Most of old Rennes was burnt down in 1720 when a fire ravaged the city, however some authentic pockets remain; the streets around Place Ste-Anne are lined with higgledy-piggledy half-timbered houses. The superbly restored Couvent des Jacobins (a former Dominican friary), is now home to the Convention Centre and many cultural events. Place des Lices was originally used for jousting but these days the only combat you’ll experience is elbowing your way through the crowds at the magnificent Saturday-morning market, one of France’s largest. Nearby are the remains of the 15th-century Porte Mordelaise, once the main gate into the city.
A fine building
One of Brittany’s finest buildings can be found east of the old town – the Palais du Parlement de Bretagne. The parliament building, which was designed by the architect of the Palais du Luxembourg in Paris, was constructed from 1618-55 to house the Breton parliament following the region’s reunification with France. These days the palace houses the Court of Appeal; there are often temporary exhibitions and concerts in the lobby. Take a guided tour in English in July or August to see the wonderful restoration work that was carried out after a devastating fire in 1994.
To the east of the old town are the Thabor Gardens, which were created in the 1860s on the site of the orchard of St Mélaine abbey. The public gardens are laid out over 24 acres and include a French garden, an English garden, lawns, an aviary, a children’s area and a noted botanical garden, which has around 3,000 species of plant. The gardens regularly host outdoor events in summer.
No trip to Rennes would be complete without visiting one of its museums. The Musée de Bretagne, housed in the futuristic Champs Libres building near the station, recounts Brittany’s history and culture from prehistoric times – you can even listen to Breton being spoken.