Cycling in Brittany: The Saturday Market in Rennes

Rennes is one of my favorite towns in Brittany and there’s no better time to be there than on market day!  Even though Rennes gets very little mention in American guidebooks, it’s a perfect town to visit by bike:  it’s a manageable size, it’s packed with history, it has affordable places to stay, has great food, and last but not least, has one of the largest markets in France, with over 300 producers from across Brittany.  A morning at the Rennes market is a real festival for the senses, and an opportunity to observe and participate in one of my favorite French customs.

Bikes complete with market baskets

Bikes complete with market baskets

Despite the many ways that French life has changed in the last decade, one thing that seems to never change is the weekly market. This celebration of community never disappoints and is the perfect way for a tourist to experience life as a local.  Just like in every French town, big or small, les Marche des Lices in Rennes is the social event of the week, a place to greet and visit with friends, share a cup of coffee and enjoy lunch afterwards.

This Saturday market was particularly busy as it was the last big weekend of the summer for the French, and the first weekend that 60,000 university students were getting ready to go back to school.  Even though I thought I got an early start, the streets around the Place des Lices were already packed!

Even though the sky was gray, the brilliant flowers that anchor one end of the market lit up the early morning!  With half-timbered houses as a backdrop, the market scene on the streets was like something out of a movie set. The fruits and vegetable vendors offered the best of the end of summer and early fall harvests.  We saw bins filled with carrots that we saw being harvested several days of our bike trip and stands full of the local Cherrueix garlic or ail that we smelled the last several days along our route.

I especially love the big purple garlic which is a specialty of the area.  It’s one of my favorite gifts to bring home, very light, very inexpensive and an incredible delight to eat.  When baked, it turns incredibly soft and creamy and is delicious on crackers and bread.  It’s always a popular gift!

My favorite sweet purple garlic

My favorite sweet purple garlic

I even found several vendors with the last mirabelles of the season, which I promptly purchased for my picnic on the train.

My favorite, mirabelles

My favorite, mirabelles

Two of the most popular items of the day were the huge beefsteak tomatoes and the artichokes, which almost everyone we saw had in their baskets.

Tomatoes almost too gorgeous to eat!

Tomatoes almost too gorgeous to eat!

Very popular artichokes

Very popular artichokes

The Rennes market is a combination of outdoor and covered markets, so we made our way to the indoor market which houses most of the cheese and meat vendors and charcuterie.  On our way, we saw what we could only imagine was a local mascot, perhaps of the market.

I made up a lot of stories about who this might be!

I made up a lot of stories about who this might be!

Although Brittany is not as well known for cheeses as other parts of France, you would never know it by looking at the number of cheese vendors at the Rennes market!  How can a person possibly make a choice from the hundreds of choices?! There are of course the basics:  do you want cow or goat cheese, and do you want a hard or soft cheese, but other than that, it is really challenging to narrow down choices, particularly based on all the incredible options.

So many cheese options to choose from!

So many cheese options to choose from!

We choose Cabecous, a favorite

We choose Cabecous, a favorite

And a local Camembert

And a local Camembert

We always seem to make great choices, but in France for every great cheese you choose, there are hundreds that you don’t.  How will I ever know if I have really found my favorite?

We decide to purchase some chicken to go with our train picnic, so we walk through the meat and charcuterie section to get to the food vendors.  I wish that I was renting a flat here for a week so that I could cook some of the incredible meats and poultry offerings at the market!  My husband picks up the picnic chicken and I go in search of a small Kouign Amann for dessert.

The smell of the rotisserie chickens is intoxicating!

The smell of the rotisserie chickens is intoxicating!

Kouign Amann, my favorite sweet treat of this trip!

Kouign Amann, my favorite sweet treat of this trip!

As it gets closer to lunch time, the market gets progressively more crowded.  Lines get longer at some of the more popular food vendors, especially the two selling Galette Saucisse, a local specialty I wasn’t familiar with. After the last week in Northern France, I can tell you without a doubt that it is one of the most popular lunch items in the region, a sausage wrapped in a galette!

Galette Saucisse, heaven in a galette!

Galette Saucisse, heaven in a galette!

Our time is running out and we have one more stop that we want to make at the market.  We want one last oyster fix before we leave France!  Cancale’s flat oysters are incredible and we have one last opportunity to taste them, so we make our way through the amazing maze of seafood vendors.  If you love seafood, Brittany is definitely the place to visit in France. Here are just a few of the sights that we take in as we walk through the market.

Bouchot moules were definitely my favorite of the trip

Bouchot moules were definitely my favorite of the trip

Grilled sardines with olive oil were a close second

Grilled sardines with olive oil were a close second

Lobster and langoustines

Lobster and langoustines

Our pre-lunch snack: Cancale oysters

Our pre-lunch snack: Cancale oysters

Armed with our picnic snack and our oysters, we started heading back through the market to our hotel.  Like us, most of the crowd had also finished their shopping and were settling in for a glass of wine or lunch with friends.  There was entertainment on almost every street, enticing shoppers to stay at the market just a bit longer.  This is definitely a weekend custom I would love to enjoy every week.  Here are some of my last memories of the Saturday market in Rennes:

 

Very entertaining singer with an old fashioned hand crank music box

Very entertaining singer with an old fashioned hand crank music box

A local band entertaining the crowd

A local band entertaining the crowd

The gorgeous buildings on the streets around the market

The gorgeous buildings on the streets around the market

A reminder that it is time for glace!

A reminder that it is time for use glace!

The narrow alleyways of the old town

The narrow alleyways of the old town

My time in Rennes ended much too quickly!  My stay with Fabrice at Symphonie des Sens was as just as great as the first time I stayed there!  This town oozes with personality and hospitality and will always be one of my favorites.  While I was very sad to leave, my memories of the morning at the market lived on, as my husband and I enjoyed our excellent picnic lunch on the train.  We were definitely the envy of everyone on the train as we enjoyed all of the treats from the Rennes market!  This picnic on the train was just the best!

Poulet, yogurt and cheese from the market

Poulet, yogurt, wine and cheese from the market

And Kouign Amann for dessert

And Kouign Amann for dessert

What an incredible day and experience in Rennes, and the perfect way to end a great bicycling adventure in Northern France!

Posted by Maggie LaCoste

I love the adventure and unpredictability of experiencing France by bike. Cycling in France is the ultimate slow travel adventure, an opportunity to see it through the back door in a way few tourists experience. One week on a bike in France and life takes on a different meaning! I created Experience France By Bike to inspire recreational cyclists to visit France the slow way....by bike, and to be the best source of information for planning the perfect bicycling adventure. I encourage readers to embrace the uncertainty of the road ahead and to take the path less traveled, exploring roads, towns and villages that you would never experience traveling by car.