Hiking Adventure from Tallinn to Lisbon!

Along the Nantes-Brest Canal

We had another two wonderful hiking weeks in Brittany, still away from the sea. There was no lack of water, however. We were following the Nantes-Brest Canal  (which from our perspective should be the Brest-Nantes canal, but we can’t change the toponymy just because we were walking in the opposite direction) and all along the way there were plenty of streams and rivers. Walking on the Way of St. James became more and more natural to us, especially since we met Mme Marie-Flor, who literally went out of her way to give us the pilgrim’s credentials and to receive us in her place, where we got a lot of useful advice.

On day 294, well rested after the extra day in Quimperlé, we were off to Pont-Scorff. When we went out of a forest and walked a bit on the road, we noticed a gentleman with a German shepherd working in a field to our left. We didn’t consider stopping, mainly because of the dog, but the friendly man called us and asked us to take a break there. It turned out he was taking care of a kiwi (!) plantation for a friend. Not only did we have a good chat with Michel, we also ate a lot of delicious kiwis and he even gave us some for the way. Our accommodation for the night was in a caravan park, where we rented a small mobile home, which was surprisingly comfortable. When we were just finishing the check-in, a vivacious lady entered: It was Marie-Flor, who came by to bring us our “crédencial”! We hadn’t agreed on a time, she just happened to arrive at the exact moment we were at the reception of the caravan park. She explained us how to fill the credentials and even gave a training for the receptionist of the park on how to register future pilgrims! We would meet her again a couple of days later, when we walked through her town.

With our new pilgrim passports, we went on, and after two days we had reached St. Anne d’Auray, where the huge cathedral made for a favourite stop of the pilgrims. We were already collecting stamps in our passports, but stayed in regular places, as most of the pilgrim hostels wouldn’t open until March or April.

From there, we followed to Vannes on day 297 of our hike. We had no idea about this medieval town before we arrived, but as soon as we walked through its narrow alleys lined with half-timbered houses and gothic buildings, we fell in love with it and decided to have a rest day there. Thus, day 298 was spent shopping (we discovered an incredible shop, selling artistic chocolate and miniature kouign amman), eating out, writing postcards, and – armed with a list of families and places who receive pilgrims on the way to Santiago – arranged overnight stays for the coming days. Marie-Flor’s invitation to stay at her place was still valid, even though she would have to pick us up at a neighbouring village.

We continued hiking through forests, on country roads and passing stone villages. On the day we would stay with Marie-Flor, we actually reached her town, Questemberg, by noon. We had enough time to admire the historic market hall, have lunch and wait for a rain shower to pass, before we went on to walk ten more kilometers on that day. As promised, Marie-Flor picked us up with her car and took us to her place, where we enjoyed a cosy room, a wonderful dinner with her and her son, and lots of stories from her various pilgrimages.

On the following day, number 301 of the trip, we stayed in our first public hostel for pilgrims, “gîte pélerin”, in Redon. We picked up the key in the tourist office, had our passports stamped, and then settled into our home for that night. The room was rather frugal, as expected, but we were the only ones staying there, so we could spread out as we pleased. The big surprise came when we opened the back door: We were in the beautiful cloister of a monastery, which we had to cross in order to get to the bathroom.

We left Redon, following the canal, which is a pleasant way to hike. Always flat, good walking paths and no doubt where to go. We were delighted by the “pompom trees” lining the canal – it was still too early for the leaves to grow, so the mistletoes attached to the trees looked like gigantic pompoms. In St. Gilda du Bois, we stayed in a room we found on AirBnB; Anne-Françoise, our landlady, had dozens of cats and dogs and some of them joined us in the living room for a delicious dinner.
From there, we walked until the town of Blain. Unfortunately, the pilgrim hostel wasn’t working yet, but we got to see it the next morning, when took a small detour to visit the castle. The Château de la Groulais wasn’t really open for the public, but just as we were about to leave, we heard music and decided to follow the sound. Inside one of the towers, a group of bagpipers was rehearsing! After this unexpected concert, we returned to the canal for more hiking.
One day later, number 305, we were staying at the home of a wonderful couple, Anne and Gaby, who receive pilgrims and offer not only a bed and a warm shower, but also coffee and cake, dinner, breakfast and great conversations. When we left the next morning and wanted to give our contribution for the stay, they replied that they had enjoyed our company so much, they didn’t want any money. Well, the feeling was mutual and we left very inspired and motivated.

It was day 306 of the trip and another highlight was awaiting us. Besides arriving in Nantes, one of the major cities in the French part of our hike, we would also stay at a friend’s place, which is always a wonderful feeling. Jérôme, a former colleague of Moiken, together with his wife Isabelle and their children, made us really feel at home at their place. We arrived there around noon, dropped our backpacks, and had lunch with Jérôme. Our idea was to continue hiking until the late afternoon, but when we were at the Island of Nantes, it started raining heavily and we were not equipped for that. Fortunately, we had stopped at the Machines de l’île, so we had a lot to see before we returned to our friends’ place.
The following day was unlike any other day. Moiken received sad news from Berlin, her stepfather had passed away. We immediately organized a visit to be with Moiken’s family for some days. Somehow, even within those unfortunate circumstances, we felt lucky. We could leave our things at Jérôme’s place and travel easily from this big town to Berlin and back.
Here are some impressions of the beautiful city of Nantes:

We took an early morning flight back to France on day 313 of our trip, and arrived in Nantes in the middle of the day. After leaving our baggage in the train station, we continued the walk from there until Vertou, adding around eight kilometers to our hike.
The next day, we could hike with our light daypacks again, as our friends had invited us to stay another night. This was our last day in Britanny – although that’s disputed, as Nantes and surroundings officially belong to the region of Loire-Atlantique. We enjoyed homemade far breton on the way, prepared especially for us by Isabelle, and passed by the first vineyards. Of course we had to try the product as soon as we finished hiking that day in Clisson. A last night was spent in Nantes, before we would cross the border to the next region, Vendée.

 

Oh, and something else: Finally, spring had arrived and we could see flowers and buds all around us!

 

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