One of the five departments of Brittany, Morbihan covers the towns in the southern part of the Breton region. Its name means 'little sea', so called because the Gulf of Morbihan is an almost entirely enclosed expanse of water. Morbihan is divided between its two faces, the 'land of the sea' and the 'land of the woods' and it is these two elements that provide the department with its uniquely Breton charm.
Morbihan's towns evidence the department's turbulent history and the signs of its past conflicts live on through its numerous castles and fortifications. Dating even further back than its medieval châteaux are the monoliths that stand in abundance all over Morbihan bearing witness to the mysterious rituals of prehistoric man.
- La Roche-Bernard
- La Trinite-sur-Mer
In high season Brittany's south coast is warmer than its northern counterpart and temperatures in Morbihan can reach as high as 25C during summer time. The department is not burdened with storms like the Ille-et-Vilaine or Cotes-d'Armor but neither is it tempered by the Gulf Stream and temperatures do drop to an average of 3C during the winter months.
The coastline of Brittany's southern side is known as the 'gentle coast', in comparison to the wilder more rugged stretch of the northern Cote d'Emeraude. The beaches of Morbihan are a haven for visitors because of their calm waters and mild sunny climate. The Gulf of Morbihan offers the safest bathing and sailing facilities in Brittany and La Trinite-sur-Mer is a popular resort with a lively marina and beautiful beaches.
The main town of the department is Vannes which, in the 9th century, became Brittany's first capital town. Built on a hillside overlooking the Gulf, Vannes is a large bustling town and an interesting historic centre. Tourists can explore the town walls, visit the 15th century cathedral and witness the Place Henri IV, an old square where ancient timber-framed houses still stand.
The Gulf of Morbihan is a beautiful part of Morbihan's coast and has a multitude of tiny islands which are accessible by boat from the coastal town of Lorient. The largest of the islands, the Ille aux Moines, is alive with exotic plants and a collection of dolmans and the Ille d'Arz is known for its picturesque beaches and plentiful supply of oysters.
For a lively atmosphere the Lorient is one of the largest towns in the department with plenty of café's and an energetic nightlife. Lorient has a good music scene and for two weeks in August hosts an annual international Celtic music festival which brings in visitors from all over the world. Pontivy is a popular town with tourists, partly for its interesting history, and partly because of the beautiful Blavet Valley which lies to the south of the town. The northern part of Pontivy bears witness to its medieval heritage with its Rohan Castle and ancient winding streets. In contrast, its southern sector was built by Napolean, evidenced by the boulevards and barracks that dominate the area.
The village of Poule Fetan is a popular tourist attraction with actors demonstrating traditions such as spinning and buttermaking to show how people lived in olden times. Also popular is the town of Quiberon which is home to the natural healing waters that have long been popular with the infirm who travel from across the world to bathe in its relaxing spas. The village of Locmariaquer stands at the entrance of the Gulf of Morbihan, and attracts tourists by its large collection of ancient standing stones. Morbihan is known for being one of the world's best monolithic sites and its large granite monuments that date as far back as 5000 BC are evidence of the cultural achievements of Neolithic man. Locmariaquer is particularly famous for the Grand Menhir, meaning 'long stone', which, now broken into four pieces, totals 20 m in length and weighs 350 tons.
Museums, Galleries and Culture
Morbihan has a range of museums across the department, but it is best known for its castles that date back to the Middle Ages. The Château de Suscinio was built at the beginning of the 13th century and since then has been the summer residence to generations of Breton Dukes. The castle was damaged during the French Revolution but its walls and towers still stand in their original splendour facing the sea and visitors can go up to the top of the largest tower to admire the spectacular views across the Gulf of Morbihan. The castle's restored gatehouse also houses the castle's own museums where visitors can learn about the history of the castle and the role it has played in Morbihan's heritage.
The Archaeological Museum in Vannes is also housed in an ancient castle, the Château Galliard which was once home to the Breton parliament. The museum has a variety of prehistoric objects, jewels and medieval artefacts. Also in Vannes is the Cohue Museum, situated in the town's old covered market. The museum contains a large collection of paintings, many of which stand as illustrations of the town's interesting history. Situated in Bignan, the Kerguehennec is an expanse of parkland allowing attractive walks through its woods and lawns and along its lake. As well as being an ideal spot for walking, the park is the site of a fascinating collection of sculptures by well-known French and international artists.
There is plenty of free entertainment for families in Morbihan, particularly along its coast where its beaches are safe and there are plenty of good picnic spots. The Gulf of Morbihan is well-known for its unique eco-system and the Ille-et-Groix is a fascinating bird reserve which offers boat trips from Lorient. The Branfere Zoo is just as interesting and appealing to families with its large collection of exotic animals and bird life.
Food and Drink
As with the rest of Brittany, the food in Morbihan is excellent, but it is also very good value and most of its restaurants cater well for children. Like the other Breton departments, Morbihan hosts a range of lively and colourful markets each week in its main towns where locals and tourists gather to pick up some of the local produce. Of particular note is the market in Auray which is known across the region as one of the most important markets in Brittany, happening weekly on Mondays, Fridays and Sundays.
Morbihan's rocky coastline offers spectacular views and good walks from the north to the south of the department. To the north east of Morbihan lies the Forest of Quenecan, known as 'Swiss Brittany,' although its peaks rise no higher than 287m. The area is ideal for walking with well-marked trails, three magnificent lakes and superb views of the surrounding countryside.
There are some excellent golf courses across Morbihan that offer beautiful countryside and wide open spaces. Situated in a forest the 'Golfe de Saint-Laurent' in Auray has an 18 and a 9 hole course and the Golf de Lac au Duc in Ploermel is a technically difficult course surrounding the largest natural lake in Brittany.
The waters of Morbihan offer conditions ideal for safe sailing, and the island of Ille d'Arsz has its own popular sailing club. There are water-sport centres lining the department's beach resorts offering windsurfing, water skiing, canoeing and diving. The Guerledan Lake separates Morbihan from the Cotes d'Armor and has canoes, water-skis and pedalos for hire. For non-water sports, La Trinite-sur-Mer has a riding centre offering long and short treks and the town is host to an international horse-jumping competition every year.
Ease of Access
Morbihan's nearest ferry port is Roscoff with regular crossings going from Plymouth and Cork. The department has its own regional airport at Lorient that is served by direct flights from Paris, but Rennes in the Ille-et-Vilaine is the department's closest international airport. There is a good network of fast dual carriage way connecting Morbihan to most of the Brittany's major cities, with the N-165 running the length of the south coast.
Value for Money
On the whole Brittany is excellent value for money and Morbihan itself is no exception. Property is cheap, particularly the further inland towns and the general cost of living is also very reasonable.
Covering the towns of southern Brittany, Morbihan has a rich nature reserve and a fascinating medieval heritage. Numerous castles dominate the area, and each town is rich in culture and history. A beautiful coastline dominates the Gulf of Morbihan and its sun soaked beaches coupled with its mellow countryside mean it is the most tranquil department in Brittany.