The estuary of la Vilaine

Come and discover two of the gems of La Bretagne Plein Sud : the quaint ‘Petite Cité de Caractère de Bretagne’ of La Roche-Bernard and its neighbouring seaside resort of Pénestin.  On your way there why not stop-off at the charming towns of Camöel and Férel.
 

La Roche-Bernard, all the charm and character you could wish for!

The riverside town of La Roche-Bernard, proudly bears its title of ‘Petite Cité de Caractère®’.  This much deserved award achieved by the conservation of its unique authentic heritage.  Discover the charm of this little town as you wander down its narrow streets punctuated by historical monuments, amazing views or the possibility to observe a craftsman at work….
La Roche-Bernard - petite cité de caratère


Things not to be missed-out of your visit here

  • Take a stroll along the port and admire the tall ships
  • Enjoy a cruise on the river ‘La Vilaine’ starting from the port
  • Climb up to the rocky site where you can get a magnificent view over La Vilaine
  • Discover the bridges with a special circuit 
  • Marvel at the skill and artistry of the craftsmen and women in their workshops
  • Visit the museum of ‘La Vilaine maritime’
  • Take a ride on the little tourist train
  • Have a break, enjoy a drink in the ‘Sarah B’
     

A little bit of history….

Around the year 1000, lord Bernhart  (aka ‘as strong as a bear’) ventured up La Vilaine.  He spied a rocky outcrop and decided to settle here because of its strategic position.  He had fortifications constructed in order to consolidate his power over the area.  His successesors subsequently pledged their allegiance to the Duc de Bretagne who in exchange granted them land and the title of Baron de La Roche-Bernard.
During the war of succession in Brittany (1341-1365), which saw pitted against each other Jean de Montfort and Jeanne de Penthièvre, wife of Charles de Blois, the barons of La  Roche-Bernard  sided with the King of France.  Their castle was totally destroyed by the partisans of Jean de Montfort.  They left the town and sought refuge in Missillac in ‘Le château de la Brétesche’.
Up until the Reformation the Catholic faith was unrivaled in the Barony.  In 1547 François d’Andelot  - Coligny  became baron de  La  Roche-Bernard by his marriage to Claude de Rieux. In 1558 by introducing the Protestant faith to Brittany he established the town as one of the first places of worship for this religion.   To follow his lead nobles and the burghers also converted to Protestantism.  A century later, Baron  Armand  du  Cambout  banned the Protestant religion.  In 1666 La  Roche-Bernard is awarded town status by Louis  XIVth.  A much sought after privilege at the time.
The Revolution reached its climax in La  Roche-Bernard  in  1793.  6000 Chouans  invaded the town and assassinated the two Republican leaders; Le Floch du Cosquer and Joseph  Sauveur.  In honour of the latter the town was re-named La Roche - Sauveur for the period from 1793 to 1802.
The 19th century was marked by major works : the drilling of the rock and the construction of ‘Le quai de Saint-Antoine’ and subsequently ‘Le quai de la Douane’...


The port

La Roche-Bernard developed and prospered as a result of the increased traffic along the river La Vilaine.  Records show the presence of a thriving busy port as early as the XIth century.  This activity developed over time reaching its peak at the end of the XIXth century when the traffic along the river was at its height.  Ships from all along the Atlantic coast came to La Roche-Bernard. There were not only coasters such as the brick-scooners or ‘chasse-marée (luggers) but also barges which travelled along La Vilaine.  Salt, wine, cereals, lime and pit-props could all been seen transiting through the docks. During the XVIIth century, La Roche-Bernard was the location for a major shipyard which constructed the first three-decked liner for La Royale (during the period from 1629 to 1634). Then came severe competition in the form of both rail and road transport.  The port’s commercial activity declined until its ultimate cessation at the beginning of the XXth century.  Today this once bustling port has become a calm and pleasant pleasure boat marina which holds more than 500 boats all year round. 
 

The pleasure boat marina

Nestled on the banks of La Vilaine the marina, proud title holder of the touristic quality label ‘Escale d'une rive à l'autre’, is the ideal place for a walk or as the starting point for many activities including boat trips, canoeing-kayaking… Why not come and feast your eyes on the elegant tallships of ‘La Flotille Traditionnelle’ which are also moored here! 

Balade en aviron sur la Vilaine

Now for a little bit of geography :  the source of La Vilaine lies in Juvigné in La Mayenne it finally flows into the Atlantic ocean after a journey of some 225 km.  Anything but ‘ugly’ (Fr. Vilaine)  this majestic river’s name in fact comes from the celtic word ‘doenna’ meaning ‘the deep river’ later gallized into the French terms of Visnaine, Vilaigne and eventually as she is called today La Vilaine. 
Did you know?   That until 1970, time of the construction of the lock and dam at Arzal, the lives of people and the area of La Roche-Bernard were totally governed by rhythm of the tides.  Maritime regulations still apply today as far as Redon.  

For ease of navigation along La Vilaine visit the site at www.lavilaine.com. You’ll find lots of useful information such as the lockage times of the dam at Arzal, information notices for mariners, live navigation app for the estuary of La Vilaine, maps of the La Vilaine’s riverbed and waypoints for estuary navigation…


Some of the very best ways to discover the port and La Vilaine :

‘Les Vedettes Jaunes these bright yellow river-cruise boats have trips along La Vilaine to discover the area as far as Redon. Departure can be from Arzal or La Roche-Bernard.  Just sit back and relax on board…rocked only by the gentle ebb and flow of the river…discover the lush green banks and hilly landscapes of La Vilaine area. There’s also the option of an outing on board the ‘restaurant-ship’ of ‘Anne de Bretagne’, a 4 hour cruise starting from the dam at Arzal towards Foleux (42 km return trip) a small marina set in the countryside near Nivillac.

Whether you are a beginner or a more advanced ‘sailor’…whether your craft of choice is a canoe, kayak or catamaran the sailing school and service provider Au gré du Vent is here to help you enjoy your time on the river!

Home to craftsmen and artists

For several years now the town of La Roche-Bernard has adapted a policy of proactive support to encourage craftsmen and artists to set up here.  The town’s status of ‘Petite Cité de Caractère de Bretagne’ as well as its membership of l'Association Accueil Métiers d'Art – Bretagne’ have been instrumental in the development of this policy.  The local authorities were able therefore to restore a number of heritage listed building belonging to the town.  This action enabled them to satisfy a certain number of the many applications received by offering leases on these building to the professionals seeking workshop premises.  At the same time, thanks to the funding received some craftsmen have been able to purchase some of the more ancient houses in the older areas of the town with a view to installing their workshops here. The subsequent restoration work carried out has been of a very high standard.  Even if the main purpose of this architectural project was the restauration of heritage buildings and the improvement of the living environment it has also resulted in an increasingly dynamic influx to the area of artists and craftsmen wishing to set up here.  The benefits of developing architectural heritage are therefore twofold.  The artists and craftsmen are also able to showcase their work in a unique setting enhancing the imagination of one and all.
Painting, ceramics, stained glass, pottery, wood-turning… know-how and skills to be discovered here the company of the different artists as they guide you through their workshops to discover their unique and often fascinating creative universe. 

Video presentation of the town of La Roche-Bernard can be found at https://www.youtube.com/embed/NuUsr4NNcqs


Pénestin girded with gold

Plage de la mine d'or à Penestin
The seaside resort of Pénestin, situated in the south of Brittany, has many a surprise in store for you!

If you like to simply enjoy swimming, sailing or a stroll to take in the sea breeze then head straight for the Atlantic coast, more precisely to: La plage de la mine d’Or. True to its name this impressive beach is dominated by its golden cliffs (they are a listed geological site) and is the most popular in the area for bathing (a lifeguard station is present during the summer).  Its orientation (due west) and its height, which in places reaches 15 metres, make it the number one choice with many paragliders!

Further north lies the favourite area for relaxation, the gathering of shellfish on foot, kayaking or observation. The dunes and marshes provide the perfect habitat for shore bindweed, wallflowers, common sea lavender or sea holly; as for the reeds and lagoons they provide shelter, depending on the season, to coots, little egrets, Canada geese and many other species…

The famous ‘moules de bouchot’ from Pénestin

Along a great stretch of the coastline, you can spot at low tide neat rows of posts : these are the  ‘bouchots’ used for mussel farming  Put in place around the end of the XIXth  century it is upon these pilings the farmers cultivate mussels renowned for their exceptional quality.  The pure and highly oxygenated waters of the estuary of La Vilaine play a very important role in the high quality of the mussels from Pénestin.   Mussel farming is the most important primary economic sector in Pénestin.  The production area extends from ‘la Pointe du Halguen’ at Pénestin as far as the bay of Pont-Mahé at Assérac.  With their delicous ‘fresh-from-the-sea’ flavour these mussels have an undeniably excellent nutritional value.  Really tasty prepared ‘à la marinière’, raw, cooked or stuffed!

Tréhiguier  is Pénestin’s little fishing port.  Come and experience the hustle bustle of the lively atmosphere at the time of the incoming tide when the mussel farmers return to port aboard their flat shallow boats ‘les plates’.  Whether this is the first time or you are a returning visitor to the area, be sure to check out the range of guided tours on offer all year round available from the Tourist Office.  The former lighthouse, which is now a museum,  holds a wealth of information and interesting facts about  Pénestin’s heritage: ‘la maison de la Mytiliculture’.  Come and discover the life cycle of ‘les moules de bouchots’ and the history of the trade of the mussel breeder our local ‘sea-farmer’.


Férel and Camoël, the best of both worlds…sea and countryside

Férel

This charming village is set a mere 10 km from the beaches of Pénestin, is also filled with the fresh air of the countryside and gentle breeze from la Vilaine…the ideal spot for a change of scenery!  At every corner of the winding country paths you will discover the heritage which gives such a special atmosphere to this little village at the very waters’ edge.
Beside the church with its stained glass windows dating back to the XIIIth century and the many calveries and bread ovens there are rich grand residences some of which could and some of which can still be found in and around the village.
Férel sur les bord de la Vilaine
Le château de Coët Castel : the seigneury once belonged successively to the families of Jean Le Henos (1453), François Le Courtois (1681)  and Coude (1775). It is currently the private property of Le Comte Yvan de l’Estourbillon. The former château de l’Isle, referred to by OGEE in 1779, the ruins of which could still be seen on the banks of La Vilaine back in 1863. Le manoir de Trégus (or Trégu or Trégut): seat of the former manor which belonged to Guillaume de Trégus in 1453.

Bread-ovens, crosses, fountains...

These fountains including that of ‘la Fontaine Saint-Pierre’ (rue de la Fontaine) supplied at the time the entire west side of the village until the installation of running water.  Some times during very dry summers water was rationed.  The washhouse known under the name of Doué, located near the fountain, was used by the washerwomen. But when the source dried up they were forced to go to Guerny, almost a kilometre away.
Come and discover all these beautiful stone buildings and monuments during your outings on foot, by bike or on horseback… 

Camoël

Camoël, is a rural town on the banks of the river La Vilaine, nestled between the beaches of  Pénestin and the quaint ‘cité de caractère’ of La Roche-Bernard.  Many are the tourist attractions on offer here by virtue of the presence of its port and the lush surrounding countryside. Its population of some 850 inhabitants are an interesting a mix of dynamic farmers and highly motivated craftmen.

The strategic geographic location of the town provides everything the passing walker or holiday maker might need:  food, places to eat, accommodation, petrol-station…

Make the most during your stay here with us of the long walks and hikes in our lush and leafy woods. Explore the marked paths which link La Brière to the area around La Vilaine. Camoël is also surrounded by picturesque and historical villages. Vieille Roche with its traditional houses, le Passage, important transit point for Guérande’s sea salt in times gone by ; Kerguen and Kerbili  with their manors, the old windmills, the presbytery, dating back to the end of the 18th  which today has been converted into a gîte, Corolais with its tower, and its chapel ‘Notre Dame de la Salette’…

Orientated towards the ocean Camoël by virtue of its location in the area around La Vilaine, provides a sheltered port away from the prevailing south-westerly winds.  From October to May a flotilla of elver fishing boats brings the basin to life every night with their dual coloured lights taking with them as far as Spain or even Asia the proud name of Camoël. It is indeed here that the young elvers are fished(the young eels which come from the Sargasso seas)  for their delicious flavour and for subsequent breeding.  There are also many pleasure boaters in the summer season who make the most of the calm and safety provided by mooring in the port. 
  • Plage à Penestin
  • Port de la Roche-Bernard
  • Moules sur les bouchots à Penestin
  • Balade le long du port à La Roche-Bernard
  • La Roche-Bernard - petite cité de caratère
  • La Roche-Bernard - petite cité de caratère