Brittany’s oldest city
www.quimper-tourisme.com. At the confluence (kem-per) of the rivers Odet and Steir, Quimper is the oldest Breton city, founded by Gradlon, King of Cornouaille in the 6thC. So the legend goes, Gradlon once lived in the beautiful city of Ys in the Baie de Douarnenez. (It is said that the name Paris is derived from Par-Ys, ‘like Ys’.) The city was protected from the sea by a dyke to which the king had the only key, made of gold. His daughter Dahut stole the key for her lover, the Devil, who promptly opened the floodgates and Ys was drowned. As Gradlon fled for dry land on his trusty steed, his daughter in tow, a heavenly voice commanded him to cast the devilish Dahut into the sea, which he did. She became a siren, while he went on to found Quimper, well inland you may note.
The heart of town radiates from the Gothic Cathédrale de Saint-Corentin, topped by two steeples. Despite being added in the 19thC, the steeples have blended in remarkably well; between them a diminutive Gradlon advances on the city sans Dahut. The interior, huge and high, has some fine 15thC glass in the nave, and the choir leads off at an angle, necessitated when the architect discovered an obstacle in his path. Housed in the former episcopal palace next door, the Musée Departemental Breton (open daily Jun-Sep; closed Mon Oct-May) is looking very smart – all glass, granite and bleached wood. Cleverly laid-out with caches of spearheads and Roman sesterces (coins), spot-lit medieval carvings, furniture and Breton costumes are effectively displayed alongside contemporary paintings, sculpture and even advertising posters extolling the delights of rural Brittany circa 1900.
The Musée des Beaux-Arts, 4 place Saint-Corentin (www.mbaq.fr), features a notable collection of drawings, plus Pont-Aven School and Breton scenes from the lines of Corot, Serusier and Max Jacob.
The cobbled streets of Vieux Quimper, to the west of the cathedral, are lined with shops, cafés and crêperies. Quimper pottery (faïence) is everywhere – you can learn its history at the Musée de la Faïence (www.musee-faience-quimper.com and visit the workshops of H.B. Henriot (www.henriot-quimper.com) in the Locmaria district nearby.
From Quimper, there are daily boat trips down the Odet to the beach resort of Bénodet at the mouth of the river – ask for a timetable at the Office du Tourisme.
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