Northwest of Rennes, Bécherel is a must for French-speaking lovers of literature. This charming medieval town is France’s equivalent of Hay-on-Wye and has a year-long events calendar. When you’ve nosed around the bookshops, take a wander through its atmospheric streets.
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Bécherel officially became a Book Town in 1989 when the first Fête du Livre was held; it is now an annual event, which takes place at Easter and is complemented by a series of events throughout the year including a reading festival in October. The town has around 15 bookshops, some with cafés, which specialise in every subject under the sun and range from rare first editions to contemporary fiction. A book market takes place in the town on the first Sunday of every month.
A town built on textiles
Overlooking the Rance Valley, this former stronghold has been a ‘little town of character’ (Petite Cité de Caractère) since 1978. Bécherel grew up around a castle erected in the 12th century but the town didn’t come into its own until the 16th century when it was known for producing Brittany’s finest linen and hemp, much of which was used to make sails. Street names, such as Rue de la Chanvrerie and Rue de la Filanderie, remind us of its textile industry, as do the impressive merchants’ houses in La Place des Anciennes Halles.
One of the town’s most impressive buildings is the Hostellerie de l’Écu de Laval, an old inn dating from the 16th century, which is all that remains of a row of houses whose porches hosted the old marketplace. Just outside Bécherel is the Château de Caradeuc, the former home of the Prosecutor of the Breton Parliament, whose grand statue-doted gardens are open to the public.
Did you know
Bécherel derives its name from the word becquerelle, which is an old Gaulish word for a windmill.
Get out and about
There’s more to Bécherel than books and history. The area has more than 106 miles (170 kms) of paths to explore on foot, by bike or on horseback; there are a couple of riding schools on the outskirts of town where you can book a trek for an hour or a day to explore the surrounding countryside. A pamphlet of suggested walks is available from the tourist office.