On the south coast of Brittany, you will find Vannes. It is quite a sizeable town and is also Morbihan’s capital. When you visit Morbihan, Vannes is one of the highlights you won’t want to miss.
There is a great deal to discover in this fascinating historical town, so I would recommend allowing plenty of time to explore properly.
To start off your visit perhaps a great place to begin would be at the port, in the south of Vannes. This extensive harbour is packed full of boats and has a generous walkway that follows down the sides of the harbour. The harbour has been newly renovated.
If you continue along the walkway you will come to planted avenues of trees. If you feel particularly adventurous the walkway continues for several kilometres until you reach the popular port and peninsula at Conleau, which is also recommended. Situated harbour side along this walkway is the Vannes Tourist Office.
Through the medieval gate at the northern end of the harbour you can enter the old town. Here you can discover some very attractive streets, with numerous half timbered (colombage) houses, which makes Vannes one of the prettiest towns in Brittany.
The old town was largely constructed in the 16th century. With something new to admire around every corner it makes the town a pleasure to explore. Some question the historical authenticity of the brightly painted 15th century houses however these are so pretty we wouldn’t like to question it.
Several of the houses feature old wooden carvings and some other features. The best known of these special carvings are of a man and woman known as ‘Vannes and his wife’. This very charming 16th century house has been greatly modified over the centuries with the addition of large windows and a shop front.
Another traditional Breton architectural trend is houses with slates hung from the front of the building. You can see several examples of these in the town. The ground floors of the houses accommodate an extensive selection of shops, boutiques and cafes, so you will never be hard pushed to find somewhere for a rest.
There are several more recent buildings in the north west corner, once you leave the old town for a while. There is the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall), a very impressive college (just right of the Town Hall) and a 16th century townhouse called the Hotel de Limur.
The Vannes cathedral in the old town is a interesting mix of architectural styles. A particular highlight is the Chapel of Thomas Ferrier built in the 16th century. It is beautifully light and airy and a must see.
Behind the cathedral ans along the Rue Porte Prison you will find another of the original gateways into the town at Porte Prison. If you follow the road outside the original ramparts that once protected medieval Vannes.
The walls alone are impressive and the gardens below the walls and the formal and informal gardens which run up the hill behind the prefecture (road opposite the Porte Prison) enhance the walls furthermore.
Following the ramparts and little river to see the sturdy tower in the walls called the Tour de Connetable de Richemont.
Built in the 15th century the five stories imposing tower was used by the head of the Duke’s armies and has retained many of its original features such as the defences you can see on the outside of the tower. The tower was in fact originally part of the courtyard of nearby Chateau de l’Hermine. Follow the promenade de la Garenne’ with its beautifully maintained gardens in the castle moat and you will soon reach the pretty little buildings, which are by the river. These were the original lavoirs (wash houses) for Vannes.
When you re-enter the old town you can continue exploring the pretty medieval streets.
The museum of Fine Arts is directly opposite the cathedral in a medieval covered market and contains a lovely collection of art from Delacroix to modern contemporary works.
The museum of Archaeology in Morbihan in the beautiful preserved Chateau Gaillard. The museum features prehistoric artefacts as well as furnishings and items from the 15th-18th centuries.
The Chateau Gaillard is more like a grand town house rather than a castle. Its recognised by its huge five-sided tower which dominates its façade. In fact it originally housed the Breton parliament.