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Places to See in Brittany – The Beautiful Places that Lured the Post Impressionists

Brittany, France’s most north-western region, was a source of great inspiration for many post-impressionists. The artists were attracted to the rugged, dramatic coastline, the lush forests & the picturesque medieval towns. Travel around Brittany and visit the very same places that inspired these artists. You will love them too!

Places to See in Brittany: Photo of the rugged coastline
Brittany Coastline / Photo by Mark Chinnick (CC BY 2.0)

The Post-Impressionism Painters in Brittany France

In the beginning of the 20th century, many artists left Paris for Brittany. The rugged coasts and the lush interior landscapes provided more than enough artistic inspiration. In addition, the customs of the Bretons and the medieval villages scattered around Brittany, fascinated the artists. Brittany was much cheaper than Normandy, and for the impoverished artist, this was an added bonus. Painters established art colonies in Concarneau, Pont-Aven, Camaret, Rochefort-en-Terre, Pont-Croix, Cancale to name a few.

Henry Moret Painting of Pont Aven
Henry Moret Painting of Pont Aven [Public Domain]

Pont Aven’s Rich Artistic Past

The American Artists Fell Under the Spell of Pont Aven

Henry Bacon, an American artist was studying art in Paris. During the summer months, when the Paris workshops closed for the holidays, Henry Bacon traveled around France. In 1864, he stumbled upon the quaint Breton village, Pont-Aven. Following his recommendation, other american artists soon followed, equally charmed by this lovely place.

“With its strange bridge going over a quick river which makes several picturesque water wheels turn, before going further on to the sea, it is the prettiest village I have ever seen so far” Quote Henry Bacon

Paul Gauguin Painting of Pont Aven
Paul Gauguin Painting of Pont Aven [Public Domain]

The French Post-Impressionists Soon After Discovered The Charms of Pont Aven in Brittany

The French Post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin, arrives in Pont Aven in 1886. Here he befriends the young fellow artist Emile Bernard. Together they share lots of artistic ideas and establish the “synthetism” art movement. As Gauguin’s reputation grows in the art world, other young artists come to Pont Aven to learn from him and his innovative ideas.

Pont Aven’s artistic colony grows and becomes a vibrant artistic community. Gauguin and his followers establish the Pont-Aven School, advocating simplification of line, form and color.  This dynamic artist colony remained active until the early 1900s.

Brittany Travel – Things To Do & See in Pont Aven

Pont Aven is a picturesque town and still attracts the artists. During your travels around Brittany, visit Pont Aven and do & see the following:

  1. Go on a boat ride along the scenic Aven River
  2. Stroll through the charming alleys & streets of Pont Aven
  3. Visit the Pont-Aven Museum, showcasing the artworks of the Pont-Aven artists
  4. Check out the independent galleries of the local artists

For more information of what to do and see, press here.

Places to See in Brittany: Pont Aven
Places to See in Brittany: Pont Aven / Photo by Massimo Frasson (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Belle-Ile-en-Mer: The Rugged Brittany Island that Seduced the Impressionists

15 kilometers off the Brittany Coast, lies a rugged island called Belle-Ile-En-Mer. This remote island captured the attention of some very notable impressionism giants, such as Claude Monet, Henri Moret, John Peter Russell and the post-impressionist Henri Matisse.

Claude Monet loved this Island so much that he spent around 10 weeks here in 1886. During his visit, Monet wandered around the most rugged parts of the island. He painted around 40 landscapes capturing the needle-sharp rocks, the jagged coastline and the waves smashing against the cliffs .

Claude Monet painting- Storm, off the Coast of Belle-Ile 1886
Claude Monet painting – Storm, off the Coast of Belle-Ile 1886

The Australian impressionism painter, John Peter Russell also loved this island. So much so that he built a home and lived in Belle Ile for a few years with his wife. He painted this island and its stunning views over and over again.

John Peter Russell Painting of Belle Ile
John Peter Russell Painting of Belle Ile

Places to See in Brittany: What to Do & See on Belle Ile

Places to See in Brittany - Belle-Ile-en-Mer
Belle-Ile-en-Mer / Photo by shogunangel (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

How to Get to Belle Ile

Belle-Ile-en-Mer is the largest of all the Brittany islands. It can be reached by ferry from Quiberon and only takes around 45 minutes. There are about 10 ferry trips daily between the Island and Quiberon. For more details, press here.

On Belle-Ile, the ferry arrives at the town Le Palais. Here you can find accommodation and bicycle hire.

Places to See in Brittany; Belle-Ile-Mer
Belle-Ile-en-Mer / Photo by SYGAL 93 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Best Places to Visit on the Belle-Ile-en-Mer

  • Stroll around Le Palais and visit the Island’s museum where you can learn about the island’s historical past
  • On the northern tip of the Island is the remote Pointe des Poulains. Here you will find a small solar-powered lighthouse, offering stunning views of mainland France. However it is the fortress that this place is most famous for. The actress Sarah Bernhardt bought this fortress in 1894 and made it her home. Today it is a museum showing a permanent exhibition of Bernhardt’s fascinating life.
  • If you are an experienced hiker, then you can hike the 82.5 kms coastal path that goes all around the island. Less strenuous walking trails for families can be found on the northern coast. Walking is the best way to take in the incredible views of this beautiful island.
  • If you are an Opera buff, then come to Belle-Ile-en-Mer in August and attend the internationally renowned Festival Lyrique en Mer.
Places to See in Brittany; Belle-Ile-en-Mer
Places to See in Brittany: Belle-Ile-en-Mer / Photo by shogunangel (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Emerald Coast, Brittany & the Artists

Around 40 kms long, the Emerald Coast (Côte d’Émeraude) runs along the northern part of Brittany, between Cancale and Cape Fréhel. It’s name comes from the emerald color sea.

Gustave Loiseau painting of  Cliffs at Cape Frehel
Cliffs at Cape Frehel by the Post-Impressionism Painter Gustave Loiseau

This coastal region of Brittany captured the attention of many great artists. In the 1860 Camille Corot, John Sargent, Marcel Dyf, Maxime Maufra, Willard Metcalf and many others painted the historical towns and coastal landscapes of this part of Brittany.

The post-impressionism painter, Paul Signac invented pointillism while spending time in Saint-Briac. Maurice Denis, the symbolist painter, also loved this region. So much so that he bought a home for his family in Trégastel. Auguste Renoir traveled around Brittany and stayed in the small village of Pornic during the summer of 1892. In Pornic he painted five beautiful canvases of the beaches.

Pierre Auguste Renoir painting of Pornic beach, Brittany
The Beach at Pornic, Brittany by Pierre Auguste Renoir [Public Domain]

Other artists who made their way to the Emerald coast of Brittany include Emile Bernard, Edouard Vuillard, Henry Rivière, Bernard Buffet, Berthe Morisot and many more.

Places to See in Brittany – The Emerald Coast in the Footsteps of the Artists

The Emerald Coast of Brittany can be enjoyed by bicycle, on horseback or by foot. In fact there are 350 kilometres of marked walking trails, including the GR34. This region is a hikers heaven!

In summer, there are plenty of sandy beaches to choose from along this beautiful coast. The most popular seaside resorts can be found in  Dinard, Saint-Malo, Saint-Briac-sur-Mer, Saint-Lunaire.

Places to See in Brittany: Dinard Seaside Resort from the Belle Epoque Era
Places to See in Brittany: Dinard Seaside Resort from the Belle Epoque Era
Photo by Alessio Milan (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Places to See in Brittany: Unmissable Attractions on the Emerald Coast

  • Stroll around the beautiful fortified town of Saint-Malo. This unique town is built on a rock. Walk along its impressive ramparts and enjoy the views of the Channel Islands in the distance.
  • Check out Cape Fréhel and its ornithological reserve. It’s majestic cliffs stand seventy meters above the sea and the views are stunning.
  • For keen bike riders or hikers, take the Rance Valley trail clearly marked with arrows. You will see windmills, many huge mansions (called malouinières) of the Malo shipowners’, and quaint fishing villages along the way.
  • Another wonderful place to visit is the famous seaside resort town of Dinard. Walk along the Moonlight and Malouine Promenades and check out the beautiful villas built during the Belle Epoque period.
  • For fans of medieval towns, pop into Dinan. It is one of Brittany’s best preserved medieval towns. If you have the time, walk along its impressive 3km-long ramparts. For stunning views of the town from above, climb St. Catherine Tower or walk up the 158 steps of the Tour de l’Horloge (Clock Tower) in the old quarter. Stroll around the winding pedestrian streets in the old town & admire the well-preserved half-timbered houses.
Places to See in Brittany: The Medieval town of Dinan
The Medieval town of Dinan Brittany / Photo by Benh LIEU SONG (CC BY-SA 2.0)
  • Visit the Fairy tale Locronan, officially labelled as one of the most beautiful villages in France. Locronan was once a sacred place for the Celts, with history of more than two thousand years. The village is built with local granite stone and is very well preserved. The cobbled streets and houses are picture-perfect. So make sure you find the time to wonder around.
Places to See in Brittany:  Locronan
Places to See in Brittany: Locronan / Photo by alainlm (CC BY 2.0)

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