When you’re road trippin’ with children, detours are often more trouble than they’re worth. I always demand that the husband step on it and get us from point A to point B as swiftly as possible before our boys morph into Linda Blair in the Exorcist.
But — in a moment of capriciousness and misplaced priorities — we decided to stop by Cancale, a little harbor village on Brittany’s Emerald Coast. This diminutive town, with a single strip of seafood restaurants running along its seafront, has nothing of interest.
Except for oysters.
Lots and lots of oysters.
25,000 tons of oysters per year to be exact.
That’s a thousand tons heavier than the Statue of Liberty.
These succulent molluscs are cultivated in the crescent-shaped, driftwood-dotted bay below. At low tide, the oyster farms are visible and ugly, a blight on the Breton coastline.
Otherwise, it was an idyllic scene: pelicans and seagulls somersaulted overhead while tractors traversed the salt-flecked landscape, humming back and forth like giant beetles, as they hauled in huge sacks heaving with oysters.
At the edge of town, we came upon the world-famous Marche aux Huitres, or oyster market, with its handful of stands hawking these freshly harvested shellfish. The oysters are graded and priced differently — basically, you choose what you want, the seller shucks the oysters, plops them onto a platter with two wedges of lemon and voila!, they’re all yours to enjoy.
Prices are ridiculously low so we ended up ordering about three dozen oysters including those of the sauvages (or wild) variety, devouring them and tossing the shells into the seabeds below when we’re done as per tradition.
To be honest however, I couldn’t differentiate between the oysters, farmed or wild. They all looked and tasted the same — bad, like someone else’s snot. Our 3-year-old couldn’t care less though — he was confidently tipping them down his throat like a veritable oyster champ.
We later discovered that the best oysters go to the town’s seafood restaurants, which were abuzz with out-of-towners even on a Tuesday afternoon. We chose La Mere Champlain, one of the Cancale’s smarter-looking restaurants and got straight down to business, ordering a seafood platter, some butter-drenched mussels and more oysters. (Because three dozen wasn’t enough).
But more than oysters itself, the region of Brittany, which juts out to the Atlantic Ocean from northern France like the head of an eel, is world renowned for its endless coastlines and fiercely independent culture. The Bretons, or local people of Brittany, have their own traditions and dialect, being largely descended from the ancient Bretons, who fled here from Cornwall, England, to seek refuge from Anglo Saxon invaders. Here, they invented crepes. This makes them my favorite people in France.
But we were here for another reason: it is often hailed by the media as the most family-friendly region in France.
And after a longish drive across rugged coasts with sea-sprayed cliffs, we arrived at the most family-friendly accommodation of our trip. Yelloh! Village is a series of upmarket campsites scattered all across France that’s catered towards families with young children, and Yelloh! Village Le Ranolien is no exception.
Located in the small commune of Perros-Guirec, this five-star campsite is the type of place to go if you suck at pitching a tent because it had lovely one and two-bedroom cabins for more discerning (aka spoiled) guests. And you know, I’m all for camping if it means not having to sleep on the ground or taking a shit in the woods.
Hot showers and comfy beds aside, each Yelloh! is like a self-contained community. There’s plenty of on-site activities to keep the kids happy (a la Club Med, but without the crummy food), including an under-utilized bouncy castle, a massive playground, a heated pool and even a small cinema, so you don’t have to drag your lazy, on-vacation ass out if you don’t feel like it.
Outside, you’ll find the English channel crashing against the dusky pink granite coast of Ploumanac’h. We brought the kids for an amble along this beautiful coastal walk past shuttered summer houses and striking, strangely-shaped rocks, with the surf as our only soundtrack.
Since it was blissfully devoid of tourists in the early evening, we could camwhore all we want without garnering perplexed looks from passers-by. Warning: awkward family vacation pictures ahead!
Nearby is the Parc des Sculpture Christian Gad, a small park filled with petrified giants carved out from the very stones we just walked on.
The next day, we visited the le Village Gaulois, which must be the world’s most charming historical theme park (not that I’ve been to any historical theme parks before).
We bought some tickets from the amenable chap behind the counter — not realizing he was the only person manning the park.
Inside, there wasn’t a single soul about, maybe because it was out of season. It felt like we had ventured into a post-apocalyptic movie set — the park looked abandoned, with nary a 5th century serf toiling away on the grounds, unlike how it was pictured in the brochure.
The creaky rides and contraptions, which looked like they were haphazardly constructed from bits and bobs of scrap wood and metal at first sight, stood empty and motionless, patiently awaiting the hordes of happy children that will never arrive. There was no ridiculously cheerful music playing in the background and no shops waiting to rip you off with overpriced, made-in-China merch.
It was heaven.
The kids ran about like happy puppies, sniffing out their favorite spots. The contraptions were all hand-operated but they worked perfectly: there was a carousel…
…and some boats that you could take out to the lake, among others.
As tempted as I was to hop onto the twirling hedgehog, the rides were constructed for kids and gnomes. So we went on a boat instead, paddling as far as 10 meters before getting stuck by the riverbed for a good 15 minutes. By this time, the first tourists were starting to trickle in, and we were putting on quite a show for them. We wanted to give up but even that was impossible, as we didn’t even know how to pull the boat into the dock. We finally did it, but there goes my dreams of becoming a Venetian gondolier.
We ran through the mock Gallic village, empty huts purged of animals and people. We laughed as we toyed with the props. We knocked the cardboard enemies from their sentries with heavy ballasts.
Teenagers and adults would delight in the park’s many puzzles and games that tested their brains, might and mettle a la McGyver. Simple instructions on how to operate each contraption were available in both French and English to help the intellectually disabled.
One game even lets you indulge in your white hero complex — all you had to do was skillfully drop some balls that represented food aid onto a miniature African village using a toy helicopter.
Village Gualois 1, Disneyland 0.
(Also because there’s only so many times you could listen to It’s a Small World After All before you take a cleaver to your head.)
And after half a day of mentally and physically stimulating activities, we were ravenous. We went to the one and only restaurant in the village, staffed by a nose-ring-wearing Goth who was obviously not aware of the Gallic theme in here. And we ordered….crepes of course. I was prepared to eat with my hands but.
Our eldest still talks about what an amazing time he had till today. I don’t remember him being so smitten with Legoland, Universal Studios or Europa Park. We finally called it a day, but not before promising Mika that we’ll be back. Someday.
- You could easily spend a week in Brittany because of its size. Then north is known for its medieval fortified towns, while the south is known for its prehistoric megaliths. Great beaches and family-friendly resorts are everywhere. Driving is the best way to explore this part of France.
- Village Gaulois is a wonderfully imaginative theme park for children of all ages. Some reviews on TripAdvisor recommended getting a guide but we were fine without one. None of the rides and games are automated but this is part of the fun.
- Don’t miss the Breton crepes and seafood.
Yelloh! Village Le Ranolien Located on Brittany’s northern coast, this massive five-star campsite has great pitches and chalet-style dwellings for those on a budget, as well as plenty of space and on-site amenities (all free) to keep the little and big ones happy. The only caveat? You need to stay a minimum three nights in summer. $-$$