A Month in a Brittany Village — Part One
As I make reservations for my return trip to Brittany France next year, I’m reminiscing about the four weeks I spent in a small Breton Village exactly two years ago...
After two months traveling through southwest France, and a side trip with friends to Barcelona and the Basque Region, I felt something pulling me back to Brittany, an area I’d spent a month or more exploring in 2017. It’s where I first fell in love with the French countryside, the rolling farm lands, the lush greenery, the picturesque villages, the stone cottages, the abundance of flowers and perhaps most strikingly, the friendliness of the people.
I hadn’t made any plans for my last month in Europe, so I logged on to Airbnb and found a beautifully decorated, semi-detached, two-story stone cottage with two bedrooms not far from Redon. It was more than I wanted to spend, and I certainly didn’t need two bedrooms, but there was something about the place that attracted me.
I didn’t have a car, so I was concerned about how I’d obtain food. I could see on Google Maps the only businesses in town were a bistro, a décor shop owned by my Airbnb host Catherine, and a ceramics studio. But more on those later. Catherine graciously offered to pick me up at the train station in the next village and drive me to a local market.
I arrived at the end of October when the leaves were shifting to golden hues. The Vilaine river, only two blocks away, stretched out across the countryside. So here I was in a tiny village for four weeks going well into November. I wanted to experience life in a small Breton village, and I was not disappointed.
This week, I’ll tell you what my experience taught me about the French in rural Brittany.
French villagers are kind and welcoming.
This follows with my belief that most people are good at heart and kind to others. Wherever I’ve traveled in France, I’ve found the French will go out of their way to help, whether I’m lost in Lyon or can’t find my Airbnb in Toulouse. Even in the city of lights, a Paris waiter will quickly store my bags behind the bar while I use the bathroom. In Brittany I found the people particularly friendly and welcoming to a complete stranger.
On my daily walks along the banks of the Vilaine, everyone I passed reciprocated my "Bonjour Monsieur” or “Bonjour Madame.” I even managed, in my broken and limited French to have a brief conversation with a local fisherman about his catch of the day. One day I met a French lady around my age and we started conversing in a mix of French and English. We found a commonality in the appreciation of natural surroundings and the attainment of inner peace. At least that's what I hope we were talking about. We wanted to meet for coffee, but our schedules never aligned. Although fate had us meeting up two more times for long walks on the path.
The owner of the local bistro invited me to the weekly meeting of the "English speakers" held every Wednesday morning at her establishment. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet locals who lived in the village or in a village nearby. They were mostly British expats, but also a few French. Since they spoke English it was easy to get to know them and learn more about life in rural Brittany.
A British woman invited me to lunch, and another invited me to dinner where I met two French ladies and we enjoyed delightful conversation and laughs over red wine and beef bourguignon. With village people so warm and open, it's clearly possible to meet people and form friendships in rural France.
The French are forgiving of a foreigner’s lack of French and poor pronunciation.
I greeted everyone with “Bonjour,” and used as much of my limited French as I could. I think they appreciated my effort. And I appreciated it when someone would corrected my pronunciation or tell me the correct way to say something. It was like receiving a free French lesson. It gave me more confidence. They were quite forgiving when I mangled their language, although I'm sure I gave them a few laughs. When attempting to speak a new language, it's best to get your ego out of the way. I’ve been studying more French and hope to be more articulate on my next visit.
Villagers in France look out for each other.
Perhaps this is the best thing about a small community. People take care of each other. They give their friends a lift when they don’t have a car. They bring food to those who are going through a tough time. They help their neighbors, and everyone is part of the community. It was lovely to see this firsthand.
Next week in Part Two, I’ll reveal more on what I learned about life in rural Brittany and what the experience taught me about myself.