With the Great British monsoon showing no sign of letting up, the appeal of the daily grind has somewhat started to wane. When the opportunity to escape the relentless banging of the Olympic drum for a week presented itself, I gleefully snatched it with both hands.
As we leave our Birmingham base, things aren’t exactly off to a flying start. Bundling into a friend’s car and heading to Portsmouth, the outbound journey is possibly the worst aspect of the entire trip; having not inspected the particulars of our arrangements I have overlooked the ten-hour overnight ferry to Saint-Malo (Brittany Ferries, 0871 244 0744), and – with no cabin booked – eventually spend most of the evening watching the onboard entertainment. The atmosphere is decidedly ‘working men’s club in northern England’; I feel like an extra in the pilot episode of an unfunny Phoenix Nights spin-off.
The remote location of our gîte means cars – two in our case – are absolutely vital. Electing to travel by ferry rather than fly to nearby Dinard (various airlines) also makes the trip surprisingly cheap; return channel crossing and a week’s self-catering accommodation comes to just £180 each before factoring in petrol costs.
The gîte itself – a converted barn in the tiny hamlet of Pempoulrot – is wonderful. Lovingly restored by its British owners, it has three en-suite double bedrooms and just enough living space for six to share comfortably. There is no television or wi-fi, so this is not a destination suited to those who are easily bored; when not venturing into nearby Rostrenen or Carhaix we spend our days reading, drawing and playing board games.
A pre-holiday inspection of the forecast predicts sunbathing weather, but while it threatens on occasion to burst into sparkling sunshine it is largely miserable. One of the group learns of a gay nudist beach on the coast (a 3G signal a welcome addition to the gîte’s more 21st-century facilities), but the poor weather puts paid to any threat of attending. Quimper (pronounced ‘Camper’), a little over an hour away, is the the nearest city of any note and is as close as we get to a pink destination. This is no Berlin or Playa d’Ingles; instead the streets are lined with independent créperies and chocolatiers. The Café Le Finistère (+33 298 950148), which serves up a fine steak at very reasonable prices, confirms my suspicions: Brittany is gay foodie paradise.
A guestbook signed by previous occupants provides a few useful hints and tips on the best places to visit in the smaller towns closer to home; each one is studded with their own artisan boulangeries and charcuteries. You soon get the impression that the pace of life here is dramatically different – for residents as well as tourists. We befriend a family of local ex-pats who kindly donate some home-brewed hooch, including elderflower champagne (a triumph) and strong cider (significantly less palatable). That said, alcohol is not in shortage in Brittany. When not reading or playing board games we consume wine in abundance, usually accompanied by fabulous local breads and cheeses, undoing many months’ hard gym work in the process. None of us seem to care, with each bottle of Merlot containing more philosophy than the last.
As the homebound journey approaches I do not dread returning to the UK, but I strongly suspect this is because of distractions on home turf than any boredom with Brittany. This week’s wine and cheese has been served up with a welcome dose of perspective. Friendships have been rewritten and repositioned, our energy for and attitude towards the nine-to-five refreshed; the six of us have already vowed to make this trip an annual pilgrimage. Roll on 2013…