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    Rennes – Cultural, Authentic & a bit of a Hidden Gem

    Rennes is the capital city of the French region of Brittany. The city is a vibrant hub, a modern student town and a charming historic gem; all rolled into one. It is a must visit if you are in Brittany. Often, it is the gateway to Brittany. It has a small but international airport connecting Brittany with the UK, Spain, Italy, Germany and other regions of France. On the Paris – Brest TGV train line Rennes is stop number 3 and takes only 1 hour 30 minutes from Paris.

    What’s in a name?

    A Street in Rennes

    Like almost every town in Brittany, Rennes has a French name and a Breton name. In Breton Rennes is Roazhon and you will see this on street signs, at the airport and proudly emblazoned on the football stadium. Although not a direct translation of one another, both names come from the same root.

    In the 2nd century B.C. the celtic people who resided in this area were called Redones. Their name came from the Gaelic for “to go on chariot/horseback” and could be translated to “charioteers”. Before the Romans arrived, the town was known as Condate meaning “confluence” in Gaelic. But the Romans had a tendency of renaming towns after the people they had conquered. Thus, Rennes came into being.

    A Half-Timbered Heaven

    street in Rennes

    The historical heart of Rennes is known as “La vieille ville.” Stroll through the narrow streets that wind in all different directions, past the gorgeous half-timbered houses that decorate the streets. This technique was popular in the 14th and 15th century but continued to be used all the way up until the 18th century.

    Rennes boasts more half-timbered houses than any other Breton town – 370 houses still stand in the city. Beautifully preserved, these buildings now house restaurants, hairdressers, local artisans and clothing stores. Keep your eyes peeled for ‘Ti-Coz’, a bright red half-timbered house whose name translates from Breton as ‘old house’. It is the oldest of these houses, built in 1505, according to the date inscribed on the building itself.

    A Foodies Dream

    Rennes is most definitely a foodie destination. And a street food destination at that! As the capital of Brittany, you can indulge on a host of traditional Breton treats. (Like the ones mentioned in this article). However, Rennes is a multicultural city that has a host of international cuisines on display.

    Your first point of call is most definitely the Saturday morning market at Place des Lices. Here you will always be spoiled for choice when it comes to food. Whether you want to have a bite of a traditional galette saucisse (like a Breton hotdog) or tuck into some Créole inspired Accras de Morue (fish balls) or even try some Turkish flat breads. There is almost too much good food here. My advice is to buy a few different things to nibble on and then wander over the St Anne’s square, find yourself a terrace and enjoy. It is not rude or uncommon to take food from the market and eat it at a local bar – as long as you buy a coffee / glass of wine / beer to go with it!

    As for restaurants there are too many to choose from. My personal recommendations would be to go for a crêperie and have a traditional Breton galette with a topping of your choice while you are in Rennes. I recommend La Sarrasine on Rue Sainte-Georges – a cute address surrounded by half-timbered houses!

    Check out the Instagram account Les Food Rennes for many more recommendations!

    And if you are a fan of Créole, Latino flavours I adore the food at The Black Temple. Just off the main square in St Anne, you will receive a warm welcome from the team here and a plate of delicious food at reasonable prices.

    Green Spaces in Rennes

    A sunny day in Rennes should not be passed by without visiting one of its many green spaces. Unlike many large cities, Rennes is not dominated by modern buildings and a lack of green space. In fact, you’ll find yourself forgetting that you’re in a city at all once you settle on a park bench or by the canal.

    The biggest and most impressive park is the Parc du Thabor. Just to the east of the centre this park contains large green expanses where you can picnic surrounded by tall trees and the distant buzz of the city. It also has an aviary, an orangery, a beautiful bandstand, and a botanical garden that buds and blooms with the passing of the seasons.

    Another hidden gem is the Jardin du Palais Saint-Georges. A pristinely kept garden tucked away from the centre, in the shadow of the palace of Saint-George. The only remaining building that once made up an 11th century Benedictine Abbey – now city council offices and the headquarters of the Rennes Municipal Police.

    I also recommend you take a walk along the canal. There are many lovely spots along the canal to relax and unwind. The further east you get from the centre, the more green and park space you will find.

    Living History in Rennes

    In the very heart of the city, you’ll find many stunning 17th century buildings. Two central squares, situated at a right angle to one another contain three important buildings. The Parliament of Brittany, the City Hall and Rennes Opera House. All of which are open to visitors year-round.

    Le Palais du Parlement de Bretagne

    Parliament of Brittany, Rennes

    The Parliament building is historically significant as it was built in response to Brittany signing a treaty with France so that it could self-govern in the 1500s. Although Brittany’s independence did not last, it’s parliament did, and the building is still used as the region’s court of appeals.

    In 1994 Breton fishermen held angry protests in Rennes over a huge drop in the price of fish. Unfortunately, during clashes with police outside the parliament building boat flares were thrown and a fire broke out. The roof was destroyed, and thousands of files were lost. 5 years of hard work later the doors were re-opened and the building has been beautifully and painstakingly restored.

    For a 90 minute guided tour a full price adult ticket is €9. Find a time slot and book your tickets here.

    Hôtel de Ville de Rennes

    No this is not a very fancy hotel. ‘Hôtel de Ville’ means City Hall in French. This building was constructed after a city-wide fire in 1720 destroyed the previous one. It was designed by Jacques-Jules Gabriel the king’s own architect.

    While fulfilling its main duty of hosting municipal services, you can also enjoy the building and walk through its decorative function room and see the artwork on display along its corridors.

    The building is open to the public year round. Just pop in and ask to have a look around! Visit the tourist office website for more information.

    Opera de Rennes

    Holding the title of the smallest opera house in France, does not diminish the status this building holds. Attracting renowned performers and performances every year, if you are an opera fan take a look at the programme here. However, you will need to book your tickets early as this Italian inspired opera house only has 642 seats.

    Every two years the Rennes Opera house holds an open-air opera that is broadcast in the town hall square outside of the Opera itself. The last edition of this event was L’élixir d’amour (The Elixir of Love) by Gaetano Donizetti.

    Where to stay?

    Staying in Rennes you’ll want to be close to the action. Right in the centre, with access to all the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of Rennes. Therefore, I recommend staying at Hôtel Le Magic Hall. With prices as reasonable as €88 per night, beautifully decorated and with a great continental breakfast you can’t go wrong with this hotel. The theme of the hotel is music, theatre and dance!

    Follow my Walking Tour of Rennes

    Using my Komoot profile I have many walks in Brittany available. Please use this Rennes walking tour to see all the sights. Starting and ending at the train station for the day trippers amongst you.

    The Unturned Stones

    A travel and lifestyle blog. By me, Lydia. I'm based in Brittany, France and I am here to share an honest and informative account of my life here.

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