A small pedestrian street that is full of charm
You may have walked down the rue Pont aux Foulons and wondered where this famous bridge (pont in French) is. Because, like you, tens of thousands of pedestrians tread its cobbles every day to reach Place Sainte-Anne, the city’s party centre, from rue le Bastard, the main commercial lifeblood of the city. This small pedestrian lane has its fair share of charm and boasts, within just a few metres, several lovely little boutiques. With its stunning half-timbered houses, you could almost believe you were in a medieval scene. However, like the majority of these houses in Rennes, they date back to the 18th century.
Who were the “foulons”?
The name “foulons” evokes the production of woollen cloth, an activity that was once very important to Rennes. This was due to its proximity to the river, which was needed to turn the fulling mills used to beat the woven wool.
“For a long time, we believed that the fullers worked on this street because there was a moat here” relates Gilles Brohan, head of cultural heritage and architecture at Destination Rennes. “In fact, they worked at the water’s edge, but they lived here. And that’s how the street got its name”.
As for the bridge, there is a sort of remnant of the old rampart that surrounded the city. “For a long time, a bridge crossed the moat that encircled the rampart,” explains Gilles Brohan. In the modern era, residents filled in the moat to make vegetable and ornamental gardens, with a wooden bridge connecting them to the current rue le Bastard.
A tunnel connected a private mansion to its garden
Nowadays, it is difficult to imagine this lane with a rampart, a moat and vegetable gardens. Beneath your feet are other surprising stories that make this narrow street a special piece of cultural heritage. The metro currently runs some metres underground. However, centuries ago, a different tunnel allowed the Robien family to reach their garden, although historians are divided and this passage may be nothing more than an urban legend.
In any case, this family owned a private mansion that still attracts looks with its turret on the corner of the rue le Bastard. They also planted an orangery next to the famous moat. Nicknamed “le Trianon”, its ceilings were even painted by Jean Jouvenet, the same decorator who did the Grand’Chambre hall in the Parlement of Brittany in the same period. As their garden was not adjacent to their home, the tunnel was a privileged access, or it was just an entrance to their garden.
“In 1724, the wooden bridge collapsed,” explains Gilles Brohan. “The housing crisis following the great fire of 1720 led to the moat being filled in so as to build a road and houses. When naming streets, the name Pont aux Foulons has stayed, even if there is nothing left to remember its origin”.
Nothing other than a few half-timbered houses from the 18th century, which can be explored during one of the guided tours organised by the Tourism Office. Speaking of which, to admire them from another angle, go to rue de la Motte Fablet to access a courtyard that leads to the back of these buildings.
Ermines watch over cultural heritage
The curious ermines watch passers-by in this small street, although you will encounter others in the historic centre of Rennes. This unique undertaking, initiated in summer 2019 and named Bonne Kozh (kozh meaning “ancient” in Breton), highlights the cultural heritage of the ancient centre throughout its restoration. Since 2011, considerable renovation works have been ongoing to restore the buildings, especially those that are half-timbered. On the website for Rennes’ ancient centre, all of the buildings undergoing renovations are detailed in an interactive map. During these works, which generally last three years, the shops on the ground floor remain empty, except for the ermines that keep watch over the cultural heritage while waiting to welcome new businesses.
Excellent boutiques to visit
The rue Pont aux Foulons already has locations that are worth a visit. Notable among them are ready-to-wear clothes shops that stock labels such as Fiançée du Mékong, Les enfants d’abord and Papa Pique et Maman Coud. This is a story that continues the work of fullers, who had shops on the ground floor of their homes. You can find whatever you’re looking for here or find clothes in iconic boutiques such as Kaki Crazy Station, on the corner of rue Champ-Jacquet, or Scott Originals, to find the right shoes to help you hit the cobblestones. The street is also home to an artist’s workshop, Le Choix d’Isa, which can be found at the entrance to the lane, as well as Tara’s Creation, perfect for those who love fashion jewellery and products from around the world. Not to forget a barbershop/hairdressing salon, Mon barbier & Elle, to freshen up your look.
Foodies should make a stop at the QK Confiserie sweet shop to try some English specialties. Right opposite awaits a one-of-a-kind location to treat yourself during your visit to Rennes: Kôlôchô offers specialties from Central Europe in the form of sweet or savoury treats wrapped in a brioche dough that is wound around spits made from olive wood. This is a gastronomic treat that you won’t see elsewhere.
Lastly, just to get a better view of the ermines, have a glance into the Regard Marine shop on the corner of Place Sainte-Anne. It is decorated with Odorico mosaics, which are another feature specific to Rennes’ cultural heritage.