Roman Civitas Redonum
Our first weekend trip to France so far in 2016. Still, one of the largest countries in Europe with the most places to see and cities to visit which we still missing greatly, specially central France. While we’ve been to the entire Mediterranean coast, southeast and northwest, getting to find a good flight to any other destination is what is pushing us back from coming more often to France. Either there are no daily flights, or no flights returning Sundays; flight times not working at all in order to be able to manage a nice weekend, or sky high air fares. Thankfully, slowly, there are more airlines seeking the potential of such destinations as is the case of Rennes.
Surprisingly this time, with FlyBe from Southend Airport was really a bargain (although let’s better say not so bargain when considering how expensive was the train from central London to the airport, and the time it all took having to change trains). Anyway, well worth it.
The main aim for this weekend trip was getting to Mont Saint-Michel which we did the day before. And while other airports “nearby” are either much farther than Rennes, or with poor flight connections as is the case of Dinard airport, all makes up the reason why we could not come here before, but with Rennes it worked perfectly! You kill two birds in a shot, or three if you have time (if including Saint Malo in your plan). A very beautiful and historical medium-size city, worth an entire day, and at barely 1 hours by bus/car, the Mont Saint-Michel.
While there is not much more to be said in this brief introduction, there is something however, worth mentioning about the cuisine of Rennes, and this is galette. Not the healthiest at all, but very delicious that you cannot resist. This is a wrap in a cold type of crepe called galette de sarrasin or Breton galette, hence the name, that can be with eggs, ham and cheese, or sausage. You will find this everywhere, and in every restaurant. The people loves eating them anytime. And while they are more or less OK in price, it is not the same case with the cost of food overall in a restaurant. We though it was nonsensically overpriced, and finding a place with more down to earth prices was quite a challenge! Have this in mind so it does not catch you by surprise.
For more information about Rennes check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. The currency in France is the Euro. Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Rennes
- South of the river While towards the train and bus station there is nothing interesting worth to visit, the more near the Vilaine River the more historical buildings that are. 3 streets south of the river and all parallel to it are filled with mansions and elegant buildings.
-La Criee Museum of Modern Art in beautiful building, north of the market.
-Toussaints Church Built in 1651 is one of the oldest constructions in the city, designed to serve as chapel of Lycée Zola College which lies behind.
-Beaux Arts Museum Next to Toussaints Church.
-National Theatre of Bretagne Built in 1968 by the architects Jacques Carlu, Michel Joly and Patrick Coue, nowadays completely refurbished. Located a street behind the Toussaints Church.
-Place de la Republique One of the landmarks in Rennes. The square itself is right on top of the river as it has been covered up in this section to create the square.
-Palace of Commerce This beautiful and impressive building was built from 1885 to 1929 housing various institutions, a library, post office, school of Fine Arts.
-Place de Bretagne At the west of this quarter of the city, nice square at the corner intersection of the Canal d’Ille-et-Rance and the Vilaine River.
- Northwest of the Vilaine River/Old Town Across the river to the west you can find the remains of the medieval fortifications that once delimited the boundaries of the old town which is located in this area.
-Rue du Chapitre and Rue Saint-Sauveur The main streets in the old town where some of the oldest houses in the city to be found.
-Tour Duchesne and Portes Mordelaises The last surviving gates from the medieval fortifications.
-Cathedral Saint-Pierre de Rennes Major sight in the city. Of neoclassical look, it has been built over the pass of the centuries due to previous destruction and many modifications needed, having it finally completed in 1845.
-Saint-Yves Chapel At the corner of Rue Saint-Yves and Rue Le-Bouteiller, built in 1494 on the site of the previous hospice dedicated to the Virgin from 1358.
-Hotel de Blossac Built in 1728, after the 1720 fire that destroyed much of the city of Rennes, once belonging to the La Bourdonnaye family, earls of Blossac. Many buildings complete the complex, unique in the city for its classical style.
-Basilica Saint-Sauveur Also known as Our Lady of Miracles and Virtues was completed in 1768 in classical style and it is among the most important cult places.
-Railler-du-Baty Just north of Basilica Saint-Sauveur in the street of the same name, Railler-du-Baty, you can find some of the most famous old houses with their distinctive wooden beans and level of inclination one over the other.
- East of the Old Town This area of the city is where you can find the most elegant squares and buildings, majority of them in imposing palaces.
-Place de la Mairie The very heart square in Rennes.
-City Hall Occupying an entire square side was built in 1743 by Jacques V Gabriel after the 1720 great fire of Rennes.
-Opera At the opposite side of the City Hall, inaugurated in 1836 it is the smallest opera house in France at only 642 seats.
-Place du Parliament The most elegant square in the city by all means, with the impressive facade of the Parliament occupying the entire north side.
-Parliament de Bretagne Was the court of justice under the Ancien Régime in France, now houses the Rennes Court of Appeal.
-Saint-Germain Square Small square recently refurbished, with nice buildings all around. Southeast from the Opera 2 blocks away.
-Saint-Germain Church Built between the 15th and 17th centuries in Gothic style, features the oldest stained glass in Rennes.
-Saint George’s Palace A block east of Sain-Germain Square, in origin a Benedictine abbey built in 1670 until 1792 when the French Revolution took it and seized, using it as temporary barracks serving the revolution.
-Saint George’s Swimming Pool Just north from the Palace, the largest and most impressive art-deco structure in the city, built in 1926.
- North of the city Just around the old town area, from west to east you will find:
-Place Saint-Anne The largest in this quarter of the city.
-Saint Aubin Church Built in 1847 on an old cemetery in a combination of Gothic, Roman and Byzantine architectural styles.
-Jacobite Convent Next to Saint Aubin, no longer in use as such and being transformed into a convention centre.
-Notre-Dame-en-Saint-Melaine Basilica Served as cathedral during the first half of the 19th century when the current Cathedral was being restored with its main nave rebuilt. Located to the east.
-Thabor Park East of Notre-Dame this botanical gardens are a sight in itself for the beautiful landscaped gardens and pavilions, and nice orangerie.
Rennes International airport is 7 kilometres to the southwest of the city and while it serves mostly national routes, there is a good bunch of international destinations across Europe, although no low cost carriers currently operate at this airport. From the airport to the train station in the city centre take the bus No 57 which leaves in coincidence with the flight arrivals.
At 1 hour from Rennes is Dinard airport where you have some low cost carrier routes with Ryanair. Between Dinard and Rennes there are frequent buses, so this could be a good option instead of flying to Rennes since Dinard also offers different routes.
From within France, cities such as Paris, Lille or Nantes are frequently connected by fast trains to Rennes, and so are the many buses through the country linking with the main cities.
Within the city it is easy to move around all on foot. The sights are near each other and the centre is pretty compact. However, there is a metro line crossing through the main areas and interconnecting with the train station. Other than the metro line, buses cover the entire city and its neighboring areas.
The choice of hotels in Rennes, while not too big, is large enough to have a good variety among luxurious and more modest places. Also it was very simple and straightforward to find a good deal especially because it was still low season when we came, even though it was almost April, just a week before Easter. As always, a good point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred hotel search engine websites such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We stayed at the Ibis Rennes Centre Gare Sud. Modest 3* hotel, greatly located next door to the train station and a short walk to the old town and majority of the sights. Great staff care and attention, friendly at all moments; nice fresh room, well cared, with comfortable bed and very quiet at night. Perfect for a night as it was all we needed.