A tour of Brittany – from Carnac to the shrine of Ste. Anne d’Auray

Saturday would be our last day exploring Brittany and we had decided we wanted to see the megalithic sites at Carnac and then go to the shrine of Ste. Anne d’Auray. Soon we were on our way, quite worried at the amount of traffic we could see towards the direction we came from. We only hoped this would not be the case on our return – as Nuno had seen on TV that weekend would be one of very heavy traffic, being the weekend of mid- August, when many people begin their holidays while many others end them. And the following day it would be our turn to take the road back home…still, by then we were going to Carnac and, although at some point we got some traffic too, it was not too much and we safely arrived there.

At the Tourism office we got the necessary information about the little train tour to see the megalithic sites – in fact in Carnac there are around 3.000 stones (alignments, dolmens, menhirs…), being the largest such collection. We soon found the place where the train started its tour, bought the tickets and got in. In fact the tour included not only sightseeing the stones but a bit of Carnac and the surrounding area as well, and it was interesting. We found out there are very nice beaches at Carnac and the weather was wonderful so they looked very tempting, the water particularly, very smooth and without any waves. I wondered what could be the water temperature …

Finally we passed the three megalithic sites (Ménec, Kermario and Kerlescan) and it was impressive to see the stones aligned in some mysterious way for some reason that no one has yet managed to explain. The intentions of their builders, a people who – that much we already know – lived more than four thousand years ago and already tamed animals – remains a mystery, as much as it is thought the alignment of the stones must have been connected to some religious rites. But which, and why, and how – nobody knows for certain. As always in Brittany there is a legend related to this place: it is said that St. Cornelius, when fleeing from a Roman legion, transformed all the soldiers into stone. Another version says it was Merlin who did that. Anyway, both situations would have happened long after the building of the megalithic sites, as the Romans only arrived in Brittany in the first century AD.

From Carnac we went on to Ste. Anne d’Auray. I had discovered this by chance – I read in the DK travel book that this shrine of Ste. Anne, the Virgin Mary’s mother and the patron saint of Brittany, was the second religious shrine in France, right after Lourdes and I was impressed. As it is near Carnac, I made the most of the occasion to go there, as I did on our trip to Languedoc when I had the opportunity to go to Lourdes.

I had feared the shrine might be crowded but fortunately it was the other way round. It was empty, with only a few people walking the streets and inside the church. The story is simple yet compelling: apparently many centuries ago there was a shrine in that place dedicated to Ste. Anne, that eventually disappeared; in the 17th century, Ste. Anne appeared to a Breton farmer, Yves Nicolazic , and told him she would like a church dedicated to her to be built again in that place. He and other locals were directed to a spot where they found a statue of Ste. Anne buried in the ground and that was the place where they had a church built to honour the saint. Soon miracles by the saint were reported, such as miraculous cures of sick people and others. Many people flocked there and it became a holy place where many go to pray to Ste. Anne and ask for her intercession.

The basilica is beautiful and a classical one. As I came in and knelt to pray I felt an intense emotion and I prayed for some time. I felt happy that I had had the chance to know about this shrine and to know more about Ste. Anne. I left some candles there for my sons, family and friends, and came out with a peaceful feeling.

We ate a “baguette” with ham and cheese at a local bar and for dessert we shared the typical “far Breton” that we had already tasted a few days before near Brest. And then we went back to the hotel – fortunately gone were the traffic jams we had seen earlier and soon we arrived there. As it was really hot we decided to go for a swim at the hotel swimming pool and it was very nice. I actually commented with Nuno that I had never seriously thought we would use the bathing suits we had added to our suitcases – just in case – but in fact it was a good idea to have brought them along.

On our way back to the hotel we had passed a village called La Roche Bernard, which we had been told deserved a visit. We actually liked it, especially the area by the river, so we asked the receptionist to recommend a restaurant there. Not only did they recommend one but they booked it as well – it was called “La p’tite sirène” (the little mermaid), and it was perfect: a nice little restaurant by the river, with typical dishes, good food, good drinks – the inevitable cider – and not expensive; we had dinner outside as it was a warm summer evening (another surprise as I had not anticipated such warm weather in Brittany). While we were having dinner, some street musicians came and played songs from Burkina Faso which sounded very nice. This was the most perfect dinner and we could not have asked for anything better on our last evening in Brittany!

The following morning we were the first to arrive at breakfast (7.15!). As we sat at the best table – facing the lake – and looked outside we could see the sun coming up from behind the trees around the lake. The colours were beautiful and it all looked so peaceful. I wished I could stay there for a few more days, enjoying the atmosphere, going for a bike ride in the park, finding a nice spot by the lake to read…but this time it could not be. We had to “hit the road” and so we did.

Coming out of the property’s gate I looked back at the beautiful scenery and I promised myself I will go back. Next time, in a different, more relaxed way. After all, I have seen a lot of what I wanted to see in Brittany. Next time I will go back to savour a few of the places I have been to, with more time to explore them in depth. By then I will have read all the books, booklets and leaflets I have brought with me about the history and the legends of that beautiful country, and I will be more knowledgeable. I will go for a long walk in Brocéliande forest and feel the magic. I will go to a nice beach in Carnac or somewhere around the Morbihan gulf. I will go and pray at Ste. Anne d’Auray again. And…Well, I’ll decide it then. By now, suffice it to say I loved Brittany and I look forward to one day going back to that beautiful land of fiercely independent spirit, little stone houses with colourful shutters, black-turreted castles, enchanted forests and fascinating legends.