Tuesday 23rd May 2017, La Roche Bernard, Morbihan
It has been a restful day spent in a small but lovely little town which we have visited several times before and have never failed to enjoy. It seems the sun has shone on every visit. The sign at the entrance to the town calls it "Un petit cité de caractère" which sums it up perfectly. In little more than an hour from Nantes we had parked Modestine and found our way to the centre of this charming little town. Over coffee we listened to several English voices around us. It seems we Brits know the nicest places in France to settle. I seem to recall thinking something similar on our first visit here which must have been before we had even purchased Modestine some fourteen years ago!

La Roche Bernard is a large outcrop of granite rock overlooking a bend in the beautiful estuary of the river Vilaine. Here there is a lovely Port de Plaisance with sailing and fishing boats moored up beside the quay. There are also a couple of little cafés, a restaurant and several flower-fronted little granite cottages. At the entrance to the town, up above the harbour and marina on the river, a high suspension bridge carries the road into the town.

Marina, La Roche Bernard, Morbihan

Suspension bridge above the town, La Roche Bernard, Morbihan

Rocky outcrop defending the town, La Roche Bernard, Morbihan

Overlooking the quay, La Roche Bernard, Morbihan

View of the river from the defensive promontory, La Roche Bernard, Morbihan

Coffee finished we discovered a little shop selling boxes of Breton biscuits, galets, pancakes and toffees with salted caramel. This solved our presents problems for the family and our various friends in Normandy. Having done some food shopping we drove down through the narrow little streets to river level where we found the municipal campsite. There was nobody around until 5pm so we made ourselves at home, connected the electricity and cooked some lunch which we ate outside under the welcome shade of a small oak tree. Around 3pm we braved the heat for a stroll beside the marina with its hundreds of moored sailing boats. Back in the reign of Louis XIII, in the 1630s there was a shipyard here, the site selected by Cardinal Richelieu as a relatively unknown place but with easy access to resources and a good, deep river to accommodate the construction of a major ship for the French navy.

Having explored the marina and the port we climbed up the steep streets to the town centre for a beer on the terrace of the village bar. It was crowded with local people who all seemed to know each other. The little town has an artisans' quarter with a glass-blower, a ceramicist and a wood turner as well as several other artisans. Beside the tiny granite cobbled paths that threaded their way between the houses resting on the steep flank of the hillside were a mass of self-seeded bright flowers – red and orange poppies, climbing roses, purple and mauve flowering shrubs. We climbed up onto the rock where we looked down onto the port. A river trip was returning to moor at the jetty and there were several little fishing boats moored up beside the restaurants.

Street in the heart of La Roche Bernard, Morbihan

Street in the heart La Roche Bernard, Morbihan

Back with Modestine we sat reading in the shade until supper time where the only sound has been that of birdsong and the humming of bees.

Wednesday 24th May 2017, Jugon-les-Lacs, Brittany
Personally I didn't want to leave our lovely temporary home at La Roche Bernard but time is never static and we had to move on. Travelling is actually very tiring and it is difficult sometimes to remember quite where we are. I have just checked the atlas because I had completely forgotten our location! We never set out this morning to come to Jugon-les-Lacs but as so frequently happens, we got side-tracked at a pretty little village this morning and spent so long there we forgot where it was we had decided to make for when we woke up this morning. Then we realised tomorrow is a national holiday in France – the third one this month! It also seems to be school half-term. So there was no point heading for the coast as everywhere would be fully booked. This place looked fairly near our onward route and Ian misread the camping book. He thought it said that the site was run by a friendly family. What it said is that it is a family friendly site. There is a difference. We are surrounded by lots of noisy, happy children rushing in and out of the swimming pool, goats seem to have escaped from the children's zoo and everyone is expected to wear an arm band to show they are entitled to use the facilities. We immediately cut ours off before reading the instruction that they are to be removed by reception when we leave the site! Wonder what they will do about it! I cannot bear being labelled and interned behind a gate that requires a code to unlock it. I made a futile bid for freedom to post some cards earlier and was stopped by staff! They pretended they were being helpful but really they suspected I was trying to escape. Before I could tap in the code to open the barrier they stopped me, took my postcards and told me there was no need for me to go outside, they would post my cards for me! I returned to captivity defeated. The only protest we can make is to park Modestine sideways on our pitch because she is small enough to fit that way. Everything else is conventionally parked but as there is nothing in the long list of rules and regulations to say it is illegal to park sideways there isn't much they can do about it.

I exaggerate of course. They are all very friendly and helpful. Just a bit too helpful. It's as well we are only here for one night as they say it will be frenzied here tomorrow, Thursday, because of the Feast of the Ascension. Almost everyone in France then takes a day off on Friday to link Ascension to the weekend. All of France then heads for the hills or the beach with the children until Sunday night. Can't say I blame them but for a country that doesn't recognise religion they have rather a lot of Holy Days of Obligation when they are supposed to turn up at morning Mass and spend the day in quiet contemplation!

To return to this morning. We stopped to take a look at a very pretty village called Rochefort-en-Terre. Its claim to fame is that in 2016 it was voted France's most preferred village. This justified the car park charging three Euros per vehicle but the money had been put to good use making the little town even cleaner and more beautiful than nature intended. Indeed, the only unpleasant thing about the place was the public toilet. The person in front to me staggered out saying that it had made her feel sick. I've lost my sense of smell since having the shingles in my eye. Everything has a silver lining.

The granite houses were all wonderfully pretty with dark red, yellow and pink climbing roses cascading over the façades. All the flowerbeds were filled with colour, little tea shops and bars had customers on the terraces and quaint bakeries were selling Breton cakes and galettes.

Main street, Rochefort-en-Terre, Brittany

Roofscape, Rochefort-en-Terre, Brittany

At the far end of the town we discovered a pretty castle set in lovely gardens. This was now owned by the municipality but had formerly belonged to two American brothers called Klotz who were artists. There was also a museum of the imagination. France always had to have something hors d'ordinaire and this was all about imaginary worlds and magical creatures.

Klotz Castle, Rochefort-en-Terre, Brittany

Entrance to the castle grounds, Rochefort-en-Terre, Brittany

Corner of the castle gardens, Rochefort-en-Terre, Brittany

Castle gardens, Rochefort-en-Terre, Brittany

Castle gardens, Rochefort-en-Terre, Brittany

Castle doorway, Rochefort-en-Terre, Brittany

Well and tower, Klotz Castle, Rochefort-en-Terre, Brittany

Outside the granite church we found a small calvaire with a biblical scene on the top of a granite column. The column and figures had been replaced with an excellent copy of the worn original but the base still had its original granite figures. Inside the church was a rather nice little carved and painted wooden virgin and child and the remains of a rood screen. Outside a young man with magnificent dreadlocks was relaying the granite slabs beneath the little calvaire.

Carved calvaire outside the church, Rochefort-en-Terre, Brittany

Down at the bottom of the village we found the ancient lavoir, now covered in water lilies and with a sagging roof but still charming. Returning up the steep cobbled street we moved Modestine to a shady patch beneath the trees where we ate our picnic lunch and investigated a little chapel in the woods. It was still in reasonable repair but obviously no longer in active use. Steps at the side led up to a platform on which stood a stone altar. We imagine Mass may sometimes be celebrated in the open from here with far more people able to participate than could possibly fit inside the little chapel on the ground floor. Perhaps it is used on the day of the Pardon when Breton people celebrate the saint's day after which the church and/or village is named.

Village lavoir, Rochefort-en-Terre, Brittany

We also chanced on a pretty butterfly that had just alighted on somebody's hand. We think we saw something very similar down in Greece when we were there some years back. We have just checked Wikipedia and think it is a swallowtail butterfly. In Britain it is the largest native butterfly and it is restricted to the Norfolk Broads.

Swallowtail butterfly, Rochefort-en-Terre, Brittany

Moving on at last we travelled quiet and empty roads across country until we decided to stop at what looked an interesting little town, Malestroit. It turned out to be really nice, not preserved and polished as Rochefort-en-Terre had been but a real, functioning little town still full of sagging mediaeval half-timbered houses with carvings of fantastic beasts on the gable ends and even traces of original polychrome colouring.

Town centre, Malestroit, Brittany

Some of the wood carvings were good fun, such as the rabbit playing the Breton bagpipes!

Bagpipe playing bunny, Malestroit, Brittany

The church is dedicated to St. Gilles. I love having a saint with almost the same name as me, it gives me hope that perhaps I may not be a completely lost cause. St. Gilles was a gentle, friendly saint loved by both people and animals. There did not at first seem a great deal of interest inside the church. Then we found three amazing paintings of mythical beasts between the tracery of a central arch. These were only discovered during essential restoration work in 2011. They had been there hidden beneath several coats of paint, undiscovered for over 800 years!

Mythical beast recently discovered in the church of St. Gilles and dating from the 13th century, Malestroit, Brittany

Mythical beasts – an elephant; a lion, panther or unicorn; and a centaur, Malestroit, Brittany

We intended discovering Ploërmel today. On our map it looked in the right direction and there were several camp sites around which generally implied there was something worth seeing in the locality. Our problem though is that we have genuinely seen most of the places worth visiting in western Europe, and in our efforts to find new places we frequently visit those we would not have bothered with when we started travelling. Ploërmel is one such place. When we arrived it looked the epitome of everything that is not particularly nice about northern French towns. First came the trading estate on the outskirts, then the commercial centre with the ubiquitous chain stores – Super U, Leclerc, MacDonalds, pizza and kebab houses etc. Then the car parks in the centre. Ploërmel had acres of them. The place seemed to have no centre and seemed eminently soulless. The sun was hot and I couldn't see the point of staying in a hot, boring town surrounded by car parks and supermarkets. We returned to Modestine, turned her nose to the north and drove for two hours until we reached here and entered voluntary internment until tomorrow morning when we continue our search for Utopia.

Thursday 25th May 2017, Pléboule, Brittany
And today we have found our Utopia! We are not far from Cap Fréhel which, apart from Finistère is as similar to West Cornwall as you are likely to find in France. The campsite is beautiful with soft, thick green lawns and the pitches are shaded by cherry trees from which ripe cherries hang in shining red clusters! It is the cheapest place we have found anywhere since we arrived in Spain back in early April. There are hedges of flowering shrubs, huge pitches, spotless facilities and everyone is quietly peaceful but friendly. The site is run from the side of the owner's house and she also does a nice line in ice cream cornets and bottles of wine. I could stay here until we need to come home! I have spent much of the day reading, snoozing and sneezing. Unfortunately the surrounding meadows, woodland and fields of wheat keep setting off my hayfever.

Modestine contentedly dreaming, Pléboule, Brittany

After lunch under the shade of the trees we unhooked the electricity cable and took Modestine for a drive towards Cap Fréhel passing through clean and sunny little granite villages where the houses are all built in similar style. Individually they were charming, built up on a grassy mound above a cellar with their walls constructed from small chunks of granite, their tall black slate roofs and their upstairs windows that protrude up into the roof space. Curious fact – we recently learned that these are known as chien assis or sitting dog windows. Individual properties are set in large gardens surrounded by green lawns. Soon there will be blue and pink hydrangeas everywhere. They thrive in Brittany.

Shortly before we reached Cap Fréhel we turned off to look at its neighbouring headland at Fort la Latte. Here we actually found a parking space – something of a miracle today when the entire nation was flooding to the coast! Then we encountered a gate telling everyone that it cost 5.5 Euros to visit the Fort! We decided to just see how far we got before we were stopped. The walk along the path was cool and pleasant with some lovely views out to the headland and the iridescent blue sea speckled with tiny fishing boats and pleasure crafts.

Coast near Fort la Latte, Brittany

On the rocks below several young people in wetsuits and flippers were diving from a small boat. On the tip of the headland was an impressive fort. Whether ancient or more recent was unclear but it was in an excellent state of renovation. It was this that was being charged for rather than for accessing the cliffs.

Fort la Latte, Brittany

Fort la Latte, Brittany

We took our photos and followed the coastal footpath round towards Cap Fréhel further around the coast. It was too hot and airless to walk there and back however so after a while we turned back, collected Modestine and drove round to Cap Fréhel.

Cap Fréhel seen from the cliffs at Fort la Latte, Brittany

This may well be lovely but wooden posts had been set up all along the cliff top to prevent camper vans from parking there and there was a 5 Euro charge to use the car park. We didn't stop. Fort la Latte had been lovely and it was still far too hot to wander around on an exposed headland. So we followed the coast road for several miles, looking across a clifftop landscape of heather and gorse to the sea beyond.