Last summer we visited the picturesque Finistère region of Brittany, northern France. The closest town to our base at Siblu’s Domaine de Kerlann was Pont-Aven, a small commune renowned for its artistic heritage.
Pont-Aven attracted many artists, including Paul Gauguin. In the late 19th Century he was joined in the town by Émile Bernard, Charles Laval, Émile Schuffenecker, Paul Sérusier and others, forming the ‘Pont-Aven’ school of bold, Symbolist art.
Strolling around the town, it’s easy to see why the harbour town was such a source of artistic inspiration. The river Aven flows through the centre, flanked by flower-strewn gardens, and criss-crossed with simple, elegant wooden bridges.
Despite the picture-book prettiness of the place, Pont-Aven is very much alive. The famous Dindons, the large rocks set in the Aven riverbed which were painted by Gauguin and countless other artists over the years, rang with the shrieks of children as they hopped from rock to rock. I had to wait a long time until it was quiet enough for me to take this shot:
Pont-Aven’s heritage is celebrated in the new museum, Musée de Pont-Aven, based in what used to be the Hotel Julia. In this building, hostess Julia Guillon gave discounted or even free accommodation to artists, academics and writers like Anthony Trollope. Now the former literary and artistic hub is a place where visitors can see collections of Breton-inspired works by Gauguin and others. When I visited, there was an exhibition showing artworks by three generations of the prolific Rouart family.
Pont-Aven’s main streets are buzzing with locals and tourists. Art enthusiasts can pop in to one of the many ateliers and studios selling sculptures and paintings.
Like most other towns in Brittany, Pont-Aven has a fine variety of food on offer. Visitors can choose from traditional French cuisine, crèpes, pizza, steak-frites and fresh seafood. Restaurants range from the mega child-friendly, where every dish seems to be a variant on the pizza or crèpe theme, to purist establishments for serious foodies (“no chips!!” screamed the sign outside one seafood restaurant). Most places offered al fresco dining, some along the riverbank, or nestled one of the town’s many former water mills.
Away from its busy centre, Pont-Aven is surrounded by lush fields, and the beech woods of the Bois d’Amour are close by. It’s the sort of town that is typically French, but which has a mellow vibe all of its own. We fell in love with the town on our visit, and plan to go back soon.
Have you been to Pont-Aven?
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