Rennes’ cultural heritage has a wealth of monuments that are popular with visitors: the Parlement of Brittany, the Saint-Pierre cathedral and the Portes Mordelaises, to name a few. Its architecture is also full of surprises and unique features that make up a clever mix of styles and eras: the traditional half-timbered houses stand alongside Odorico mosaics and even futuristic buildings straight from the imagination of Georges Maillols. However, you might be unaware of the other treasures that are hidden in the surrounding area, just a few kilometres away from the city. These are places that oftentimes are only known to locals, so we suggest that you have a look at these options for a walk.
1. Roches du Diable (The Devil’s Rocks) at Miniac-sous-Bécherel
Megaliths classed as monuments historiques
In Brittany, megalithic sites are legion. In Ille-et-Vilaine, the most well known and notable is indisputably the Roche-aux-Fées dolmen, which is among the largest and best preserved examples in Europe, with its covered corridor that stretches for almost 20 metres. But around Rennes, there are other, less known, sacred sites. These preserved sites are worth visiting, including the Roches du Diable (The Devil’s Rocks) at Miniac-sous-Bécherel. Located just next to Bécherel, the City of Books and perched on its headland, the Roches du Diable can be found easily. The route there is not at all complicated. Starting from the place de la mairie, several paths lead to a field on a gentle slope. From there, a trail zigzags along the aisle of horse chestnuts that ends at a “temple” of dolmens under the open sky.
Each dolmen has its legend
A small site, but with strong emotions: two main standing stones, one of which is on its side, are surrounded by about 60 stone blocks between which the vegetation has reclaimed the land. One can guess the purpose of the site by exploring it respectfully. This is because even if these monuments are very ancient (the majority of dolmens were erected in Europe from the Neolithic Era to the Bronze Age, between 5000 years and 1800 years BC), they are still fragile. This is especially as they were places of worship that still endure in Brittany. However, the Roches du Diable are in no way devilish – this was just a name usually given by Christians to discredit ancient religions. Legend tells it that young women looking for a husband would come here and walk around the cairn three times, “without talking or smiling” to ensure that they would find a husband within the year. Even if a husband isn’t what you’re looking for, you can come here to just meditate and enjoy the fresh air near the standing stones.
- Access: Miniac-sous-Bécherel, 30 km north of Rennes on the road towards Saint-Malo. By car, take the Hédé exit, then follow directions for Saint-Gondran, Cardroc, la Chapelle-Chaussée. From Bécherel, you can walk there in 30 minutes, or drive there in 5 minutes. By bus via the Star, take métropolitaine line 82 to the stop Villejean-Universités.
- Recommended route: the Roches du Diable circuit is an 8 km loop from Bécherel, going past the megalithic site. It’s a beautiful circuit for walkers. The yellow and well marked signs start from Miniac, while after Bécherel, the route follows part of a grande randonnée route, with the traditional red and white signposts.
- Things to see and do nearby: This short excursion is an opportunity to discover the wide-ranging riches in the Bécherel area, starting from the little City of Character (Cité de Caractère) itself with its many bookshops and its Maison du livre but also a visit to the château de Caradeuc, the “Breton Versailles”, which is very close by. Don’t leave without having admired some of the noteworthy elements in the little market town of Miniac-sous-Bécherel: old houses, a beautiful manor and, above all, Saint-Pierre church and Saint-Lunaire fountain.
2. Notre-Dame-du-Nid-au-Merle in Saint-Sulpice-la-forêt
A legendary abbey on the edge of the Forest of Rennes
If you like the romantic charm of ruins, head north-east towards the Forest of Rennes. At the edge of this almost 3000-hectare ocean of greenery hides an abbey from the Middle Ages, the remnants of which have been preserved. Built in the 12th century in the Roman style, the Notre-Dame-du-Nid-au-Merle abbey was dependent on the Benedictine Order and its mother house, Fontevraud abbey. Its establishment and name are linked to a legend and to the nearby forest: one day, in the Nid-au-Merle forest (now known as the Forest of Rennes), a young shepherd discovered a statuette of the Virgin Mary in a blackbird nest near a pond. He tried to take it home with him seven times, and seven times the statue miraculously returned to its nest.
A site faced with hardships: storms, fires, wars, epidemics and famines
The monastery built at this legendary location by Raoul de la Futaie in 1112 was home to both monks and nuns. The site once covered a huge area. Today, only the transept really remains, but we can surmise the beauty and grandeur of the site with a little bit of imagination.
After Brittany unified with France, the abbey became smaller and faced a number of significant incidents: a storm devastated it in 1616, after plague epidemics, repeated fires, wars of religion, famine. In short, it’s practically a miracle that there is anything left today. So swing open the little gate to visit the site, enjoying the fresh air while reading the information panels on its history. This site is actually protected as a monument historique (historical monument) and preserved by the Ille-et-Vilaine Department, which acquired it in 1989.
- Access: It is 20 km away from Rennes by car via motorway A84 towards Mont-Saint-Michel: exit at Liffré, then take the D528. The abbey is at the entrance to the market town. By bus, the métropolitaine line 70 goes direct.
- Recommended route: you don’t need a lot of time to see the monument, but you can extend your visit by walking around the Forest of Rennes, exploring the Mi-forêt area. There are several different routes: hikers can choose from 80 kilometres of trails. The one that goes around the Maffrais pond is quite easy to find. From Thorigné-Fouillard, there is another walking route marked out.
- Things to see and do nearby: the Ille-et-Rance canal is very close by and is especially lovely around Betton. Perfect for a walk or a cycle.
3. The ancient Pont-Péan mines
A wonderful example of industrial heritage
Between the 18th and 19th centuries, the Pont-Péan mines were extremely busy extracting argentiferous lead. In this era, the mine was one of the largest in Europe and the site had up to 1200 workers. As in other regions, the mining industry declined, but there are still some remnants visible. This is a valuable piece of industrial heritage, which has been highlighted by the Association Galène group. Beyond the shafts, which are, of course, inaccessible (the deepest, the République shaft, lowered miners to a depth of 600 m), there are other remains of this industry in Pont-Péan. It can be seen in the toponymy, naturally, but also in architecture, with the administrative building. It is an excellent example of industrial architecture in brick and is included on the list of monuments historiques. This most iconic building is the focus of a restoration project to bring in cultural and community activities, as well as a cultural tour on the history of the mine.
Until it opens, you can still follow the tour and admire the work of street artist War ! at the site. The neighbouring chapel also has its interesting points: in the old cloakroom for miners, you can read this maxim in Latin – “nihil occultum quod non revelatur”, “there is nothing hidden that should not be revealed”. There are also other elements of the local mining history to be discovered: in the warehouse of a neighbouring company, Eiffel-style halls have been protected from the passage of time.
- Access: 15 km to the south of Rennes, via 4 routes towards Nantes, taking the first exit from Pont-Péan, then head towards Espace BeauSoleil, with a parking space found just next to the administrative building for the old mine and the chapel. By bus, take line 72.
- Recommended route: There are a number of walking routes that are detailed on the town hall’s website. Guided tours are also offered with signposts for exploring the local cultural history.
- Things to see and do nearby: Le Boël and its famous mill are just 5 km away from Pont-Péan.
4. Saint-Maximilien Kolbe church in Corps-Nuds
A neo-Byzantine bell tower in the Breton countryside
Although Corps-Nuds is not Byzantium, it looks like it could be. When you get closer to this little town to the south of Rennes, a tall silhouette with waving shapes can be made out on the horizon – this is Saint-Maximilien Kolbe church with its very unique Roman-Byzantine onion-dome bell tower. This novel style, which was not especially common in Brittany, was designed by Arthur Regnault. Not far from there is the bell tower of Saint-Senoux church (designed by the same architect), which uses the same style. In total, out of the approximately 50 churches designed by the architect in Upper Brittany, more than 10 draw on this Roman-Byzantine inspiration.
The Corps-Nuds church is, without doubt, the most iconic, particularly due to its size. Completed in 1892, the church was imposing and dominated the surrounding landscape. The combination of locally sourced materials, schist and granite with Tuffeau stone and brick, also gives it an air of a mini Red Square. Furthermore, in 1942, during the Second World War, this “decor” was used for a German propaganda film titled “Threshing wheat in Ukraine”. The aim of the story was to make their “fake news” on the advancement of German troops into the USSR more credible. Further to this little anecdote, the church is listed as a monument historique (historic monument) and certainly worth visiting.
- Access: about 20 km away from Rennes when headed towards Angers, following the Corps-Nuds exit and taking the D163. By bus, take métropolitaine line 73.
- Recommended route: walking paths cut across the area surrounding Corps-Nuds and a map of these can be found online. Walking will give you a view of the church and its bell tower, which are unmissable features of the panorama.
- Things to see and do nearby: The Jardins Rocambole is a quirky and unique, environmentally friendly vegetable garden tended by a few enthusiasts. www.jardinsrocambole.fr/
5. The Lormandière site in Chartres-de-Bretagne
Surprising plant life next to old lime kilns
The Lormandière site is both an example of industrial heritage and a unique natural site. Between 1853 and 1938, lime kilns here produced quicklime, an environmentally friendly product that is well known among gardeners for improving the quality of acidic soil. It is no coincidence that this industry was developed in this exact location in Chartres-de-Bretagne. The soil here is chalky, which is rare, enabling Lormandière to be the primary source of lime production in Brittany.
The other notable feature of this site is its plant life, which is also very rare. This natural zone of ecological interest, fauna and flora (Zone naturelle d’intérêt écologique, floristique et faunistique, ZNIEFF) is home to some remarkable plants, including wild orchids, such as the bee orchid, pyramidal orchid and the lizard orchid. The old quarry is now a lake, whose blue-turquoise colour contrasts with the landscape. A path goes around the lake and, depending on your view, you could almost believe that you were at a coastal inlet or looking onto a lagoon. The uniqueness of this site is detailed perfectly through informative panels on both the industrial past and its wealth of nature. More information can be found on the Ille-et-Vilaine Department website, which highlights and protects natural spaces.
- Access: 10 km south of Rennes headed towards Nantes via the express route. Bus line 72.
- Recommended route: The educational route can be walked in one hour, exploring the history of the industrial site, discovering the fauna and flora and enjoying the views over the lake. The informative panels mark out the 2.7 km circuit, starting from the car park. For more motivated hikers, the large Lormandière circuit traces a circle of a little more than 6 kilometres around the site, following paths and small routes in Chartres.
- Things to see and do nearby: The GR 39 hiking route passes through Chartres via the amusement park and meets the edge of the Vilaine from here. The banks of the Seiche are also a pleasant spot for cycling, walking or running.
6. Anastasis church in Saint-Jacques-de-la-Lande
A jewel of white concrete by architect Alvaro Siza
“Anastasis”, meaning resurrection – the new church in Saint-Jacques-de-la-Lande is the first church to be opened in Brittany in the 21st century. The first contemporary church is also the first to be built in the region for more than 40 years. The site was consecrated in February 2018 and the building was designed by the brilliant and well known Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza. Created using his favourite material, an immaculate white concrete that is soft to touch, the contemporary church is located in a residential area. Bordered by a pond, home to croaking frogs, it is a jewel of architecture and light, in front of which many locals and Rennes residents walk by without suspecting that there is a masterpiece of contemporary architecture right there.
- Access: The church is on Rue du Haut Bois, 35136 Saint-Jacques-de-la-Lande. The easiest way to get there from Rennes is by cycling: several cycling trails lead to Saint-Jacques-de-la-Lande via la Prévalaye, then following the lovely track laid out along the Petit Blosne. You can find the route at the town hall. By bus: take the number 57 line and alight at the Haut-Bois stop just next to the church.
- Recommended route: The park route to discover the flora and fauna of wetland areas. Around 6 kilometres.
- Things to see and do nearby: Walks along the towpaths between the MeM, guinguette and concert hall at the edge of the Vilaine and the Apigné lakes.