Beaten by history, Rennes in Brittany is now a city of cultural attractions in France

Rennes was nestled in northwestern Burgundy for two millennia, but it didn’t become a city of real importance until after World War II. It was a quiet regional town until 1720, when its largely wooden half-timbered structures burned down in a fire, and even a century later its population was less than 50,000. It took the Second World War to tip Rennes into the 20e century after the Germans occupied Rennes in 1940 and the Allies recaptured it in 1944. As a transport hub in France, the city was bombarded by both factions until submission with great destruction . After the war, the city’s fathers were clever in redefining its future as a cultural center for tourism so that although its architecture appears Gothic, it is mostly new and the destroyed wooden buildings have been replaced. by other materials.

Today, Rennes is a beautiful river town of about 218,000 inhabitants. It’s well appointed and tidy, and when you enter the old town gate called Porte Mordelaise, a small part of the older quarter is still intact around Place Sainte-Anne, with the old half-timbered houses, sometimes leaning over. . The Place des Lices, where jousting tournaments used to take place, is now a busy market on Saturdays. Under dozens of red tents, you’ll find vendors specializing in wild mushrooms, local cheeses, and river and sea fish, as well as inexpensive clothing. (There is a small bistro at one end where you can have coffee and breakfast before the market opens.)

Also faithfully rebuilt is the superb 17e century Palace of the Parliament of Brittany, designed with a mansard roof by the architect who built the Luxembourg Palace in Paris. In 1994, a rapid fire damaged the palace, but it is now back to its former majesty, as is the neighboring royal palace.

the half-timberings Carmelite House rue Vasselot, the splendid Émile Zola High School (named after one of the greatest French authors), the baroque Church of Toussaints and the Palace of Commerce. The most spectacular building in Rennes is the 19e century rounded 650 squares Opera on Place de la Marie (the smallest in France), adapted from the ancient theater of Marcellus in Rome and from a glorious Breton ceiling fresco. It was hailed by Stendhal as a symbol of restorative culture after the great fire destroyed much of the city. Rennes is also home to several concert halls and the Antipode MJC Art center.

There are three highly reputable universities in the city, two focused on technology (now the heart of Rennes’ economy), as well as a Catholic university.

One of the ancient pleasures of Rennes is to walk among the last ramparts of the city, built from the 3rd at 12e centuries, once offering wide views over the entire territory to the river and to the east of the old town are the Gardens of Thabor, once an abbey orchard, now laid out over 24 hectares with a classic French garden, an English garden, an aviary, a children’s area and a botanical garden containing 3,000 species of plants.

Rennes has hotels of all kinds, and even for the best hotels, prices rarely exceed $ 200; others may cost $ 100 or less. the Balthazar Hotel & Spa is completely modern and suitable for tourists as well as business travelers. Its restaurant is run by Parisian chef Michel Rostang (main courses cost $ 26 to $ 43). The beautiful elegantly decorated fairy tale Chateau d’Apigné is set in a large 25 acre park just outside of town offering access to good fishing and its two dining areas, The Turrets (meal about $ 46), are among the best restaurants in the region. An old 16e century building houses the Marnie & Monsieur H BnB, and is very central.

Breton cuisine is hearty and family-friendly, known for its many savory and sweet pancakes, made from buckwheat flower and various fillings, the most famous being the King’s Cake, as well as the fine and thin pancakes and the famous waffles of the region, all to be tasted with the local cider.

There is a good range of fine bistros and dining rooms (and a horrible downtown pizzeria to avoid). I am, which takes its name from Japanese for “now,” offers cutting-edge cuisine (prix fixe meals from $ 60 to $ 115), while Root ($ 65- $ 85 meal), with a Michelin star, under the direction of Chef Virginie Giboire, draws on regional fillings to create a modern cuisine in a bright white open kitchen space. For more traditional Breton cuisine, try The Café du Port (meal around $ 50) and the crêperie Saint-Georges.

If you’re short on fun in Rennes, head to Quai Saint-Cyr on the Embarcadero, where you can hire an electric boat or kayak to navigate the Vilaine and cross the Ille-et-Rance canal. which winds slowly through the bucolic setting of Brittany.

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