Ille-et-Vilaine is the easternmost department of Brittany. Its name references the two main rivers that run through the department and meet in Rennes. The furthest inland of Brittany's departments, despite its beautiful emerald coast, it is far less 'coastal' than its neighbours. Instead, Ille-et-Vilaine's character stems from its rolling hills and fertile farmland.
Created from the province of Brittany, the Ille-et-Vilaine is one of the 83 original departments formed in March 1790 during the French Revolution. As the gateway to Brittany, the Ille-et-Vilaine has, over the centuries, been the first line of defense against intruders coming in from the east. Many of its towns have fortifications pointing to its troubled past and its culture reflects a mixture of outside influences.
- Dol de Bretagne
- Grand Fougeray
- Intra Muros
- La Gacilly
- Mont St Michel
- St Malo
Like the rest of the north/east Breton coastline, the Ille-et-Vilaine is affected by the mild climate provided by the gulf-stream, as well as unpredictable storms and turbulent tides. Further inland, the weather is not as stormy and weather conditions are typical of Brittany as a whole, with summer temperatures averaging 18º.
Ille-et-Vilaine's coastline is known as the emerald coast and stretches from the bay of Mont St Michel to St Briac sur Mer, linking the ports of Cancale, St Malo and Dinard. The Dinard is particularly popular with tourists as an attractive, fashionable resort with beautiful beaches and coastal views.
There are many sites of cultural and historic interest across the department, but the most popular is undoubtedly the tiny granite island of Mont-St-Michel. One of the most spectacular sites in France, the island is isolated from the mainland of France and visitors reach the island via a causeway that clears during low tide. Today, tourists visit the island in droves, keen to see the walled town and the beautiful Gothic abbey that, according to legend, was established by the Bishop of Avranches in the 8th century as a sanctuary of pilgrimage for the villages around the island.
The Breton capital city Rennes is a large industrial town and a centre of commerce and culture. The town is divided by the Vilaine River and the two separate parts of the city stand in contrast to each other. On one side of the Vilaine is the old town, where elegant buildings date back to the 18th century when the town was rebuilt after a devastating fire. On the other side, modern structures, shops and restaurants loom, and the city, with its large student population, is a hive of cosmopolitan activity with a lively bar and club scene. There are also signs of pre-18th century Rennes, found in the magnificent St. Pierre Cathedral and the remains of the town walls.
The Ille-et-Vilaine is covered by areas of woodland, the remains of the dense forests that submerged the whole of Brittany in ancient times. For example, the Paimpont Forest is the remnants of the legendary Forest of Broceliande, the scene for the legendary tales of King Arthur. Within the forest, visitors can discover sites of Arthurian myth such as the Fontaine de Barenton where, as legend has it, the wizard Merlin met Viviane.
The Dol De Bretagne is a popular tourist town and has many attractive buildings dating back to medieval times. Nevertheless, it is best known for the Dol Marshes which can be viewed from the Promenade des Douves. Standing at 65 metres high, the Dol Mountain rises out of the marshes and was once an ancient Druidic site but now provides an ideal picnic spot for tourists wishing to sample the attractive views captured from the hillside.
There are plenty of attractions ideal for families across the department, not least at the beaches of Dinard, which offer family fun during the summer months.
For water activities further inland, the Bretagne Peche Loisirs, situated near Redon has four lakes and mini-golf, offering free games for children. In Lanhelin near Comburg the Cobac Water Park has water chutes, ponies, trains and roundabouts.
The fascinating bird park, located in Bruz, just 12 kilometres south of Rennes has a large collection of exotic birds, and Zooloisirs in Quebriac (north of Rennes) has a fascinating variety of animals and birds.
Museums, galleries and culture
There are plenty of sites of cultural interest across the Ille-et-Vilaine. In Rennes, the Musee Beaux-Arts has an impressive collection of historic and modern art. Complimenting the gallery is 'Pays de Rennes', an interesting open-air museum that illustrates the history of farming in the department.
The medieval town of Vitre is home to the magnificent Vitre Castle, which once protected Brittany against invasion but today contains a collection of 14th and 15th century sculpture, tapestries and engravings.
There are also many annual cultural events across the department, including the May 'Mois Musical' open-air concerts in Vitre, the British Film festival in Dinard every September and the strip cartoon festival in St-Malo, again during September.
Food and drink
The Ille-et-Vilaine is best known for its plentiful supply of seafood, particularly the oysters from the emerald coast. Situated on the coast, the town of Camcale is the 'oyster capital', offering a particularly large quantity of seafood restaurants and serving the pied de cheval flat variety of the shell fish that once served royal palaces in the 18th century.
The Dol de Bretagne is the closest town to the Normandy border and is surrounded by forest and countryside that is ideal for leisurely walks or more serious hiking. The fortified town of Fourgers also has an attractive forest with marked trails for walkers along its riverbank. Along the coast the popular walk from the Cancale rock up to the Pointe du Hich offers spectacular views of Mont-St-Michel on a clear day.
There are several good golf clubs in the Ille-et-Vilaine, from Brittany's largest course at Saint-Jacques to the challenging 27 hole course at St Malo. The best known, however, is the course in Dinard that was established in the 19th century by the English Aristocracy. The course overlooks the sea and its high quality course allows play all year round.
The walled town of Intra Muros provides the best opportunities for water-sports in the department. Its centre offers scuba diving, sailing, windsurfing, canoeing and sailing.
Ease of access
The charming old walled town of St Malo is the department's main port and ferries run regularly from Portsmouth, Poole and Cork.
The nearest airport is at Dinard, which is served by airlines flying from London as well as France's chief regional airports.
The department is easily accessible via train and, for visitors using the Eurostar, there is a direct train from Paris to Rennes. Brittany has a good motorway network and the Ille-et-Vilaine is easily explored by car.
Value for money
The Ille-et-Vilaine has its fair share of towns that stand at the pricier end of the scale. Dinard is known as the "Nice of the North" and in recent years has acquired a reputation for being a fashionable and elegant place to live. Similarly, the small town of Intra Muros is lined with chic boutiques providing the department with a slice of the sophisticated side of life. Further inland, however, the department is generally good value for money, particularly its smaller, less 'touristy' towns.
The Ille-et-Villaine is a leisurely department that is dense with forests, beautiful countryside and historic towns. The department also enjoys its own portion of the popular northern Breton coastline and a rich culture, distinguished by Spanish and Norman influences. While much of the department is a haven of tranquility, it is not all peace and quiet, with the large city of Rennes breathing life and youthful energy into the department.