There are two things that can let you down on a picnic; one is rain and the other is forgetting the corkscrew.
Brittany’s Rance estuary affords endless opportunities for al fresco dining as around every bend in the road it seems, another stretch of water lends itself to a view worthy of idling an afternoon away with a glass of Bordeaux and a piece of brie.
We were staying at a gîte in Pleudihen-sur-Rance, the perfect base for exploring this tranquil idyll, and we wasted no time in planning day trips out. Having the car with us gave us the freedom to explore at our own pace and to stray off the beaten track whenever the fancy took us. The soft, sensual scenery of Brittany constantly delighted us and the weather was gloriously kind, only once pouring forth with a deluge that threatened to turn a look at Mont St Michel into diving for the lost city of Atlantis, but the highlight of every day was, without doubt, le picnic.
The art of the picnic begins with the excitement of food shopping. Cheeses, pâtés and cold meats are the mainstay of the hamper and Brittany provides insatiable opportunities to sample and buy. Happy mornings were spent browsing stalls at markets in Dinan and Dinard, cooing and salivating over slithers of cheese and cold meats proffered as tasters, freshly baked breads, plump strawberries and succulent tomatoes.
With baguettes poking out from shopping bags stuffed with fruit, salads, meats, pâté and cheeses it was time to introduce some liquid contents and head to the supermarché. Carrefour in Dinan, Cora in Saint Juaon des Guérets and Shopi in Miniac Morven were all excellent places to buy eminently quaffable wines at 4 euros and under, smuggling anything with a price tag over 3 euros into the basket while my father was distracted lest he break out in a cold sweat. Keen to ensure we also favoured smaller suppliers, we found a deli’ on the Plancöet road out of Dinan which provided a select and tasty range of French country wines; Vin de Pays Des Collines de la Moure and Vin de Pays Des Côtes de Prouilhe being two of our favourites.
Our route each day took us in different directions from our base around the estuary and beyond. We used Brittany tourist guides as the base for our research, choosing routes that would get us to the places we’d earmarked as ‘must sees’ on our itinerary. En route, if a road looked intriguing or a snatched glimpse of something through a hedgerow enticed us we would simply follow our noses.
After a morning’s sightseeing it would be time for our picnic and a suitable location would be found, usually by a stretch of water and always on one of the wooden tables and benches the French are so good at dotting around their beautiful landscape. A brightly coloured sarong served well as a tablecloth, lending a Mediterranean feel to our Brittany table. With the gentle sound of water in the background and the sun on our faces we spread out our feast: brie, camembert, chèvre and port salut; duck and liver pâtés; cooked hams, prosciutto, salami, cold roast turkey, smoked salmon and trout; mixed leaf salad, sweet tomatoes, crackers and the fresh baguettes cut into thick slices and spread thinly with butter. As we surveyed our culinary delight, the satisfying pop of cork leaving bottle signalled the vin rouge was ready and feasting could begin.
At Pont St Hubert in Plouër-sur-Rance we laid out our table on the small stretch of shore nestled under the suspension bridge and watched waders fishing in the shallows. At Plöermel we set our picnic by the lake side and once the appetites had been satisfied and the napkins folded back into the wicker hamper, we wondered onto the pontoon to watch the fish below, only to be bitten by a swarm of midgie flies that clearly had the same love of al fresco dining as ourselves. Another day we walked along the tow path to the eleventh écluse between Dinan and Chatelier and watched the narrow boats navigating the locks as first helpings turned into second and third in the warm sunshine.
We didn’t picnic every day, sometimes we lunched in restaurants or cafés and one day – quelle horreur! – the rain forced us to eat at home but the picnics were the best times. They always followed the same pattern; to begin with, noisy chatter as we filled our plates and posed for photographs to recall those warm lazy days in the winter months to come. Then, as the food diminished and the sun rose higher in the sky, conversation waned and the buzzing of insects and distant shouts of children at play became the background soundtrack to individual contemplation of all the fruits this enticing region has to offer.
For me, le picnic is an integral part of any French holiday. All you need is a hamper, a cool box, delicious food and wine, good friends and the sort of scenery only Brittany can provide. Oh, and don’t forget the corkscrew.
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine, you can read her latest content on Google+