7 things to do in Rennes, France
Colourful Rennes, the administrative capital of Brittany, is well worth visiting, firstly because of the almost 300 historic half-timbered buildings that can be found there. It takes just two hours on a high-speed train to get there from Paris. Brittany once was an independent kingdom and then a duchy. In 1532, Brittany became part of France. Having this historical background and being home for one of the six Celtic nations, Brittany kept its own identity through several centuries, retaining both the Breton and the Gallo languages. Brittany has also been referred to as Little Britain as opposed to Great Britain.
Rennes is easy to explore on foot. It was a rainy day when I visited but after all, Brittany wouldn’t be the same without a spot of rain… So here are things to do in Rennes for your travel inspiration.
1 Visit the tourist information centre and Saint-Yves chapel
The tourism information centre in Rennes is quite special because part of it is the Saint-Yves chapel.This was once the Chapel of the former general hospital dating from the 15th century. Today it houses a permanent exhibition on the city’s history. When you are there, ask for advice for the best places to see in the city and book your visit to the Parliament building of Brittany.
2 Look for the half-timbered buildings in the old town
Almost 300 colourful buildings have survived the fire of 1720 in Rennes when most of the city was burnt down. The buildings were built in the city starting from late middle ages. They usually have a taller structure than the fully timbered ones. Some of the houses even have three or four floors. One more specific feature is that the higher floors are wider than the ground floor. Where to look for the half-timbered architecture gems? One of the areas is the streets around Place Ste-Anne lined with higgledy-piggledy half-timbered houses.Do not miss the Ti Coz, the bright red house at 3 Rue Saint-Guillaume. It’s the oldest house in Rennes. Built in the early 16th century (in 1505, according to the date inscribed on the façade), its name means ‘Old House’ in Breton. Notice the sculpted figures depicting martyr Saint Sebastian. They were meant to keep plague epidemics away.One more area with many half-timbered buildings is Rue du Chapitre. Note the house at the corner of Rue de la Psalette and 22 Rue du Chapitre. This ancient parliamentarian’s house was built in the 16th century, with another floor added in the 18th century. You’ll notice some beautiful Renaissance decorative motifs here.At the other end of the street, you’ll be able to stay the night in a gorgeous half-timbered house-turned into a B&B: Chez Marnie et Mister H.Walk the Rue du Champ-Jacquet leading to the little triangular plaza with the same name. Tall timber-framed houses of the 17th century stand on the north side. At the foot of this historic ensemble, notice a bronze statue of the mythical mayor of Rennes Jean Leperdit who saved prisoners sentenced to death during the Reign of Terror in the late 18th century.
3 Admire the building of Rennes City Hall
The Baroque style Rennes City Hall was built after the 1720 Great Fire of Rennes, by outstanding architect Jacques Gabriel. It consists of two buildings joined by the clock tower. One of the buildings houses Pantheon devoted to people killed in the First World War. Right under the clock is an empty niche, where once was a statue of Louis XV that was later destroyed.
4 Visit the Brittany Parliament building
The parliament building, designed by the architect of the Palace of Luxembourg in Paris, was constructed in the first half of 17th century to house the Breton Parliament when the region was united with France. These days the palace houses the Court of Appeal.The interiors of the building are accessible only with guided tours. You can admire its grand French ceilings, the sculpted golden woodwork, and allegorical paintings, and exceptionally decorated rooms like the Grand’ Chamber.Tours in English are available in July and August, allowing visitors to see the wonderful restoration work carried out after a major fire in 1994. Tours in French are available all year round. In any case, they must be booked at the Tourist Information Centre.
5 Visit the remains of the medieval city gate
Mordelles Gate (Portes mordelaises), built in the middle of the 15th century, once served as the main entrance to the town. The way from the gates into the city leads to the Cathedral of St. Peter. The gate is also known as the “royal doorway”, because the Dukes of Brittany walked through the gate after having sworn to defend Brittany’s freedom, before entering St. Peter Cathedral.
6 Walk the street next to the River Vilaine
The Vilaine is a pretty river that crosses Rennes even though its name means “ugly” in French. It’s the 10th longest river in France. There was a belief once that the Vilaine river waters had a magical power to make every woman beautiful so ungraceful young women would come to bathe in the waters of the Vilaine for its beneficial effects.
7 Admire the beauty of Parc du Thabor
Parc du Thabor is situated on the highest hill in Rennes. It belonged to the Abbey Saint-Melaine until the French Revolution. After its opening to the public in the 18th century, initially, only men were allowed to visit. The park features a waterfall, an orangery and an aviary with beautiful sorts of pigeons.Where do you think to go in France next? Think Nantes!
What did you think? Have you been to Rennes? Or perhaps you’re thinking of visiting there in the near future? Either way, I’d love to hear from you so please add your comments below.
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Author: Anita Sāne