My family spent two glorious weeks in the seaside town of Paimpol in the Breton region of northern France this summer, chomping our way through our bodyweight in everything we could get our grubby little hands on. While Brittany is (in)famous for the similarity of its weather to the UK, we managed to get enough sun to keep the kids gambolling around in the garden of our rented gîte for hours at a time. I shared a few simple tips for driving to and in France in my last blog post (read it here), so it's only right that I mention the good stuff we discovered during our stay in Paimpol, too.
In & around Paimpol
Find a day when the weather is due to be good, grab your beach gear and book your ferry spot to Île-de-Bréhat. It's gorgeous, quaint, and perfect for families. Head about 15 mins out of Paimpol by car and be sure to get there early if the weather is good or you'll have a nightmare parking. After a short ferry ride, you'll arrive at the archipelago's port to a couple of tremendously overpriced restaurants, which you should avoid like the plague. Head up the hill to hire bikes, if that's your thing, or amble about the place tiring the kids out until you arrive at the beach, which is where you'll actually want to eat. The service here is à l'anglaise, which simply means you order and pay at the window, then collect your food when it's ready. It's simple seaside fayre - think sausages and steak frites - but of course, crêpes are still available. Standard.
Le Vapeur de Trieux
What Thomas the Tank Engine fans' dreams are made of! Climb aboard a piece of French and German history in the form of this beautiful old steam train, le Vapeur du Trieux, running between Paimpol and Pontrieux (title pic). You can either do the full round trip ticket and stay a few hours in Pontrieux, coming back the scenic route by boat, or just jump aboard a modern train back from the station of your arrival. We didn't hang about in Pontrieux so I can't report on the sights there, only that both our kids were in complete heaven at the sight of actual steam issuing from the funnel of an actual steam train.
L'Abbaye de Beaufort
Beautiful, scenic and full of peaceful spots for reflection, this old abbey got me misty-eyed thinking about a wedding cake shoot in its atmospheric surroundings. With interactive displays in multiple European languages, you can saunter about the Abbaye de Beaufort learning about the monks, reading about the architecture, walking amongst the many fruits and flowers grown on site and just taking a quiet moment away from your everyday life.
It's worth heading back into Paimpol or trying the nearby La Cabane if you're hungry - we found the crêperie opposite to be our worst meal of the trip, complete with nonchalant, painfully slow service. We did make friends with a lovely German couple on the neighbouring table who were similarly frustrated by the restaurant though, so hey, silver linings.
Eating in Paimpol
Crêpes, galettes and more crêpes
You'll spot pretty quickly that crêpes are a Breton speciality, and my goodness, we ate a lot of them. You're always within spitting distance of a local crêperie, but despite an abundance of choice, we kept going back to the same one: Crêperie le Dundee. Their extensive menu of over 60 signature galettes were chock full of delicious local fresh seafood combinations, plus all the usual classics like the complèt (egg, ham & cheese). For savoury galettes, Andrew says to try le Popoff, a medley so delicious he ordered it twice in a row.
Galettes in this case aren't the open rustic fruit tarts you might be thinking of, but thin savoury crêpes, freshly made on the premises, using buckwheat flour and water. And of course, Crêperie Dundee's crêpes are off the hook, and there are more than 60 of those, too - I may have had the Pourquoi Pas (fresh pear, dark chocolate sauce and pear ice cream) more than once. Well, with a name like that, what did you expect?
Paimpol and its surrounding area are a pescatarian's delight, with mussels, scallops, lobster, langoustine, prawns and crab all in abundance, pretty much everywhere you look. As is often the case in touristic hotspots like this, it can be difficult to tell at first glance where the best chefs are - many restaurants in Vieux Paimpol closely resemble one another on both menu and pricing. Head to the Quai Morand, surrounding Paimpol's port, for lovely quayside views en terrasse, and you can't really go wrong with any of those places - just get there early to avoid disappointment if the weather is sunny. We demolished a near criminal amount of seafood upstairs in the spacious Restaurant du Port - friendly, efficient service, generous portions, perfect seasoning, and even lollies for the kids on our departure.
Yes, this gets its own heading. These people do not mess around when it comes to the salty sweet heavenly goo. I don't have much to add here, other than if you go to Brittany and don't have salted caramel ice cream at least once, I honestly don't know what you were doing there.
We returned from our trip a good deal heavier, exhausted, but sated and happy. I hope you will, too.