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The landscapes of Brittany are variously dramatic, fertile and rugged, framed by jagged coasts or broad sands. The granite bedrock can be seen carved into poignant sixteenth-century churchyard calvaries and piled high in Quimper’s two spires. The wealth of stone tools that have been found confirm the early agricultural skills of prehistoric Bretons. Armorica stems from Ar Mor, literally land of the sea, to distinguish Brittany’s coasts from the forested interior, Ar Goat, that sheltered wolves, boar and deer as well as Druidic rites.
Over the centuries the fruits of its sea, fields, orchards and gardens fed their bodies and souls with a robust simplicity. Large tracts remained remote from and almost untouched by metropolitan France. In the late nineteenth century avant-garde artists came to see Brittany as an inspirational rural idyll and flocked from Europe, America and Australia.
It was already popular when in 1888 Paul Sérusier, Emile Bernard and Paul Gauguin formed the School of Pont-Aven. Nearby, Monet painted the wild seas and rocks off Belle-Ile and met the critic who was to become his lifelong friend and biographer, Gustave Geffroy. Australian Impressionist John Peter Russell married Marianna Antoinetta Mattiocco, Rodin’s favourite model, and in 1889 built a house at Port Goulphar where they entertained Sisley, Matisse and numerous other artists. In 1894 Sarah Bernhardt took up summer residence in the Fort; her guest list was to include Edward VII.
This tour presents a broad sweep of history, prehistory, art and landscape. It is led by a garden historian and art historian who has close family ties to Brittany.