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For a surprising weekend away, head to Rennes. Brittany's capital is the perfect place to go for a night in a quirky hotel, a shopping spree full of surprises, discovering the hidden side of a large city or enjoying a glass of absinthe in an underground bar.
The Magic Hall is a spectacular and inexpensive hotel (rooms start at 60 euros per night). A surprising place with a funny story behind it. Initially used as military barracks and referred to as "the soldier's rest", it was turned into an arty cinema in the 70's. In the 80's, a famous advertising agency took over from the cinema. It is now a 3-star hotel with an amazing concept. The Magic Hall, as its name suggests, decorated its rooms in key with the performing arts: music, dance, theatre, cinema, etc. The King Kong room has a jungle theme, and you can watch a movie on the XXL screen with an overhead projector.
A number of other surprises await visitors, such as local artist exhibitions, a jellyfish aquarium and sound scenography with binaural sounds emitted as soon as you enter the lounge or when you choose a specific book from the vast library. The show stopper is really the music rehearsal studio right next to the lounge. Interior decor and sound are two of Guillaume Gourmy's passions, hence his original designs in this unique hotel. You can add to your stay by asking for a percussions lesson in the studio. Other options such as a hairdressing session on a barge or Yoga lessons are also available during your stay. The Magic Hall has 19 luxurious rooms, located in a quiet area of Rennes, just a few steps away from Place Sainte-Anne.
MAGIC HALL HOTEL, 17 RUE DE LA QUINTAINE.
Are you a pollo-vegetarian? Do you enjoy chatting to strangers during your meal and pouring your own beer? Then the Coucou Rennais is the perfect place for you. A great restaurant with delicious organic products and free range chicken (as well as vegetarian and vegan options, rest assured). And not just any kind of chicken, as it comes from the Monthélon farm in Acigné, just a few minutes from Rennes. All the food prepared at the Coucou Rennais is local and made with a pinch of humour by Hassan and his team.
A COMMUNITY AND SUSTAINABLE RESTAURANT This restaurant is special because of its Community policies: pay whatever you want for a "pending" coffee (1 for the price of 2). The same goes for your main course: any surplus will be put to the side and help pay for a meal for someone who really needs it. But that is not the only original feature of this restaurant, located 20 Rue d'Antrain, where they serve roast chicken, delicious home-made chips, good salads, pink lentil steaks, burgers and excellent falafels. Drinks are served at the bar, just like at home, and you share your table with other customers. You will no doubt have a great time in this 100% organic, sustainable and community-based restaurant. Word has it that this is Jean-Luc Mélanchon's favourite place to eat!
LE COUCOU RENNAIS, 20 RUE D'ANTRAIN.
Rennes can be visited on foot, by bike, by unicycle, on a skateboard, in a horse-drawn carriage...and by Segway. A Segway is a funny electric machine that is easy to use. This is a great group activity for a stag do or hen night for example. The electric machine can reach up to 20 km/h and weave in and out all around town. More complicated courses are also available, on mountain bike trails or tow paths for instance. The GyroTraining company, who organises these courses, teaches you how to handle the 160 kg machine. With about 40 km worth of batterie life, a Segway is great fun to ride and more physical than it seems! A great experience for discovering the city differently!
Information available at the Tourist Office (price: from €25 per person for 1h). The Tourist Office offers a number of other original guided tours of the city: following hidden treasure, street art tours or hospital heritage for instance.
INFORMATION AVAILABLE AT THE TOURIST OFFICE, 11 RUE SAINT-YVES.
Agent Paper is a "Made in Rennes" shop owned by the printers MicroLynx, that has been extremely successful and whose concept has already been exported to Nantes. You will find everything you need to decorate your table or lounge with highly creative paper items (a unicorn head for instance), as well as jokingly chauvinistic postcards: "I love Rennes and its galette saucisse, and I'm proud of it", "In Rennes when it gets too hot, it's beer o'clock" or "nothing is impossible in Rennes", etc. Some fun memories to send to your friends to make them jealous of your wonderful trip to Rennes.
If you enjoy pop-culture and like quirky little objects, wonder into the Güty Riben shop, located in the street that leads to the Thabor gardens. Half-way between Ali Baba's cave and a post-modern curiosity cabinet, the shop's products and constant novelties will no doubt astound you: distorting mirrors, Vegan shoes and staircase caps! You can find pretty much anything.
Another postcard to send to tell a friend about your fantastic stay in Rennes? In the same road, take a look around Les P'tits Papiers, a charming stationary shop, where you can find games, notepads, paper of all sorts, boxes and all you need for origami or DIY creations.
This last shop is called Les Troubadours du Chaos and has a much more Rock n' Roll style. It is just a few minutes away at no. 40 Rue de Saint-Malo. Records and clothes of all different styles (rock, punk, garage, electro, goth, metal, etc.). A record shop that cannot be missed.
Prohibition seems so far away... And yet there is still an underground bar in Rennes, hidden away in a restaurant's basement. Just like in the 30's, its precise location is kept under wraps and remains a well-kept secret. Here is a clue: the Speakeasy is located in a road named after a month of the year (in French). To discover this mysterious bar, you just need to search around a bit and present yourself at the door with a password to be whispered into the phone at the entrance. Once you have all that information, you will no doubt find out how to enter the Speakeasy, where you can sip a cocktail or a glass of absinthe with an eclectic musical background.
"TO GET IN, ALL YOU NEED IS TO WANT TO DISCOVER NEW FLAVOURS"
"We favour fresh produce, home-made ingredients (syrups, infusions, macerations, liqueurs) or local products (Warenghem, Awen Nature, etc.), as well as fine spirits and juices", explains Dimitri the barman who mixes drinks in the evening. "There is not special dress code required to get in, all you need is to want to discover new flavours and textures, things that few people know, forgotten products. We also serve absinthe as per the Franco-Swiss tradition". The concept is starting to catch on in capitals all over the world. There are about ten in Paris, but only one in Brittany for now, in Rennes. Up to you now to find it!
THE SPEAKEASY IS HIDDEN AWAY IN RENNES SOMEWHERE
Fancy discovering a bit more about Brittany capital? In "Rennes secret et insolite" (Rennes, secret and quirky), Gilles Brohan, the architecture and heritage representative at the Tourist Office, reveals Rennes' hidden treasures. A good start to discovering the city's rich heritage and stories to be told in its little cobbled streets. For instance, did you know that Rennes used to be nicknamed "the red city" because in the late Antiquity period the ramparts surrounding it were partly made of red bricks? This book will also tell you about the secret passages to a behind-the-scenes view of the lovely half-timbered houses. An invitation to step through the carriage gates and behold the historical centre's secret courtyards.
ON SALE (13.50 EUROS) AT THE TOURIST OFFICE SHOP, 11 RUE SAINT-YVES.