Blog Post by Emma
During early March, Grant and I took a little holiday in Northern France. Luckily for us, my sister lives in Brittany, in a lovely rural area called Medreac. It’d been a few years since we visited, so we headed across for a long weekend.
The weather was cooler than expected for the time of year, but we left snow behind in the UK so we were not complaining! We had three full days staying at Maria and Jean-Francois’s fabulous home, situated in a tiny hamlet comprised of just three houses, surrounded by fields and a forest nearby.
The plan was to ride two out of the three days, weather permitting. Although the temperatures were cool, there were no frosts to contend with, and the weather seemed to follow a pattern throughout our stay: a lovely sunny start, with the sky clouding over and drizzle by late morning, then blue skies by lunchtime! This was perfect and the brisk Brittany headwinds ensured the roads dried up quickly.
The rural roads of this area are fantastic for cycling. When we first cycled there in 2004 we had gone with the notion that the riding would all be flat. How wrong we were! It’s certainly not like cycling in the mountains, but there are plenty of rolling hills to contend with, and combined with the headwinds, it can make for tough conditions on the bike.
I love passing through the beautiful little villages, seeing the traditional buildings, churches, boulangeries and quirky village shops. Road cycling is almost like a religion in rural France; one day we saw a huge group of cyclists, possibly up to twenty riders of varying ages.
Our first ride almost went pear-shaped quite early on, as we nearly managed to get lost within a mile from the house! The small lanes that are not detailed on the map tend to all look the same! Luckily, we were soon back on track and managed a ride of almost sixty miles. We chose the “Foret de Paimpont” as our destination and worked our way through the rural roads, with a few stops to check the map. At certain points on the route we barely saw a soul. It was so quiet considering it was a Saturday. We marvelled at how much space there is to be enjoyed in this amazing country. The ride took in various villages, lots of forested areas, and a couple of picturesque lakes. Agriculture is one of the prime industries here, but it still creates a pretty landscape, with subtle beauty.
On our non-cycling day we enjoyed a lunch in Dinan, indulging in both savoury and sweet crepes in this pretty town, with ancient buildings and cobbled streets. It was very quiet, unlike the summer months when it’s bustling with tourist trade. Breton crepes are a little bit like our Staffordshire oatcakes, the specific ingredients will of course differ, but if you like your oatcakes you will definitely enjoy a crepe! Banana with salted caramel is highly recommended for dessert.
For our second outing on the bikes we headed north of Medreac, our route taking us onto even quieter roads than our first ride. We passed through villages with nice sounding names such as Trefumel, St Juvat, Calorguen (apparently Bernard Hinault used to live there), Plouasne and Evran. The prettiest part of the ride was a lake called Etang de Neal. Quite simply, we could’ve kept on riding and riding, with the network of rolling roads so vast. However, we didn’t want to overrun our luck with the weather, and we returned with just over 40 miles on the clock, having got away with another dry ride!
The weather in this area isn’t dissimilar to that of the UK, but it is usually a little warmer than back home. I think Brittany would make an excellent area for an early season training holiday, if you are looking to improve your base fitness, or are perhaps in training for a classics style sportive. However, the weather can be as unsettled as the UK, so if guaranteed sunshine is what you want, then it may not be the ideal choice in Spring. We have a friend heading off to the Flanders sportive this weekend, and as he pointed out, you need to be able to do the mileage, and you need to be able to do it come rain, wind or shine! I think a Brittany training holiday would certainly give you practice in all weathers!
We had a great time, with generous hospitality as always from Maria and Jean-Francois. It was lovely to see my niece Connie, all grown up now. I ate rather a lot of French bread and we treated ourselves to some delicious cakes from one of the local bakeries. Lots of temptation! Hopefully we will have a little more time on our next visit, there are certainly lots more roads to explore.