I love France and growing up in Jersey Channel Islands, it was a frequent summer holiday destination for us as kids.
Just across the water, the French coast can actually be seen very clearly from many places on the Island and this tantalisingly close doorway to Europe has always excited me.
Only around 45 minutes on the ferry from Jersey, which is technically part of Great Britain, and you can be standing on French soil with mainland Europe at your feet.
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We used to go to France a lot for family summer holidays when we were kids and then later, as teenagers, for school day trips.
As young adults, a weekend away in France with friends was a great adventure beyond our small island home.
Now I’m lucky enough to have a super friend with a house there, so all through my twenties, a few days in France has always been a wonderful time to get away from it all and dedicate days to good conversations and good cider!
We normally go to a region of France called Brittany, or Bretagne, which is the north-western tip of the country that juts out into the English Channel.
It is here that the ferry from Jersey drops you – at the charmingly historic port town of St Malo to be precise – and it is from here that we normally start our great escape, out into the wilderness of the rural French countryside.
Brittany is certainly one of the most rural areas of France, it’s economy driven almost entirely by agriculture and tourism.
Many of its young people continue to leave the small villages and farming communities that are its mainstay, in search of work in the cities.
This leaves Brittany very sparsely populated and large pockets of ancient woodland, along with rolling countryside, abound. Coming from Jersey, a 45 square mile island which houses around 100,000 people, the sense of open space when you start driving out of St Malo and through the Brittany countryside is astounding.
I always find myself inhaling a huge breath of fresh air and releasing it loudly and slowly, as if my body is revelling in its ability to expand, celebrating the openness around it. For a nomadic spirit like mine, the expansive countryside of Brittany is an immediate call to freedom.
One of the first stops on a weekend away in Brittany is always a) the supermarket and b) the boulangerie, or bakery.
Our recent trip there was no exception!
Supermarkets in Brittany are incredibly cheap compared to those in Jersey and, in addition, the wealth and quality of many of their products far superior.
Somehow a weekend away in Brittany is now synonymous among our friends with eating and no one holds back on the cheeses, wines, ciders, crepes, galettes (French buttery biscuits) or pates – apart from maybe the vegetarians among us!
Supermarkets here are always so well stocked with such an array of treats that they become hard to resist.
It is a running joke that the French won’t touch anything that doesn’t have at least a whole pack of butter in it, which is probably fairly true!
The wafting smells of the boulangerie also tempt us on a daily basis.
There is nothing quite like waking up on a sunny morning in Brittany and then wandering down the round to the local, independent village bakery to get your freshly baked loaves for breakfast.
Dipped in coffee with some homemade jam is the best way to enjoy them!
On this recent weekend away in Brittany, we actually found ourselves in the boulangerie twice a day, awaiting the freshly baked croissants, baguettes and patisseries – once in the morning and then again after lunch.
For life in Brittany is traditional, slow and peaceful. Shops, boulangeries, banks and post offices still close for a 2 hour lunch break so that workers can go home and eat with their families.
Often these places also shut on a Wednesday, sometimes a Monday afternoon and always on a Sunday too. A weekend away in Brittany always allows me to relax and recharge away from the hectic schedules of a more urban life.
It gives me a chance to stand still, to breath and to remember what is important in life.
The everyday pace in Brittany is much slower – perhaps it’s the Breton peoples’ close connection to the land? People seem poorer, but life seems richer.
No one asks you how your career is developing, or why you haven’t got a mortgage yet.
In fact, you’re more likely to be asked how your batch of carrots are coming on this year or whether you saw the beautiful blossom of the apple tress this Spring!
Now of course this might be a slightly tainted and idealistic viewpoint given that I’m always in Brittany on holiday, but regardless, the simplicity I find in Brittany warms my soul!
Indeed, it is a super environment in which to reconnect with friends, away from the external pressures and schedules that seem to restrict us so much at home. As a permanent wanderer now, I rarely am at home.
In fact, the last time was 2 years ago.
This means that when I do return, catching up with old friends is a priority. Our latest weekend away in Brittany was a perfect opportunity to do that and to spend a longer period of time with 2 of my closest friends, which life on the road rarely affords us now.
It is one of these friends who actually bought a property in the Brittany countryside some years ago as a renovation project.
In true Breton style, things are moving wonderfully slowly and it looks like they might still be going well into the next decade!
Nevertheless, we all pile into the house and spend hours in their conservatory or garden, chatting, doing crosswords and eating!
Nearby walks also featured heavily on this trip as we visited the Nantes-Brest canal, which runs right near the house, for a stroll along the lovely embankments.
The weather we had was beautiful that weekend and the sun shining down on us only added to the merriment.
We laughed and drank, sang and joked for days as the long summer evenings kept us up well past midnight – the sun not setting there till 11.30pm.
All too soon the weekend away in Brittany was drawing to an end, but the memories of such a great time with old friends stay with me as I again set sail from home to distant shores.