March 15, 2016

La Place de la Mairie in Rennes © Paolo Trabattoni

There’s nothing quite like wintertime in France. Rather than going into hibernation, the cities and towns come to life with beautiful Christmas markets and joyous festivities, and the countryside comes into its own. Delicious smells of freshly baked goods waft around many town squares, and a crisp winter chill hangs in the air. Personally, I love it. Rennes, in Brittany, is one of my favourite places to visit during winter – here are just a few reasons why.

The historic buildings

Rennes has a history that dates back more than 2000 years (to a time when it was once a small village) and a lot of this history can still be seen today. The Remparts de Rennes are a series of walls which were erected during the Roman Empire for protection, and as you walk through the city on a winter’s morning you can spot what remains of these ramparts, including the Duchesne Tower and the impressive Mordelaise Door. In the centre of Rennes you’ll find La place de la Mairie (the town hall square), surrounded on all sides by magnificent buildings, including the Rennes Town Hall and L’opéra de Rennes opera house. Just a short walk away is the Place du Parlement de Bretagne, another superb square, home to the Palace of the Parliament of Brittany – c’est magnifique! The amazing architecture isn’t limited to breath-taking squares, however, as almost every street in Rennes’ old town is lined with tall, half-timbered houses.

The half-timbered houses that line the streets in Rennes’ old town.
The half-timbered houses that line the streets in Rennes’ old town. © David

The enchanted Forêt de Paimpont

My family and I love the outdoors, even during winter! We’ve been to Forêt de Paimpont (Paimpont Forest) more than a handful of times and we never get tired of the lovely surroundings and the enchanted atmosphere. Located just outside of Rennes, Forêt de Paimpont is said to be the mythical Brocéliande, a magical forest that has featured in Arthurian literature, although whether or not this is the case, no one knows. During winter, the forest floor is covered in a crisp frost, while tall oak and beech trees bend over winding footpaths. I have to admit, something magical can be sensed in the air. Take a walk through the Valley of No Return – a name taken from Arthurian legend – and look out for a collection of large rocks which are said to be Merlin the magician’s tomb. Whether you believe the tales or not, Forêt de Paimpont is a wonderful place to spend a wintery day in Rennes.

Merlin’s supposed tomb in Forêt de Paimpont.
Merlin’s supposed tomb in Forêt de Paimpont. © Andy Hay

The magical Christmas Market

Winter in France wouldn’t be winter at all without Christmas markets, and Rennes has one of the best. From the 23rd of November until well into the new year, the Place du Parlement de Bretagne is transformed into a winter wonderland, filled with Christmas-themed stalls, glittering lights and sparkling decorations. I like to take my family during the evening, when the square is all lit up, to stroll amongst the many vendors, picking up various treats along the way. Tantalise your taste buds with spiced mulled wine and Christmas cookies, before browsing the locally crafted goods, many of which make perfect Christmas presents for loved ones back home. Once you’ve shopped to your heart’s content, take a seat at one of the surrounding benches and soak up the Christmassy atmosphere – there’s nothing quite like it.

Stay warm with a glass of mulled wine.
Stay warm with a glass of mulled wine. © John Bell

Winter in Rennes awaits…

With Eurotunnel Le Shuttle takes just 35 minutes from Folkestone to Calais and, from there, Rennes is just a short drive away.

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