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Visit Brittany to experience Celtic culture south of Cornwall

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Things that come to mind when one thinks of France: baguettes, the Eiffel Tower, wine. Things that don’t come to mind: Celtic culture. But in Brittany, France, that's is exactly what you should think of.

Brittany, in the northwest portion of the country, is identified as one of the Celtic League’s six Celtic nations. The other five nations fall in Great Britain and Ireland, making Brittany unique not only by French standards, but also by Celtic standards. Although French is the primary language of most people in the region, up until the 19th century regional languages Breton and Gallo were the only two main languages known there.

As you can imagine, this makes for a distinct regional culture. A 2008 poll of Brittany residents identified 50% of inhabitants as feeling just as Breton as they felt French, and 22.5% as more Breton than French.

That same year, the Office de la Langue Bretonne identified 206,000 active speakers of the Breton language.

This pride and difference of culture is palpable throughout town. Road signs each have at least two lines of text – one in French and one in Breton. Many cars have bumper stickers of a cartoon woman in traditional Breton clothes, particularly a tall coiffe de Bretagne hat. Many towns have Diwan schools, where lessons are taught in the Breton language, as a way of preserving the unique culture.

For tourist purposes a trip spent embracing this different way of life, exploring the history and the culture, is a trip well spent. Be sure to watch traditional Bretagne dancers perform and taste a Kouign-amman, a buttery and crusty Breton cake. Cuisine in Brittany includes lots of seafood, crêpes and gallettes and a dense cake called far Breton. All are worth trying, and you’ll feel in touch with the area culture when you do.

Bretagne does, however, have less culture-based attractions that are worth seeing as well. Saint-Malo, a port city on the northern coast, was founded in the 1st century. It is surrounded by huge stone walls and is made up of beautiful ancient buildings. It’s a perfect place to explore for any history buff (or just anyone who loves the ocean).

Dinard is home to gorgeous beaches and restaurants. It’s a popular tourist attraction for international travellers including Picasso, Winston Churchill and Lawrence of Arabia. A walk around the town includes views of the house that locals claim inspired Alfred Hitchcock in his filming of Psycho, and a statue of Hitchcock stands near the beach.

The 13th-century Fort-la-Latte near Cap Fréhel has served not only as a functioning castle but also the site of a number of films and music videos. It juts out into the ocean, and visitors are able to climb up the fort’s various towers for incredible views.

My own personal favourite activity when I’ve visited Brittany, however, is just driving through the countryside and taking in all it has to offer naturally: sudden views of the ocean with houses lining the mountain down to the beach, rides along bridges that cross large valleys, rolling hills with sheep and cows grazing peacefully. As exciting as culture- and history-rich destinations like Paris are, there is something about being out in the country, surrounded by the French (or Breton!) language and feeling part of an unusual and rare culture, even just for a visit.

Got a hankering for France? Read our Top Destinations for 2016: France guide. 

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