2 reviews from the community
Review of "Pontivy, France"
On our holiday to Brittany in August, we stayed in a tiny little village called Quelven, just outside Guern. Quelven itself is a miniscule settlement, probably around 30 houses, though still managing to boast a large church and two bars, and Guern is not much bigger - it has a boulangerie and a bar/tabac, as well as a post office, but if you need to stock up your fridge and freezer, Pontivy was the place to go. However, this little French town has more to offer than just supermarkets!
Location and TransportPontivy is located in the Morbihan department of Brittany, and by far the easiest way to get here is by car, for which there is ample parking provided, with a large square carpark right in the town centre, and free parking along many of the side streets. As with everywhere else I visited in France, public transport appeared rather limited - the train station is permanently closed, however there are buses that go from the central square to larger towns such as Carnac and Auray that do have stations.
A little history
Legend has it that this quaint little town was founded in the seventh century by an English monk named Ivy, and the town takes it's name from the bridge - or Pon t- over the Blavet, which is named after him.From 1396, Pontivy was the home of the Rohan family- a very influential family in the Morbihan department today, and still the reigning Dukes of Brittany. The influence of this family can be seen all over the area - in the town itself with the gorgeous Chateau du Rohan (built in 1485), to huge churches built by them and the magnificent chateau Josselin.
Napoleon also thought it would make an excellent strategic base, being roughly equidistant between the two coastlines, and built a courthouse other administrative buildings that can still be seen today. At various times in history the town was named Napoleonville.This results in a very interesting town divided into two distinct styles, the older medieval centre around the chateau, and the Napoleonic centre, with buildings built in the 'Empire' style.
The first attraction for me was actually the tourist information office itself, which rather than just being in a building, was actually on a small barge. Despite many of the leaflets being in French, and my very limited English, the lady working in there when I visited was very helpful in advising me of a few places to see in the local area, as well as some attractions in the wider Morbihan area that I should visit. She also informed me that the Chateau du Rohan itself was currently closed for repairs after some storm damage, but that I could still walk around the outside perimeter, as well as advising me on which restaurants served straight through the day (many restaurants in France have a set Lunch and Dinner service, and close for the hours in between).It being a fine day, we took her up on her recommendation to take a walk round the outside of Chateau du Rohan, which despite one side being shored up and fenced in, was still very impressive. One of the last true fortresses in Brittany, but also built as a family home, it was a blend of functionality and beauty. A deep moat (now dry) shows how well defended it must have been back in the day, and where the wall partially collapsed into the moat due to the storms you can see how thick the actual stone walls of the chateau are, a good couple of feet! It's a real shame we couldn't go inside on our holiday, but the outside was still impressive, with the gatehouse very imposing with its large round towers on either side.
Just across the road from the Chateau is the start of the shops, and whilst there is everything you would expect from a small French town, such as boulangeries, creperies, and bars, there are also a few shows that you'd expect to see in larger cities and shopping centres - seeing a superdry here surprised me! I particularly liked the fresh french bread from Maison Robo boulangerie, who also do a tasty looking range of lunchtime baguettes, although we elected to have a sit down lunch elsewhere. Also present in Pontivy is a kind of shop I've never seen in England, but which seems common in France, a tinned fish shop! It's a bizarre concept for me, but this colourful, bright and attractive shop had all kinds of tinned mackerel, salmon, and tuna on display, all in gorgeous decorative tins, some in stacks tied with ribbon. Perhaps fish is a popular gift in France? I have no idea, but I did buy some tuna with olives, and one with tomato and basil, and both proved very tasty once I opened them back in England.
Ignoring the many creperies, having already had a crepe breakfast back in our village, we elected for a sit down lunch at Bar le Rivoli, which before a mention the food deserves a round of applause for having toilets that were clean, well stocked with both soap and toilet paper, and had space to actually move about, a rarity during my time in france. All dark wood, leather and glass inside with a distinctly 1930s vibe, it was nevertheless light and airy, and we were soon ensconced in a comfortable booth. The menu consisted of sandwiches, crepes, things on toast, pizzas, as well as steaks and moules, so there was a good selection to choose from. My daughter had a chocolate crepe (pretty much her staple diet for the whole two weeks) whereas I had toast with garlic mushrooms, spinach, cream, and bacon, and my partner and father in law had a Croque Monsieur and a Croque Madame. Everything was very tasty and hot, and served with a decent helping of side salad.Having filled our stomachs, we then went to the supermarket to top up, choosing the E.Leclerc supermarket. I have to say, supermarkets in France are almost a tourist destination in themselves - the fish counter was truly impressive, as was the cheese section, but having heard good things about cheap french wine, the booze aisle was where I headed first. I actually found a very drinkable french rose for just 1 euro 98c, and that was pretty much what I stuck to for the whole two weeks! It is worth being prepared though for the fact that many things in French supermarkets are more expensive than in the UK - especially noticeable for me on things like toilet rolls, shampoos, and vegetables. That said, some things are cheaper - you can get a wheel of a cheese called Frere Jaques, very similar to Port Salut, for two euros.
On the way home, we stopped at Centre Equestrian Pontivy, where for 9 euros we were able to hire a pony called Elvis for half an hour, and walk with my daughter riding him around the wooded grounds. This was one of the more unique and memorable experiences of our holiday for me, as we weren't guided by a person, but a small jack russell terrier, who would run ahead, then look back to see if we were following. Elvis (the pony) was well behaved and calm, stopping occasionally to much on a bit of leaf and very receptive to a bit of a stroke and a pat. It was a very pleasant walk around the woods, and we were able to see lots of other ponies on our walks, as well as pick some wild mushrooms (any chemist in france will identify wild mushrooms for you and tell you which are edible and which are not) and see lots of caterpillars. When we got back to the start of the walk, the dog (whose name I forget) then insisted on us playing pine cone fetch with him for a good 15 minutes before allowing us to leave. We did come back to the pony centre a few days later hoping for another ride, not realising it was closed, and even though the centre was shut the dog was roaming outside and lured us into pine cone fetch again!
Pontivy is a fantastic little town, though it won't take more than a day to really explore. I loved looking at all the different architecture, and think had the chateau been open it would have been a very enjoyable visit indeed. Even without that, it is still a lovely little French town, and one I would love to visit again if I return to Brittany. I like that the town itself is small enough to easily cover on foot, and I enjoyed the variety of shops and cafes I saw. Definitely somewhere worth stopping by if you're in the area, especially the horse riding centre.Sadly, I don't have any photos of the town centre itself as I appear to have deleted them from my phone without backing them on on my PC.
Product Information : Pontivy, France
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Listed on Ciao since: 16/06/2004