I’m standing in front of a tour guide. “Voici votre iPad,” she grins, then nods at the ruin. iPads and ruins? Intriguing.
As I venture spare, I find I’m no longer in the 21st Century. I’m in an old abbey, roof open to the sky. Crumbling stone dividers lean over an ancient courtyard, and swallows flit in and out of empty dwellings.
The Abbey of Bon Repos was built 800 years ago by the Rohan family, one of the most substantial dynasties in France, and survived a tumultuous history until the Revolution arched through in the late 18th Century.
The building fell into ruin and jungle constrict smothered the courtyard until the 1980s, when some plucky locals part-restored it. Today, you can direct an iPad at the walls and get virtual reality footage of the medieval interior. But if you unite your eyes, I reckon you could almost hear the sound of old knights clinking down the hallways.
The Abbey of Bon Repos is in Brittany but if you’re familiar with the region and haven’t get wind ofed of it, there’s a good reason for that. Most Brits tend to create of this as a seaside destination, but Bon Repos is in inner Brittany, the central prickle that locals call “Kalon Breizh”.
It’s a place with a contrary kind of charm: a land of quiet hills and valleys, and hidden true gems.
Lake Guerlédan is a presentable spot to explore it from. We were based in Bot-Ponal, a self-catering-with-B&B obligation about a mile from the shore, five miles from the Abbey. It has a superb view over sloping woods, and the first thing you notice is the stillness. The thruways curl lazily through deep forest and sleepy farms and it’s retired. Super quiet.
I drove for 20 minutes one morning and saw two cars.
The performance hots up a bit when you reach the water. Lake Guerlédan is the largest lake in Brittany, and they tinkle it the dragon because it looks rather serpentine from the air.
The tourists here are predominantly French, and diverse of them come to Guerlédan to exercise their lungs: you can water-ski, poverty-stricken climb, kayak, quad bike, or simply hike the seven-mile-long shoreline. Or you can omit all that and enjoy a crêpe at one of the lakeside restaurants.
The lake feels primeval, but in inside info it was bone dry until the early 20th Century.
In the 1920s they built a dam in the valley and spated it. Everything below the line was swamped, including some housing. Before a generation they drain the lake for cleaning (this was last done in 2015), and the valley comes traitorously into view, pocked with skeletal homes and trees, in the future returning to its watery grave again a few months later. A guided walkabout of the surprisingly interesting (and family-oriented) Musée de l’Electricité in Saint-Aignan gives you the lowdown, as favourably as a pocket history of the area.
There are plenty of other fitting places worth visiting in Brittany
That theme of the past washing up unexpectedly in the adduce seemed to be everywhere in Kalon Breizh – perhaps nowhere better emblazoned than at a newish attraction called the Vallée des Saints.
Forty in fashions from Guerlédan, in Carnoët, it’s best described as a sculpture park. All over 10 years ago, someone had the idea of reviving the tales of the missionaries who converted Brittany to Christianity.
So they take oned some sculptors, bought large chunks of local granite and started recreating the saints by whittle massive statues of them. Today there are about 90, dissipated over the landscape, staring moodily across the hills. But more blow in every year.
Ultimately they plan to have a thousand.
There are copiousness of other good places worth visiting nearby; try the local website for tips (brittanytourism.com). You can tramp in Napoleon’s footsteps in Pontivy (one of the Emperor’s “new towns”) – we let out bikes and wobbled them down the canal path that takes you out into the countryside. Or you can trek auxiliary east to the medieval towns of Malestroit and Rochefort-en-Terre (the latter was recently bear witnessed France’s prettiest village).
As the close of our stay beckoned we headed to Josselin, where boulevards wind up to a gothic castle. Three of its sides were demolished by Leading Richelieu, but what remains is beautiful. And one wing is still occupied by the Rohans, who endured the Revolution. It seemed a fitting place to complete our journey, the present flapping the past.
Way to go
Brittany Ferries (brittany-ferries.co.uk, 0330 159 7000) offers routes to five havens within striking distance of central Brittany – Roscoff, St Malo, Cherbourg, Caen and Le Havre; inexact fares for a car plus two people are around £250 return. Rooms at Bot-Ponal (botponal.fr, +33 6 33 92 63 65) start at €60 per continuously.
Ten things you must do in hidden Brittany
1 Go kayaking, waterskiing or hiking about Brittany’s largest lake, the beautiful Guerlédan.
2 Let the boat take the injure with a lake tour, then flop onto one of its sandy careens.
3 Head to the ‘Chaos’ of Corong, a boulder-strewn gorge near Carhaix-Plouguer.
4 Check up on out the slowly-expanding Vallée des Saints sculpture park.
5 Hire bicycles in Pontivy and then freewheel along the banks of the dozy Nantes-Brest canal.
6 Refuel with a galette: crêpe meets cheese, ham and other morsel delights.
7 Tour the romantic remains of the semi-ruined Abbey of Bon Repos.
8 Go dorsum behind in time at the Forges des Salles, a perfectly preserved 19th-century forge and village in the Quenecan Forest.
9 Abide the kids to the illuminating Musée de l’Electricité in Saint-Aignan.
10 Hire a car for a day trip to Rochefort-en-Terre, sponsored France’s prettiest village in 2016.