From Nantes to Quimper, France – A Breton Classic

Many train travelers simply rush through France. Sure, the fast TGV trains eat up the kilometers, but high-speed lines often defy the warp and weft of the landscape. But even on high-speed lines there are some magical moments. I love the fleeting glimpses of the Champagne vineyards between Paris and Strasbourg. On the high-speed line from Paris to Lyon, now more than 40 years old, there are dramatic views of the Morvan massif as the railway climbs to almost 500 meters above sea level, passing the striking granite landscapes of a region far removed is one of the regular tourist attractions. paths.


The high-speed lines are good for getting somewhere quickly, but you have to branch off to secondary routes to discover a completely different France. The country is blessed with a fine network of rural railways. Last year, tourist authorities in Occitanie in the south of France won a Rail Tourism Award for their bold promotion of branch lines, where visitors are pushed out of their cars and onto trains to explore the beautiful variety of landscapes that stretch from the Cévennes to the Pyrenees.

I can’t think of anything better than a week’s wandering around Occitanie or another French region, avoiding the TGVs and sticking entirely to regional trains – generally known in France as TERs, but always with strong regional branding. In Provence, the trains are branded LIKE THIS!, a name that exudes Riviera flair. In Burgundy you drive with the highly functional MobiGo and in Brittany with BreizhGo.

Nantes to Quimper

My partner and I think that BreizhGo has a nice Breton sound as we walk to the train station in Nantes for a journey into deepest Brittany. Our walk takes us along the ramparts of the Palace of the Dukes of Brittany; Northwest France was ruled from this monumental bastion for centuries. These days Nantes seems more like a town on the Loire than a major Breton city, but it’s still a good starting point for trains to France’s Atlantic tip. “Let’s go to the ends of the earth today,” says my partner. “To Finistere.”

To most Parisians, Finistère seems like the end of the world, a distant maritime outpost with its own language and culture.

All regional railway lines to Finistère are beautiful. In the past I have taken the northern route to Brest, where the trains pass over a spectacular granite viaduct that is a defining feature of Morlaix’s streetscape. Today we choose the southern line that runs to Quimper, the capital of the westernmost part department in metropolitan France. It’s called Finistère, and to most Parisians, remote Finistère seems like the end of the earth, a distant maritime outpost with its own distinctive language and culture.

Related: The Wild West: a walk on Brittany’s rugged Crozon peninsula

Our TER train, adorned with the BreizhGo brand, glides out of Nantes with a last glimpse of the Ducal Palace on the right and distant views of shipyards on the left. It doesn’t take long before we’re out of the city and sailing across the floodplains that flank the right bank of the Loire River. TER trains in France are highly variable in style and quality. This modern train to Quimper is one of the best with creative seating arrangements, loads of space for bikes and strollers, easy access for travelers with mobility issues and large windows to enjoy the changing Breton landscape. I like this much better than seeing France from a TGV, where sight lines are often limited by smaller windows. But taking a TER doesn’t necessarily mean slow. Many run at 70 mph, and some may only stop every 20 to 30 minutes. Our train to Quimper takes just under three hours for a 260 kilometer journey with 10 stops along the way.

The best of Brittany

Our journey includes four different ones departmentsstarting with Loire-Atlantique, briefly crossing the corner of Ille-et-Vilaine and then crossing Morbihan to reach Finistère. It is a brilliant transect, charting dramatic changes in landscape as we travel west from the gentle landscapes of the Loire to rugged Brittany, where the ancient Armorican Massif has a wilder edge, with deep, wooded valleys, dramatic coastlines and, at higher altitudes, a real sense of wilderness.

Some may regret that the journey to Quimper doesn’t actually take you along the region’s famous coastline, but there are compensations for that: excellent views of the upper tidal estuaries and structured stone villages with remarkable gabled houses, and the feeling of being in an age-old travel destination. landscape.

Our trip to Quimper today marks the end of the line for this column. Thanks to all who came along for the ride

Quimper is not the end point. From here a small railway line winds north to Landerneau, 15 miles east of Brest. It is a single-track railway line and because the overhead lines do not extend further than Quimper, it is served by diesel multiple units. But for us, Quimper, with its attractive tangle of narrow streets, is a perfect place to stop. It is an opportunity for Breton classics such as crêpes and cider.

Although it’s not quite the end of the world, Quimper feels like it’s a place apart. Typical of many of the communities featured in this column for more than two years. For longer than you may remember, this monthly column has been guiding you along beautiful rural railways throughout Europe. We traveled together through Portugal and Finland, through the Swiss Alps and the Dutch polders, capturing the atmosphere of the landscape and stopping at some remarkable small towns along the way. Our trip to Quimper today marks the end of the line for this column. Thanks to all who came along for the ride. Our paths will certainly cross again somewhere in Europe on a slow train.

Travel Facts

There are normally four direct TER services daily from Nantes to Quimper. Tickets can be purchased on the day of travel. If you prefer to buy in advance, head to Rail Europe, where there are no charges on purchases in British Pounds. Rail Europe charges £36 for a second class ticket and £50 first class for the journey. On this route, as on a larger scale when using TER trains throughout France, Interrail is the perfect ticketing solution. Seat reservations are generally not available on TER services, so Interrail allows you to travel freely around France on regional trains. Single-country Interrail passes valid only in France cost from €144, while global flexi passes (for use in 33 countries) start at €212.

Nicky Gardner lives in Berlin. She is co-author of Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide (Hidden Europe, £18.99). To support The Guardian and Observer, order your copy of the 17th edition from Delivery charges may apply

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