Dragons, Menhirs and a Very Large Elephant

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France 2014

‘No darling, I have no idea why there are dragons looking out of that house, shall we go and investigate?’

The whole holiday was rather like this and all the better for it.  I had not planned these summer holidays well and so Brittany was a last minute option, based almost entirely on the fact that I’d seen a flight advertised from London City to Quimper for £40 and not knowing where Quimper was, I’d looked it up and discovering it was in Brittany, that I could fly there at pre-airport tax-hike prices, I decided to book it.

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And I’m very glad I did.  We stayed just outside Quimper, by the sea, in one of the fun, but wildly overpriced safari-tent glamping options that seem to be cropping up anywhere a farmer has a spare field.  This was quite a spare field though.  At the end of the field was a small gate, which led straight on to a perfectly lovely, little sandy beach and a thousand sandy babies – this was definitely a family orientated/swamped site.

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There were a lot of Boden clad folk wandering around with spatulas and bats and it was all very jolly.  We spent the next four days pottering about rock-pools, splashing about in the freezing water and having ice creams in the rain.  It was a lot like camping in Cornwall really.

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Apart from the fact that some mice nibbled at my soap and some ants invaded my sleeping bag, we had a lovely time, but I was happy to move on to Carnac and a stunning little B&B there – Chambres de Kerimel.

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There is a great difference in the temperature of the sea between Quimper and Carnac.  It was about an hour by train to Angers and then two hours sitting outside the car rental place waiting for them to come back from lunch, so the first thing we did after dropping our luggage off amongst the flowers and ancient stone buildings of our B&B was to rush down to the sea.

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But I’d come for the menhirs.  The amazing menhirs that crop up throughout this region of France.  There are menhirs by the side of the road in planetary formation.  There are dolmens that you stub your toe on clambering through the woods.  Half the houses seem to have a menhir or two propping up the walls and you can climb on them and through them without twenty English Heritage officials shouting at you.  Carnac itself has the most famous collection, but you can buy a map dotted with little menhir symbols and go looking for yourself.

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This seemed like a perfect holiday to me – menhirs, sea you could actually swim in pleasurably, little islands to visit, a lot of delicious food that Nicolas, the owner of the B&B and his wife Pascale cooked for us and then more menhirs.  The sun shone sometimes and all was good.

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And the landscape was lovely.

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But we needed to see an elephant, so we got on the train, lugging our stupidly heavy rucksacks with us (I am too old for rucksacks and my son is too young – luggage with wheels next time) and arrived in Nantes.

Nantes seemed very seedy in comparison to all the healthy, homely places we’d been.  The airbnb we were staying in was surrounded by sex shops and guys shouting at each other.  We scuttled out for a pizza and then hid, but what we’d really come for was the elephant and he was brilliant.

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The elephant is part of a project based on an island in the middle of Nantes – the Machines de l’Ile, where old, ship-building warehouses have been turned into a fantasy world of giant Jules Vernes machines and Leonardo de Vinci inventions.  The elephant (an exact replica of the one that visited London in 2007) is 12 metres high and carries you upon its back swinging its trunk and spraying bystanders with water.IMG_8094

He carries you to a underwater carousel, where you can choose between a seashell coach drawn by flying fish, that flap as they fly or some creature of the deep where you are enclosed in a Mad Max wagon.  It was so much fun, so creative and brilliant.  We stayed the whole day, soaked to the skin and very happy.

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And then finally we were in the Loire, in Amboise, where we stayed at another lovely B&B run by Annick and her enormous Great Dane puppy.

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We should have got another car.  Amboise was a great place to stay, chateaus and canoes and Leonardo de Vinci, but we should have got a car and explored.  We did get to Blois, where we found the dragons of the Magician’s House and another perfect chateau, but I would have loved to have pottered around the tiny towns lining the Loire.  Next time and anyway, for the price of a ticket cheaper than a train ride to Cornwall, we did have a pretty brilliant time.

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