Savored for centuries, crepes are celebrating a revival today, with creperies opening throughout France, America, and elsewhere in the world. But the origin of this thin, delectable pancake lies strictly in Bretagne – or Brittany – the northwest region of France.
Noted for its own Breton language and Paul Gauguin connection, this area has mostly shunned modernity, clinging to a simpler way of life. Even their crepes are more rustic – made with buckwheat flour instead of white flour. In poorer days, the Breton people rarely had fillings, and used crepes in place of bread.
A Tasty Bit of History
In France, crepes are traditionally offered on Shrove Tuesday to celebrate renewal, family life and hope for good fortune ahead. It is customary to touch the handle of the frying pan and make a wish while the crepe is turned, holding a coin in the hand. In earlier times, farmers offered crepes to their landowners as a symbol of allegiance.
All of France and Brittany you’ll find creperies serving both sweet and savory versions. Savory are made with the traditional buckwheat flour and are called galettes. What’s inside? Anything goes: fresh vegetables, seafood, poultry or meat. Or a combination of rich cheeses – think brie, camembert, bleu.
Most in America associate crepes with dessert. The most popular filling being Nutella, the hazelnut-chocolate confection that’s not even French. And while it’s most certainly a delectable treat, there are other delicious combinations. Grand Marnier liquor warmed with juicy oranges. Caramel and sea salt. Even simple lemon butter and sugar – all wrapped up in a thin, divine pancake.
Ready to Eat? Let’s Go to Brittany.
Just two and a half hours from Paris on the high-speed TGV is Rennes, the capital of Brittany.
The summer is a perfect time to visit. Every July, this lively town turns into a giant stage for “Les Tombées de la Nuit.” Randomly hear poetry on a street corner or a song in a garden.
And speaking of gardens, the city and its inhabitants are, one would say, obsessed with them. We’re not talking about ordinary pruning. The city’s best is the compact Parc du Thabor. Free for all and open daily, the garden was established in 1868 and consists of circular walkways around 11 beds growing over 3,000 types of flora. It’s a classic French formal garden, a style that places an emphasis on symmetry and order.
Rennes is the perfect point to start your other adventures in Brittany, from the art-inspring interior to the rugged coastline.
Paul Gauguin, lover of, well, many things, said, “I love Brittany. There is something wild and primitive about it.” He found himself in Pont-Aven, which is under two hours from Rennes by train. Simply take the TGV to Quimperle, and hop in a cab for a 15 minute ride to this staunchly Breton artists’ colony. Hanging in the Trémalo Chapel is one of his most famous works, “The Yellow Christ.”
Even if not an art lover, Pont-Aven is worth the trip. The requisite cobblestoned streets, granite houses and charming cafes overlooking the River Aven make for a journey back into 19th century post-impressionist France.
Arsenal and Old Lace
Along the coast lies Brest. Less than 2.5 hours away, the town is long on maritime history. Way out on the west end of Brittany, it’s famous for its massive drawbridge – the Pont de Recouvrance as well as its military arsenal.
Wherever the train takes you in Bretagne, you’d be remiss to leave without purchasing something lacey. An integral part of Breton national dress, especially when worn on the head, there are schools here dedicated to the craft of lacemaking attended by people from around the world.
One could say Brittany is the crepe of France. Delicate like lace, filled with goodness, deserving to be savored.