Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Duty of Care Charter for Brittany Tourism

(Photo - Dol-de-Bretagne: Cathedral St-Samson)

Brittany could improve the quality of its tourism immeasurably by establishing a Duty of Care charter which all organisations and museums or attractions offering something for the public would have to sign up to. The first pledge would have to be TO HONOUR PUBLISHED OPENING HOURS. Too often people check websites and make long drives to visit places which are closed when they should be open. Tourists and residents must be able to rely on published information, and the commitment of service/attraction providers.

Friday, October 09, 2009

History is an effort

In Quiberon this week for a few days research. I asked a pleasant woman in the tourist office at Plouharnel if she had anything historical on Quiberon and she told me the office in Quiberon itself would be able to provide what I wanted. So on I went with my travels, and explained to the woman in the correct Tourist Office that I was working on a guidebook, and asked for something about the history of the area. She said she had nothing. Nothing at all, I said with some surprise. No, for history you must go to a mediatheque or buy a book. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
In astonishment, I said this was the first tourist office I'd known with no detailed information about their area. She went into the back-room. I heard sounds of the photocopier and minutes later was presented with a detailed, illustrated historical guide. What a strange service!
Luckily I was in Vannes later in the week and the TO there provided their usual helpful and friendly support. They actually seem to like talking to visitors. What after all is the purpose of work in tourism? The Quiberon peninsula is a prime tourist location and full of interest - it deserves better.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Fabulous Fougères

I'm spending a month near the Morbihan/Ille-et-Vilaine border for the new book and am rediscovering what a wonderful place eastern Brittany is. It's years since I toured the border castles, but they don't come more fabulous than Fougères, and I could happily have spent several days exploring the lower (medieval) and upper (18th century) streets as well. What is truly impressive from my professional point of view is the quality of the tourist literature and the superb modern presentation of information at the chateau, in harmonious contrast with the ancient structures. Certainly the building helps with its obliging discrete sections illustrating every phase of defensive development over the centuries, which lends itself to explanation, but they do things very well in this part of the world. Education and imagination - now there's a powerful combination.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

sublime food

My latest work commmitment involves an expense account for eating and sleeping in nice places. Found myself staying a night in Mur-de-Bretagne at the Auberge Grand Maison, which has a restaurant recently awarded a Michelin star. On arrival I was greeted cheerily by the chef himself, Christophe Le Fur, who carrried my bags to my room, chatting pleasantly. Not wanting to blow my whole trip's budget in one go I dined elsewhere (three courses for 10€50, plus coffee) but decided I deserved a lunch next day. Not so much lunch, in fact, as an eating experience!
After a slight accident involving a pristine white linen tablecloth and an amuse-bouche based on beetroot in a glass with a straw, I moved on to curried soup of moules, roasted fillet of cod on courgette spaghetti and mushrooms, and the perhaps unoriginal but totally moreish verrine of strawberries and other melting delights. Almost my favourite part of the meal was the skewer bearing three small freshly baked rolls, seaweed, white and cereal bread. Apart from making notes about the food, most of my attention was absorbed by the dining-room staff - four young people of natural charm and total professionalism. The creation of a team like that says much for the skills and personalities of Christophe and his wife Mireille. The meal almost made me cry with delight, and the hotel part was pretty near perfect - they can't do anything about the road outside.
Total cost of this extravagant 24 hours - 89€! Only in France......

Saturday, June 06, 2009


Remember me in rainbows
So your thoughts divide in coloured strands:
My orange mood
Those soft green kisses
And all the indigo we shared.
In a hollow place where we made layers
You took the sky to wrap around me;
A single drop of leafy rain
And I was drenched in you.

© D.Osmath

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A long way from Paris to Guingamp

Guingamp triumphed over Rennes in the French Cup Final last night - two Breton teams producing flowing football and three fine goals in the Paris stadium. Rennes is the capital of Brittany and their side considerably more than a notch above lowly Guingamp, but the constant references to the latter as a 'petite village' finally made me hit the mute button.
Thomas Adolphus Trollope, brother of the famous Anthony, visited the 'pretty agreeable little town' of Guingamp in 1840, finding it cleaner, better built and 'altogether pleasanter than St-Brieuc'. Still the case, many would say. In those days the population was 6000, so even then considerably larger than a petite village, a description more befitting my own bourg of 1165 hardy souls in the Monts d'Arrée.
Are people in Paris still so blinkered and conditioned by stereotypes that they imagine anywhere west of Rennes to be full of incomprehensible peasants in clogs? OK, some places maybe (thank goodness), but Guingamp is currently a town of about 25,000 inhabitants. And the origin of the word gingham, by the way.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Just spent two days in Quimperlé preparing for an event next week and looking at chapels for the Tro Breiz project (http://www.trobreizproject.blogspot.com/). In the 11th century crypt of the Abbey of Saint-Croix is the tomb of St Gurloes, a holy man providing useful everyday kind of services: curing headache and backache a speciality, just crawl underneath or stick your head in the appropriate hole. They are all so practical, these Breton saints. In the background you can just about see a capital with four open pillars at the top for tying up mad people to benefit from a few hours in the vicinity of sanctity. But never a sniff of help for the broken heart. That's religion for you.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A chink of light

Much heartened by listening to Michael Dodds (new head of tourism in Brittany) speak in Carhaix last night. The mix of focus and vision he outlined should have breathed some life into those of the large audience with ears to hear. Quite a few came simply to make their own mini-speeches and then leave, an indication of the narrowness of perspective that bedevils the whole show. Diversity is certainly the essence of Brittany's strength in the competitive tourist market, as I have been preaching for the last seven years - in fact it's conceivable that every person involved in every level of promotion and services here might agree on that. The problem is that that very diversity engenders a fragmentation of vision and a tightening of self-interest and parochial values that ties the whole parcel up in impossible knots rather than unwrapping it seductively for the punters. If people would only stop harping on about what they have and concentrate on what they can give, we might all get somewhere. The common ground or at the very least a modular connection between divergent interests is worth striving for.
I'm starting to work on a Food in Finistere themed trail which will promote by linkage a wide gamut of cultivators and producers: whether I can stir the least interest in relevant tourist organisations remains to be seen. But personally I felt yesterday that at last all my efforts might be reflected on a bigger stage by much more influential people, and that maybe I was in the right place at the right time after all.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Missionary zeal in Brittany

After the tedium of the Council of Trent and the furor of the Wars of Religion, Brittany was well set for a religious revivial in the early 17th century. The magnificence of the parish closes and the outbreak of convent-building (Ursulines, Carmelites, Calveriennes, etc.) are well-known, but less attention is given to the widespread activities of missionaries in the region.
Michel le Nobletz from Plouguerneau, called the Lunatic priest for his eccentric delivery and semi-masochistic lifestyle, devised the use of "taolennou", pictorial maps of faith painted on sheep-skin or sometimes wood, to reach the minds and souls of illiterate Breton peasants who had wandered from the Catholic fold or never been rounded up in the first place. These proved remarkably effective and his relentless efforts over many years throughout Basse Bretagne did much to regenerate the religious devotion which has somehow wormed its way into the fabric of Breton identity.
But the man he chose to succeed him in this noble work, Julien Maunoir, came from eastern Brittany, north of Rennes, and therefore was burdened by the fundamental handicap of not speaking Breton. Fortunately God intervened at this point, and as Maunoir prayed in the Chapel of Ty Mamm Doué, an angel appeared and touched him on the lips, giving him the gift of that bythronic language. A huge painting in Quimper cathedral records this miracle.
I can just picture the scene as he toiled away by candlelight each night with a grammar and the help of a real Breton servant. 'No, your reverence, I really think you must labour a little more at those mutated consonants before we announce the angel's visit.'
One can't help admiring those tricksy Jesuits.....

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Chateau de Kerjean

Currently working on promotion for this chateau, which deserves attention not only for the architectural and historical interest, but also for the fine presentation of the site. They have a creditable and clear vision of integration between the essential value of the building itself and its use as a context for presentation: excellent exhibitions, shows, performances, etc.
The new offering for 2009 looks at festivities and celebrations from the Renaissance, promising fun and lively information in a carefully staged setting. Rites of passage, religious festivals, tournaments and Carnival all lend their colours, lights, sounds and tastes to this highly recommended exhibition, which opens on March 27 and continues until November 8th.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Snow in the wild west

The lane by my house, playful dogs, plus the main hamlet across the fields.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Saints and stone boats

The earliest saints are said to have arrived on the shores of western Brittany in stone boats. A simple confusion of Latin cumba (coracle type boat) and old Breton koumm (a valley and therefore, trough)? Above, St Budoc rides the waves near Porspoder in his trough. It occurs to me that this rich vein has not yet been exploited by garden gnome manufacturers.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I am increasingly fascintated by the iconography of Catholicism in Basse Bretagne. Tomorrow I'm taking a group to some of the best of the parish closes in northern Finistere. Above is a scene from the extraordinary calvaire at Guimiliau. It shows the naked figure of Katel Gollet (Katherine the Witless) ensnared by demons and drawn into the gaping monster mouth of Hell for her sins. Which were? An over fondness for dancing.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Enclos paroissial

The parish close is a phenomenon mostly concentrated in northern Finistere, and largely the result of an influx of wealth from the linen trade with England. The elaborate, often theatrical, architectural form also became a kind of competitive sport as villages vied with one another for the most flamboyant display. The essential elements of church, sacristy, triumphal arch, calvary and ossuary (some still containing bones) were contained within a precinct wall to keep out wandering animals and mark the territory of the dead. Most extraordinary element was the calvaire, artistically educational, designed to teach the story of life, death and resurrection in a sophisticated granite cartoon strip often containing dozens of scenes and hundreds of finely drawn figures.