Sunshine and fresh ocean air welcomed us to Vannes. I slipped on a jacket to ward off the upper 50’s temperature, knowing that by noon it would be at least ten degrees warmer. As long as I stayed on the sunny side of the street and protected from the stiff breeze, I was comfortable. Dennis tolerates the cold better than I and remained in short sleeves.
We first walked to the marina. The waters were calm and we saw a school of large carp. The Gulf of Morbihan is a virtual inland sea leading to the Atlantic ocean. There are 365 islands in the gulf; we could visit one each day for a year. We tried to book a boat excursion, but being a holiday weekend, there were no convenient openings.
Vannes is a fortified city with 2000 years of history. We tried to discover this history as we walked around the marina and under the ramparts of the medieval walled town, which we entered through the Gate of St. Vincent Ferrier. Built in the beginning of the 17th century, it is the most central of Vannes’s town gates and named after the town’s patron saint.
The cathedral St. Pierre was build in the 12th century over the ruins of the previous church. As a result of renovations throughout the centuries, the building displays many architectural styles: a Romanesque belfry, a neo-Gothic facade, a Renaissance chapel where lie the remains of the patron saint. Today, the left belfry is under repair, hidden by scaffolding.
The interior is dark and somber, not very inviting. What surprised me were the two-foot diameter wooden columns that supported the vaulted ceilings. I had expected marble. There were no pews. Instead, wooden chairs with caned seats were linked together by wooden board.
In the city, people are everywhere, giving us a lot to look at. Some women are dressed to the hilt in coordinating skirts, tops, jackets, and scarves, and walking expertly on the cobbled-stoned streets in high heels. Others sport more casual fare and bright-colored sneakers. Tourists with cameras are everywhere. Old people hobble on canes. Dogs on leashes follow their owners or sit quietly in a café; a trio of them sleep on a corner undisturbed by people walking around them. There is a bowl of water for the dogs and one for donations. I wonder if they do better than the beggars and buskers.
Today the ancient town is a mixture of old and new. Place des Lices was originally a venue for tournaments but is now the open-air market square on Saturday and Wednesdays. Since today is Saturday, the plaza is filled with vendors hocking clothing, leather, jewelry, vegetables, breads, meats, sausages, books, large wheels of cheese, soap, and more. The scene is about three times the size of the Sarasota Farmer’s market.
Dennis and I were amazed by the variety of tempting fruits and vegetables (especially the indecent looking white asparagus) and prices were very reasonable. Both of us agreed that we would like to live in this town and shop for groceries here.
We also visited the oldest house in the city on 13 Rue St. Salomon, decorated with wooden lion statues. These Middle Age houses are colorful and constructed of a variety of building materials.
Outside of the Gallo-Roman wall are the meticulously kept Garrens Gardens, a lovely place to stroll.
Following our tour of the city, we met up with our Camino friends Daniel and Marie-Noel. After champagne and hors d’oeuvres, we went to Conleau, the town’s beach, for dinner. It was wonderful chatting with them and getting reacquainted. Hopefully, they will visit us in Sarasota in two years.