“Manche-Océan” (Channel-Ocean), a long hike along the water’s edge
The GR39 long-distance footpath links Mont Saint-Michel to the Vilaine estuary and Guérande: A total of 350 kilometres of walking to make the link between the English Channel and the Atlantic Ocean. This long hike, perfectly signposted with the famous red and white markings, alternates between landscapes of great diversity: strolls on the town paths, sunken paths in the heart of the wooded countryside, walks on the towpath at the water’s edge, crossings of forests and urban parks… There are numerous viewpoints and points of interest along the way.
Here is some practical information for surveying the “Rennes” part of the GR39 long-distance footpath.
Summary of the route
You will start from the curves of the Vilaine to reach the site of Le Boël and its magnificent viewpoint over the mill, before taking the path along the banks of the Seiche, in the direction of Chartres-de-Bretagne. From there, the GR39 heads north through country lanes. You will enter the town via the Parc de Bréquigny (Bréquigny Park) before meandering through the historic centre and its monuments to reach another pleasant green area: the Prairies Saint-Martin (Saint-Martin Meadows) Park on the banks of the Ille-et-Rance canal. Another even bigger park awaits you for the rest of the route: the Gayeulles, “the Rennes Central Park”. This is the way you will leave the city of Rennes in the direction of the countryside and Thorigné-Fouillard, just at the edge of Rennes Forest, another ocean of greenery to be crossed.
The circuit in practice
This section of about 53 kilometres can be done in 3-4 days with a day-off to discover Rennes. You can also do it in stages from Rennes. Public transport (the TER BreizhGo regional rail network and Star metropolitan buses) makes it possible to travel quickly to the various stopover points for a day’s journey.
Tracks and maps of the route
It should be noted that the route can be done in both directions – it is very well signposted by the departmental volunteers of the Fédération Française de la Randonnée pédestre (French Hiking Federation) (red and white signposting). But if you leave from the south, you will be treated to successive viewpoints over the Rennes basin and will be able to enjoy a first day of getting your feet wet in the heart of the magnificent panorama of Le Boël.
Stage 1: From the Bourg-des-comptes bend to Le Boël (13 kilometres)
For this first stage, a short day of walking is on the programme, just to warm up your legs. We suggest you start from La Courbe de Bourg-des-Comptes (the Bourg-des-comptes bend) It is easy to get there from Rennes by regional train (TER) via the Rennes-Vannes and Rennes-Nantes lines. The journey takes only 20 minutes from Rennes TGV station. Having arrived at Guichen-Bourg-des-Comptes station, you just have to join the towpath a few hundred metres away to get back onto the GR39 long-distance footpath.
Hilly paths for warming up
The adventure begins along the beautiful Vilaine river which, in spite of its name meaning “unsightly”, is nothing of the sort! A little further on you cross the bridge to change bank and climb to the heights of Laillé. Take the time to contemplate the landscape from different viewpoints that open onto the Vilaine valleys. The distance is not too important for this first stage because the difference in altitude of the trails will make your calves work hard. At Hyaume farm in Laillé, the highest point is reached at about a hundred metres. The wooded paths are typical of Brittany and the bocage: deeply-cut, stony paths that pass between two embankments. In the past, they saved lives: Those of the Chouans and Second World War fighters who hid there. Today they are shelters for biodiversity. The embankments have an ecological function by sheltering different species and pollinating insects, and by preventing good soil from running off. You will still have to watch your feet and ankles, as the paths are a bit challenging.
A very steep descent then an ascent takes you into the Bois de Saint-Jean (Saint-Jean Wood) which borders the Vilaine river. A pleasant part in the undergrowth with a bit of relief from which you will emerge when you arrive in front of the DGA, an army base specialised notably in cyber security. Follow the railings on the left to rejoin the path and reach the heights of the Moulin du Boël (Le Boël Mill). From the top of the shale cliffs several panoramas open out onto the river, the towpath and the mill. A very popular place for walkers and mountain bikers, especially at weekends. Expect to come across some. Now is the time to make a stop and go down along the towpath to take a closer look at the Mill.
- To refuel… On the other side of the bank, across the pedestrian bridge where the trains run, there are two restaurants at car park level: The Marin’Boël and the new crêperie du Moulin (Mill crêperie), whose terraces are very pleasant with a breathtaking view of the Vilaine river, the lock and boats. Now it’s time to try the local speciality, the “galette saucisse”.. If you have made your own provisions, several picnic tables and benches are at your disposal on the Le Boël site. The market town of Pont-Réan is not far away (around 2 kilometres by the towpath) where you will find shops, bars and restaurants, as well as a nautical base.
- Accommodation nearby. Charming accommodation in the immediate vicinity of Le Boël: the Manoir Le Courtillon (Le Courtillon Manor), holiday cottage, spa and guest rooms. http://lecourtillon.com/
Stage 2: From Le Boël to Rennes (23 km)
It’s not easy to leave behind this little paradise that is Le Boël and its purple cliffs. But you haven’t finished with the shale colours typical of the Rennes region. The paths that you take have bear its colour, as do the houses on the side of the paths. And chances are that your soles will eventually turn this colour due to the presence of iron oxide in the rock: a souvenir to take with you on your future hikes. For this second stage, it is better to leave early in the morning because a considerable distance awaits you, but one with less technical difficulties. Heading towards the commune of Pont-Péan, you climb slightly up the hillsides to enjoy a beautiful panorama of the Rennes basin. One can even make out the Horizons building on the horizon.
From the banks of the Seiche to the Chartres de Bretagne leisure park…
Pleasant country lanes pass through undergrowth before running along the Seiche, a tributary of the Vilaine. Just before the Fénicat riding centre, this short stretch on a slope planted with many trees overlooking the small river is really enjoyable in hot weather. Well shaded, it leads you to the bridge that crosses the Seiche river to climb back up towards Bruz before branching off in the direction of Chartres de Bretagne via a side path. The long-distance footpath then passes through the very pleasant leisure park whose facilities are appreciated by the people of Chartres (tables, zip line and play structures for children, climbing structure and outdoor sports equipment etc.). Picnic areas and permanent barbecues are also set up next to a large awning which can be useful in case of rain. Public toilets are also located at the entrance to the park near the car park. In short, this park is well suited for a short stopover before heading towards Rennes, as you still have a good fifteen kilometres or so to go.
The GR39 long-distance footpath then takes you along the quiet paths of Chartres towards the northern exit of the city. Be careful at the roundabout between the media library and the Collège (College) where traffic is heavy. From there, you will follow the road for a short while before heading into the countryside on little-used farm tracks. A long climb and then you are heading towards Rennes. Even if the proximity of the 4-lane road can be heard, the surrounding countryside is rather pleasant and it is hard to believe that you are just a stone’s throw away from a large metropolis and not far from the gigantic PSA Plant in Rennes-La Janais. Other activities take shape as you approach Le Vallon. The path leads you to a cycle track that brings you closer to the bypass. A brightly-lit underground passage allows you to cross it safely and reach the parc de Bréquigny (Bréquigny park) and urban civilisation.
- Accommodation nearby. The closest hotel to the route, the Novotel Alma, is located next to Bréquigny park. If when you arrive in Rennes you are really exhausted, this is the best option. For very affordable accommodation, still on the GR39 long-distance footpath route, there is the youth hostel solution along the Saint-Martin canal. The campsite camping des Gayeulles is the best place to go if you are on the outskirts of Rennes. In the heart of the park, its brand new city lodges are very comfortable and quiet (note that, due to the sanitary situation, the traditional spots for pitching a tent are not yet open again). A good compromise in terms of location, in the city centre near the route is the Hôtel Anne de Bretagne (Anne de Bretagne Hotel) in the Colombier district with good value for money.
Stage 3: a day to visit Rennes
Unless you already know Rennes well, it would be a shame not to take the time to visit the city. All the more so as it is easy to get around on foot. Many monuments are worth seeing. Go to the Tourist Office to book a guided tour of the Parliament of Brittany, which is one of the must-sees along with the Thabor Gardens.
The local gastronomy is also a good reason to linger in Rennes: in addition to the crêperies, there are many restaurants. The chefs of Rennes know how to enhance the sea and land products found on the famous Lices market. It is a distillation of Brittany in its food offering, with also 3 Michelin-starred restaurants which are worth the diversion: Ima, Racines and Holen. See also our suggestions for a day trip to Rennes before you continue on your way.
- Accommodation: See all hotels, self-catering cottages, bed and breakfasts and apart-hotels in Rennes in our Accommodation section.
Stage 4: from Rennes to Thorigné-Fouillard (17.5 km)
This stage is a perfect illustration of the diversity and interest of the GR39 long-distance footpath. After having walked along cliffs, hillsides and river banks, crossed moors, undergrowth and country lanes, here you are in an urban landscape, on cobbled lanes lined with pretty half-timbered houses. The pedestrian atmosphere of Rennes is ideal for hikers, you can even take advantage of it to enter monuments such as Saint-Pierre Cathedral and admire emblematic squares and places: the beautiful Rue du Chapitre (Chapitre Street), Lices Square and Sainte-Anne Square (where the tourist office is located in a wing of the beautifully restored Jacobin Convent) as well as the famous Rue de la Soif (Drinker’s Alley) and Rue Saint-Malo (Saint-Malo Street).
Crossing the city through the parks
For this stage, the GR39 long-distance footpath also crosses several parks and offers an original urban route through green spaces. We start from the departure point in the south: the parc de Bréquigny (Bréquigny park), a 17-hectare public garden, the green heart and soul of the southern part of the city. After passing through the historic centre and crossing the river Ille, you will reach a completely redeveloped green area: the Prairies Saint-Martin (Saint-Martin Meadows) park on the banks of the canal bearing the same name. 30 hectares of nature in the heart of the city, arranged as a huge leisure park with gentle paths reserved for bicycles and pedestrians. And to the north of the city it is through the Gayeulles Park that the GR39 long-distance footpath passes to leave the city, allowing you to discover its 100 hectares of forests, ponds and paths. A leisure and adventure park (with an ice-skating rink, a treetop adventure trail, a swimming pool, a farm with animals, sports grounds etc.) which offers beautiful breathtaking beaches for city dwellers.
As you leave the city, you will be able to appreciate a unique feature of Rennes. Despite its size as a metropolis, the Breton capital is surrounded by a “green belt”. It doesn’t matter which way you go, you go very quickly from the city to the countryside and it’s quite pleasant to be able to slip away in such a short space of time by following the towpath, for example. The GR39 long-distance footpath also offers this sensation: the noises of the city fade away and the path leads us to other horizons on the edge of the immense Rennes Forest. All of which will make you want to continue the GR39 long-distance footpath to Mont-Saint-Michel. Perhaps the destination of your next walking trip?
- Accommodation nearby: Le Clos du Presbytère (The Presbytery Enclosure) in Betton. Charming guest rooms located 3 kilometres from the edge of Rennes Forest. This accommodation is listed as a stopover for hiking in Brittany by the regional tourism committee.
Finally… a few tips for a good hike
This hiking trail is accessible to hikers of all levels. Some of the passages at Le Boël on the edge of the cliffs may be a little technical, but the route does not present any insurmountable difficulties or relief. Nevertheless, as with any long-distance hiking trail, before setting off, it is advisable to be properly equipped and prepared in order to make the most of the experience: bring something to stay hydrated and find your way around, suitable equipment (hiking boots and clothing, rucksack), binoculars for observing the fauna and flora. A torch, sunscreen, rain protection and first aid kit are always useful just in case. Finally, please respect the paths and the environment and do not throw your rubbish on the ground. Enjoy your hike in Brittany