Destination of the day: Brittany

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The sign said not to swim, but I can’t resist, so I pretend my French is not up to reading it before a plunge in the whirlpool under Les Roches du Diable.

The water is warmer than I expected but the currents a little more capricious than I anticipated and the act of getting out on slippery rocks a little more difficult than I expected.

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According to the celebrated Barzaz Breiz, an Irish saint Guénolé did a deal with the devil to build a bridge if he got custody of the first soul that crossed it. Guénolé sent across a squirrel, and the devil plunged into the whirlpool and waits there for the chance to snatch another soul. Nobody, apparently consulted the squirrel in this adventure.

It could be an extension of Ireland, with the stone walls, the discernible bilingual roadsigns, the Ty Failtiud outside the little crossroad taverns. But the little cluster of villages around Ty Nadan, just three hours from the other end of the Rosslare to France ferry seem quintessentially French, not Breton at all.

We feel like we have discovered a long lost secret under one of the boulders. Our meals in La Casa on Rue General de Gaulle in Plouay, and Grignotiere on Rue de Bourgneuf in Quimplerlé are in restaurants without a single tourist in sight, and it was August.

The Grignotiere has a five page of a menu offering amazing local crepes, Think of a flavour and it is there (I have chestnut on mine). They even have Breton kir with cidre instead of white wine.

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Carnac menhirs 001And stones. Lots of them. Carnac in Brittany has a backdrop straight out of those Asterix cartoons the French teacher was always trying to get us to read.

Around Carnac there are several thousand stones in carefully arranged lines, spreading out across the hills and slopes. Tourists arrive every day wondering what they mean. There is only one way to answer that: shrug the shoulders. They are so old, nobody knows.

For my part I think it is an elaborate calendar predicting the end of the world. I told an English bus tourist that, and he loved it.

La Grande Metairie is a gargantuan campsite beside the menhirs of Carnac. It is pretty easy to find, head for the thousand standing stones in formations at Kemario, turn left at the old mill and you are – back in Ireland.

Lots of Irish have been coming here since it opened in 1969, when it as the one of the first campsites to respond to Georges Pilliet’s call to chateau owners to open up- as campsites, but it didn’t prepare me for the scale of the invasion, and the car registrations I was to find here.

The signature is the petting farm of goats that are housed near the pool. Like most sites the activities have expanded and the site of teenagers zip-lining across the campus is now normal. There are 2,500 people on site and one fifth of them are from Ireland.

My regular morning plunge here is off a marina in St Philibert. The sea is relatively stormy this week, and it is exciting to swim through the sea life along the shore and back to the beach, then departing home to La Grande Metairie campsite, stopping for one of those amazing French loaves, and have breakfast ready for the sleepy teenagers in my mobile home and my gracious mother-in-law, who has come along for the occasion.

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Each morning the conversation is the same. Why can’t we make bread like the French do?

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The first marché visit and the first supermarket visit remind me why we come to France every year. This is a country with a matchless culture of caring about food in an almost spiritual way of focusing on the quality of life as if nothing else matters. It is a joy to sample it for a few weeks every year.

Thursday’s marché is in nearby La Trinité sur Mer, where we dine in a busy seafood restaurant, Le Quaie. We then eat pistachio ice cream on the sea front with a forest of sailing masts ahead of us in the bay.

The drive along Quiberon peninsula opens up a new type of landscape, a sort of Breton camping theme park filled with Dutch, Germans, English and Irish and the occasional French to break up the traffic.

Carnac is a pleasant town of two halves, the medieval centre and the 1903 resort built on the old salt flats. The seaside area has been overtaken by the sort of development that we saw in Gorey. Bundoran and a dozen other Irish seaside towns. The coastal drive has been turned into a successions of rond-points and chicanes. The beaches are crowded and devoid of atmosphere until you approach La Trinite and there at the end of Chemin des Douaniers you have one of those distinctively Breton vantage points that survive through boom and bust. France has had 17 of those since the revolution.

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We are worried about ours.

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Ty Nadan and Grand Metarie are among the handpicked sites for camping in France, Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Germany and Holland offer by Canvas Holidays. Canvas provides self-catering accommodation to suit all budgets, offering flexibility on dates, duration and travel arrangements.

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Irish Ferries cruise ferry ‘Oscar Wilde’ which operates services from Rosslare to Cherbourg and Roscoff year-round.

visit www.irishferries.com or call 0818 300 400

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