Quimper is the administrative capital of the Finistere department and it is also regarded by many as the cultural heart of Brittany.
The town is best known for its cathedral, the atmospheric old quarter and the wonderful museums but it is also well known for its annual festival which celebrates Breton culture.
You will find it hard to find anywhere with more pride in its Breton roots than the ancient capital of Cournouaille.
Founded by the legendary king Gradlon of Y’s, Quimper derives its name from the Celtic word kemper, which refers to the junction of two rivers; the Steir and the Odet. Its these two waterways which still gives the town its character.
The Odet which is generally said to be Brittany’s prettiest river, runs east to west, parallel to the old town and it enters the sea at Benodet. The river is crossed by splendid little bridges which are lined with geranium filled boxes.
Quimper is famous for its faience and its gothic splendour. There is also the cathedral and a picturesque old town with lively waterside cafes where you can sample the local delicacy, crepes-dentelles.
In the Summer, pleasure boats leave the port for the Odet estuary where the wooden shoreline is broken in areas by the manicured lawns of stately manor houses. You can take a stroll along the river bank and there are beautiful views from the slopes of Mount Frugy opposite the town.
In July you can see the Festival de Cournouaille, which is arguably the liveliest celebration of Breton culture in the region.
One of Quimper’s most impressive buildings has to be its cathedral, which is said to be the best example of gothic religious architecture in Brittany. Building started in the 12th Century it was completed in the 15th Century with the exception of the twin lace like spires these were constructed and added between 1854 and 1856 and new stained-glass windows were installed. The cathedral is dedicated to Quimper’s first bishop St Corentin, hence the name. The refinements of the medieval architecture can be best admired from the Jardin de l’Eveche. The nave was added to the chancel in the 15th Century. It was built at an odd angle, possibly to avoid marshy terrain near the river.
Next to the cathedral is the former Bishop’s palace, which is now the Musee Departmental Breton. The displays cover everything from archaeological finds to mosaics, stained glass, faience, costumes and furniture. Don’t miss the exquisite spiral staircase in the Rohan tower, which is part of the original 16th Century palace.
There are two other museums in Quimper, the Musee des Beaux Arts and the Musee de la Faience.
The Musee des Beaux Arts has a fine collection of paintings from renowned Breton artists and the Pont-Aven school. Don’t miss drawings by the illustrator Gustav Dore, the room devoted to Picasso’s friend, Max Jacobs (a native in Quimper) and works by the French landscape artists Camille Corot and Eugene Boudin who trained Monet.
On the opposite bank of the River Odet is the Musee de la Faience. Based in an old pottery factory the exhibition gives the low down on an industry which is still thriving today.
West of the cathedral is the atmosphere old town, where you can find many half-timbered houses dating back to the 14th Century. The streets are named after old job titles. One of the prettiest locations in Quimper is Place au Beurre, where butter is sold, is a good place to stop for a crepe or two.
The old market hall burned down in 1976 but the new Halles St Francis which is open daily can be particularly lively on Saturday mornings.
If the weather is fine you can also take a boat trip on the enchanting river Odet or a stroll through Quimper. It’s a beautiful town with plenty to catch your eye.