Brittany's Celtic heritage is the source of a language and culture distinct from the rest of France and closely related to the indigenous cultures of Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. Breton folk music in particular is a lively and vivid expression of the unique identity of the northwest, celebrated annually at the international Celtic festival in Lorient.
Brittany’s prehistoric menhirs, or standing stones, are commemorated at a museum of prehistory at Carnac. The historic 17th century walled city and fishing port of Saint-Malo is a popular atraction, as is the beautifully preserved medieval town and port of Dinan, and nearby Dinard features many beautiful buildings and exceptional beaches.
Brittany's medieval capital of Rennes is known for its fortress, historic streets and half-timbered houses. Inland are forests like Le Forêt de St Aubin, the setting of the 14th century Château de la Hunaudaye, and lakes offering water sports. Much of the countryside consists of rivers, canals and farmland, criss-crossed by hedges and woodland, ideal for enjoying walks, picnics, cycling and riding.
Normandy too has a history that sets it apart. Settled by Vikings in the 10th century, the Normans, as they came to be called, then conquered England, founded a new royal lineage and established the foundations of contemporary Britain.
The beautifully-preserved coastal medieval town of Bayeux is home to the Bayeux Tapestry, a visual history of the Norman invasion told in the form of a cloth 70 metres long embroidered with pictures and text, dating from the 11th Century.
Normandy’s recent history is of profound significance in the history of Europe. On June 6th, 1944, thousands of Allied troops invaded at five beaches, codenamed Omaha, Juno, Gold, Sword and Utah, to begin the march across Europe and the defeat of the Nazis. The Normandy beaches and the Allied graveyards are well worth a visit for anyone with an interest in history or with a family connection. The events are movingly commemorated at museums, sites and monuments including the Caen Memorial Museum.
The great impressionist painter Claude Monet made his home in the town of Giverny, and his house and garden are now open to visitors. Features of his garden are familiar from many of his paintings, such as the pond with water lilies crossed by a short wooden bridge.
Monet also had a connection to the city of Rouen: he painted many views of its famous medieval cathedral. Rouen was where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, and now houses a museum dedicated to the mystical warrior.
One of Normandy’s most famous landmarks is the monastic fortress of Mont Saint-Michel. Built on an island just off the coast which was accessible by a land bridge at low tide, but cut off at high tide, it has served as a monastery since the 8th century, and houses some great medieval buildings.