Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
Frank Bernheisel
Posted 11.26.18
Just Outside Washington

FRANK BERNHEISEL & Kathy Cavanaugh
All photos courtesy the authors


We woke up in our nice bed and breakfast in Concale to a pleasant, sunny day; and we were in Brittany -- Bretagne to the French and Breizh to the Bretons. Brittany is the western most region of France with a population of over 3 million. It forms a triangle poking out into the Atlantic; referred to as Finisterre or End of the Earth.

We enjoyed a great breakfast, the hospitality of our gardiens de l'auberge, and the engaging conversation with the other guest couple despite some language difficulties. We checked out, loaded the cars, and were off to Saint-Malo.


Our drive to Saint-Malo was short and should have taken only about 40 minutes. But on the way we drove north to Pointe Du Grouin and walked out on the rugged point of land sticking out into the Golf de St-Malo. The point has a coast guard station and a WWII gun emplacement left by the Germans.


We walked into and up on top of the fortification, around the point, and enjoyed the fantastic views.

Then back to the cars to complete the drive to Saint-Malo where we parked in the last two spaces near the quay and walked over to the walled city. Saint-Malo is a vibrant city of almost 15 square miles, with the walled city and major fortress at its heart. Its total population is about 45,000.


It was site of a Roman town, Aletum, founded by Gauls in the 1st century B.C. By the late 4th century AD, it had been fortified to protect the Rance river estuary from seaborne raiders from beyond the frontiers. As the Western Roman Empire declined, Brittany rebelled against Roman rule. The instability of the Roman collapse caused many Celts to flee across the Channel from what is now England and Wales and settle in Brittany. The influence of these Celts can be seen in Brittany today in the place names, and street signs, and in the language of Bretagne.


The current city of Saint-Malo traces its origins to a monastic settlement founded early in the sixth century and named after a follower of Brendan the Navigator, who came from Wales. It has a long history of pirates, corsairs, and adventurers, including Jacques Cartier who was the first European to describe and map the Saint Lawrence River. Cartier is credited with both the discovery and naming of Canada.

During the 17th century, these activities earned a lot of wealth, which was invested in building expensive homes of granite, which are visible above the walls of the old city. The city flag flies above the tower. We entered Saint-Malo through the massive gate in the fortress wall.


We passed through the gate and entered the Place Chateaubriand -- named for the man and not the steak. We had decided that the best way to see the city was from the wall, so up we went and strolled along the wall until we got hungry. We descended into the streets and followed Jean Francois to the best shop with the best baguettes and bought some sandwiches. These we took to the benches outside the wall and had lunch overlooking the harbor.


Kathy and Francoise review all the flags flying over the castle: EU, France, Bretagne, and Saint-Malo.

During WWII the Allies heavily bombarded Saint-Malo, destroying almost every building. It took 12 years to rebuild the city after the war was over. Most of Anthony Doerr's award-winning novel, All the Light We Cannot See, takes place in Saint-Malo; a great read.

The greater city surrounds the Basin Vauban, which is the harbor of the Saint-Malo. Because of the extreme tides in Brittany, the water level in the basin is controlled by locks.

The basin is huge; we saw hundreds of sail boats, historic boats, a small cruise ship and the terminal for the ferry, which goes to Portsmouth, England. The trip to Plymouth is about 150 miles and an overnight ferry ride.


After admiring the boats, it was time to head inland. We drove southwest heading toward Le Faouet, Jean Francois’ home town. But first we stopped to visit the chapel of Sainte Barbe, dating from 1700s. There is a reason for the chapel to be in this unusual place. A nobleman got lost in the woods during a storm and fell into the ravine. He was scared to death and prayed all night that if he was saved he would build a chapel.


We got to the chapel at 5 p.m., closing time. The attendant was just escorting some visitors out and about to lock up. Despite our entreaties, she was insistent and rude saying she could not let us in, which was a surprise because everyone else we had encountered on this trip was super friendly. We learned with the help of Francoise that interactions, social or business, should begin by saying 'Bonjour', then make eye contact; a response of 'Bonjour' indicated you were going to have a friendly transaction.


The park around Sainte Barbe also contained the grave of an honored member of Napoleon's Grande Armée who had survived the invasion of Russia.

From Sainte Barbe we drove into the town of Le Faout to see where Jean Francois lived as a youngster and some of the sights. The whole area is hilly and rural, so we drove on small roads through many small towns. Le Faouet is a commune, one of 96, in the arrondissement of Pontivy, with a population of about 3000.

France has been reorganizing its administrative units. The country is divided into: Regions, Departments, Arrondissement, and Cantons. One of the features of Le Faouet is the 16th century halles, covered market, which remains in use. It is a rare surviving example of the large timber structures from the period.


The halles has been reinforced over the years with iron braces to strengthen the mortice and tendons joints of the original structure; 500 years is a long time. We walked around the market square and then drove by Jean Francois’ old house on a pleasant street.

We drove on toward our destination, Guiscriff, about 10 miles away over the small roads. Guiscriff is the original home of Francoise, who purchased her family's house after her parents died.


She, with Jean Francois' help, refurbished and modernized the house and garden; it is lovely and cozy. This was where we would be staying for several days as we toured Brettany. The picture shows the house from the back yard with some of us guests on the patio. We got unpacked, poured some wine, and prepared dinner. It was good to relax.