Come discover Brittany (view a larger map) through the footsteps of its famous artists and the cités des peintres. The French Ministry of Culture has designated eight cities as national "cities of art and history" for their contributions of culture and beauty to France. An itinerary through these cities (Quimper, Auray, Vannes, Rennes, Fougères, Vitré, Dinan, and Saint-Malo) is the best way to experience Brittany's rich cultural heritage.
For more than two centuries, Brittany has inspired creativity from all walks of life, and today it remains one of the most popular French regions for artists. Surrounded by coastal landscapes and the charm of Breton customs and legends, artists founded colonies at Concarneau, Pont-Aven, and Douarnenez, to name a few. In the 1860s, the American artists Henry Bacon, Robert Wylie, and many others who had traveled from Philadelphia to Paris to Brittany in search of fresh inspiration, established Pont-Aven. Other cosmopolitan artists like Émile Bernard, Henry Moret, and Paul Sérusier boosted the status of Pont-Aven to a worldwide artist haven. The area has inspired many famous works, including Paul Gauguin's Portrait of the Yellow Christ at the Tremolo Chapel in Pont-Aven and Sérusier's Landscape at Pouldu.
Other painters like Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, and Henri Matisse fell in love with Brittany's diverse coastline and wild landscape. Picasso perfected his impressionism on the beaches of the Emerald Coast, and Monet immortalized the rocky coast of Belle-Île in nearly forty of his paintings. In all, some 160 artists have been seduced by the charms of Brittany, and their stylistic contributions to the art world are many. Gauguin's postimpressionistic methods and deliberate use of color helped to set the tone for the expressive artwork of the 20th century. Even today, those with less than impressive artistic talent flock to Brittany to try their hand at technique classes or see the sites.
But if painting alone is not enough of a passion, then the next best thing is to visit a few of the region's cities of art and history. These towns are bound by a common charter to preserve and enhance their architectural and cultural heritage, through tourist and cultural activities. The Corsair City of Saint-Malo, a renowned seaside resort, is breathtaking with its storied granite architecture and soaring ramparts that open up to the pounding ocean. Just south of Saint-Malo, another city of art and history awaits at Dinan, where visitors wander through medieval, narrow cobble-stoned alleys that rise high above the Rance River.
East of Dinan, the city of Fougères is known for its deeply religious history that has inspired generations of artists to capture its majesty. The artwork of Rennes is inspired by water, which has had a great effect in its sculptures and paintings. Vitré, in all its majesty high upon rocky cliffs, is another medieval city, where the castle's towers rise high above the city's other buildings. Vitré is where Madame Sévigné lived when she wrote her famous letters.
To the west, the city of Quimper lies in a valley at the junction of two rivers. Quimper is renowned for its impressive historic architecture and the deep influence that Breton culture has had on its pottery, or faïence. The port city of Auray boasts an attractive and charming old harbor with its stone bridge and many beautiful houses. Finally, a visit to Vannes rounds out the eight cities of art and history. Built in the shape of an amphitheater at the Gulf of Morbihan, Vannes is a picturesque old city with elegant shops, manicured gardens and traditional timbered houses.
A traditional artists' haven, Western France has no shortage of inspiration or entertainment for the creative, enthusiastic traveler. In Brittany the possibilities for travel are endless; with so many places to visit, it's not hard to plan a fun and exciting itinerary. Come experience life as Paul Gauguin and his contemporaries once did, in the welcoming region of Brittany.