Covering 154 square miles, the Brière national park is recognised internationally for the diversity of its flora and fauna. Until the 1950s, the area was known for its peat, which was used by the locals as a cheap form of heating or for selling. Reed picking has also declined but is still practiced as the park is known for its thatched cottages – there are more than 3,000 of them.
The way they were
The village of Kerhinet is a well-preserved hamlet of typical thatched cottages where visitors can see how the locals once lived and the clothes they wore; there’s also a great shop here, La Chaumière des Saveurs et de l’Artisanat, which sells regional products including pottery and locally made beer.
The best way to explore the Brière is on board a chaland, a flat-bottomed boat like a punt; several companies offer guided trips. Be sure to stop at Saint-Joachim, also known as Île Fedrun, which is the best preserved village and has an exclusive hotel and restaurant, La Mare aux Oiseaux, where you can sample regional dishes made with eel and duck. Saint-Joachim also has a museum, La Maison de la Mariée, whose collection recounts the traditions of marriage.
The Brière is a popular stop-off point for birds migrating between Northern Europe and Africa; more than 50 species visit throughout the year. The best place to view them is at the Réserve Ornithologique Pierre Constant where you can follow a trail through the marshes and learn about the birds as well as plants and insects.
The Château de Ranrouet is a ruined castle in Herbignac, which was built in the 13th century and destroyed by fire in 1793. It’s a lovely spot for a picnic and has regular events in summer including medieval re-enactments and a farmers’ market.