The next stop on our way to St Jean Pied de Port was in the Bretagne province of the north west of France. Our two good friends live just outside Nantes roughly five hours bus ride from Paris. Finding the bus out of Paris was a bit of a nightmare though. We had booked our tickets through Flixbus for mid morning leaving from one of the major bus stations. We diligently travelled across Paris aided by google maps, finally arriving at our destination. Only to find the bus station was nowhere to be found…. I mean we were in a bus station but it was all city buses and trams, with time inching closer to our leave time a little panic started to set in. Google maps was now telling us we were in the wrong part of the city, ummm… however, calm heads prevailed and we asked a local… Turns out the Flixbus stop was over the road behind the station, marked by a very small sign facing the wrong way. In the end the bus arrived 5 minutes late anyway, so we didn’t miss the bus, but it certainly could’ve been easier to find!
After five long hours and one short toilet stop we finally did arrive in Nantes, earlier then expected. Our friend Laura who had planned to pick us up on her way out of work, was still working… That made the decision, no point standing about we might as well get our walk on and do some training. Off we strode across Nantes city limits to where Laura picked us up about halfway to her work.
A little background; we met Laura and Erwan in New Zealand when they were travelling around the country and Helpxing on the farm we lived on. They have since returned home to France, where Erwan has set up his own joinery business (Menuiserie Poilvert) and they have bought a house together. Because the house needs a bit of TLC to get it up to scratch, Laura and Erwan having been living at Erwan’s parents place, which is where we stayed for most of our visit.
After our little walking excursion we arrived at the beautiful home of Erwan’s parents. Which is a large property just out of Nantes city. They brought the land before the area boomed and many other nice houses sprang up around them. The house itself is a large open plan house with huge lawn and small organic vegetable garden. Upon arriving we promptly jumped in their pool. Then got looked at very strangely for going swimming in September, not so warm but worth it. We were then invited for aperitifs before dinner. Royce accompanied Erwan and his father into their wine cellar, (because wine cellars are most definitely a thing!) To choose some bubbly and a few bottles for dinner. Erwan’s parents don’t speak a lot of English so Laura and Erwan were playing translators. Laura’s English is quite good and Erwan’s was greatly improved since we saw him in New Zealand.
Between translations and much hand gesturing we were told that the bubbly came from a particular area of southern France, a bit the same way that champagne is made in the region of Champagne. It was of course delicious! Unfortunately before enjoying our wine I had to be schooled on my manners. French culture is VERY big on food and wine, and manners!! They are an extremely traditional culture and very polite! And in Brittany an aperitif (an alcoholic drink before a meal to stimulate appetite.) Is a very important tradition with guests, especially with Laura and Erwan’s families. A toast must be had before you can share your first drink and start eating. (I may have tasted the wine a little early. Opps!) The aperitif is also served commonly with cheese (always unpasteurized), cured meats, bread and various other bits of said cheese board. The French also have a dried sausage meat called saucisson, which is absolutely delicious! A must try if you make it to France. Another must try is the salted butter from Brittany. Brittany is known for its extremely nutrient rich salt marshes of which the salt has been harvested from for generations. But i’ll explain more on my post about the Wild Brittany coastline. For the toast itself, we were told; the glasses must touch and you MUST look the person in the eye as you do so while saying “cheers!” (Sante!) As I said before, manners are very important! Always remember you Si’l vous plait (please) and Merci (thank you).
Erwan’s mum cooked us a delicious meal of iced courgette soup with plenty of baguettes and of course the salted butter. Then we had mango parfait for dessert, made lactose free on request. I had always learnt that the French could be rude and uptight people, but I know that now to be entirely untrue, and I was blown away not for the first or the last time by the amazing hospitality. We felt truly welcomed into our friends parents home, and though there was a degree of language barrier it wasn’t enough to stop us having great conversation, and a fantastic evening
The following morning after a lengthy sleep-in we awoke to fresh baguettes and pastries curtsy of Erwan, who had been up early and went to the bakery first thing. We were told a croissant is mostly a special occasion food, or on Sundays. Sunday brunch is a big thing! Bread though is so much a part of the culture. It’s certainly not seen as unhealthy, and to have bread with every meal is not unusual. Erwan’s parents house even had a special baguette basket so the baguettes could be stored upright! After breakfast we jumped in the car and headed over to the house Laura and Erwan are renovating. A stunning old town house in a quiet street with space for a garden. surrounded by similar terracotta roofed houses, it was so picture perfect. The idyllic setting you imagine when thinking of small town France.
From there into Nantes city, we went for Lunch with Laura’s parents. Laura was adamant we needed to try proper french galettes (savory crepe -it’s like a pancake but thinner). So we found a small creperie in the one of the narrow restaurant streets of Nantes. It came complete with the old stone buildings and beautiful trimmings of french architecture. The french culture has an emphasis on beauty, and finding beauty in all things, and they are good at it! From the wrought ironwork and intricate details in stone, to beautifully manicured gardens and little wild green spaces. It gives the towns so much more character and intrigue than modern building structures. As we ate our amazing crepes of cured meats cheese and egg served traditionally with cider, We chatted to Laura’s mum who speaks good English and is originally from Germany so is fluent in a good many languages. We also had more translated hand signal conversation with Laura’s father, who insisted on paying for lunch. (Another nod to the incredible generosity of the french.)
From lunch we had a ‘digestive’ walk (also a very french thing) to a small garden spot in the center of the city. A stunning piece of green in the urban landscape, we kept up our walking to the small island dividing the two halves of Nantes city where we saw the Machines of Nantes, and came upon a small music stage down near the waters edge. (stay tuned for the next post I’ll explain more about the Machines of Nantes.) We also headed over by river taxi to another small fishing village (Trentemoult) renowned for its colourful houses in amongst narrow streets. Laura was an excellent tour guide and kept us entertained and informed on our afternoon, and into the evening.
Erwan having finished work joined us as we headed to Pornichet a coastal town with an excellent nightlife. There we dined out at an Italian pizzeria in the restaurant street, and a bottle of wine of course. (A truly bizarre situation ordering from an Italian menu in french! 🤣) Our friends refused to let us pay for anything yet again! From there a short car ride to the harbor, where Laura and Erwan’s friend has a Mojito bar La Petite Case we met their friends and Laura’s brother and sister. We drank mojitos for the rest of the evening, while we were schooled on our terrible french pronunciation and had fantastic conversations. It was a busy day, but it really put into perspective how utterly inaccurate stereo types can be and what amazing friends we have!! It was fantastic to be taken around Nantes with a local guide and to see all the treasures the city had to offer.
We are so grateful to Laura and Erwan and their families for the amazing generosity and hospitality we had while staying with them. Thank you so much for our amazing stay in Nantes and throwing us headlong into the fantastic depths of french culture. To Laura especially, thank you for helping us learn and pronounce better french, and for doing so much translating! I promise we will get better at our french so you can translate less! 🤣
To all our readers another big thank you for still being with us, and being patient as we continue this journey toward St Jean Pied de Port and Santiago. Don’t forget to stay tuned for our stay on the coast of Bretagne and my first time trying oysters! If you want to see what we are doing now back in England head over to the Instagram page; @thetravellingshepherds and check in with Royce. We are full-on in van conversion and knee deep in winter mud! Till next time get out the gate and get adventuring!