of the water. Daniel has a fascinating fact for every species we encounter – for this lover of the Brière area, the marsh is a ‘Hotel for the Birds’.
A 100% natural scent
The flora is impossible to ignore. There’s more than just the reeds, growing all the way to the edge of the horizon. You can also see grey willows that have taken root here, as well as celandine flowers and a few orchids here and there reflected in the gentle ripples. The delicate iris flowers were once used for dyeing, while the water lilies were a regular feature of local menus in the past. Wild mint and spices add a certain fragrance to the tall grasses, giving us quite an appetite!
Hunger grows with the waves
Daniel wedges the barge’s nose into dense vegetation that wouldn’t look out of place in a Pacific jungle, and the barge is transformed into a terrace-restaurant on the water. Having sampled the pleasures of the natural world, it’s now time to sample the local produce. There’s no shortage of choice here in this wonderful setting, alongside the sea and the Loire, between Brittany and the Nantes vineyards. The local samphire goes well with the mackerel rillettes and sardines. The exotic ‘langouille’ – a local pork tongue specialty – is a delicious surprise too, while the sublime ‘curé nantais’ cheese [‘Pastor of Nantes’] makes converts of us all! There’s also a selection of cider, Muscadet and Anjou red wines to wash down this delicious exploration of the local food.
Back in safe harbour
As the wind begins to gently rustle the grass, we re-join the canal which stretches across a 10 km area – more mileage than Venice! We return to the pontoon and cross through geese pastures, gliding past the water’s edge dotted with oak tree roots. Daniel good-humouredly reminds us that he’s never yet lost a passenger, and might even have gained new enthusiasts for the Brière area and its charms!
Text: Annick André
Excursions are provided by the agency GUIDAE, and run from April to mid-October
Adult price – 12 years and over: €36
Child price – age 6 to 11 inclusive: €29
Babies and children under the age of 6 are accepted subject to certain conditions
The price includes transport. Guests can also make their way straight to the starting point.
Check the excursions calendar and book directly online at: http://baladesguidae.com/balades-randonnees-presquile-guerande/