Quai Saint-Cyr

Visit Rennes riverside

7 alternative ways to discover the Vilaine

July 2018 to July 2019 is the Year of the Vilaine and the perfect opportunity to explore this Breton river a bit differently: cross it on a barge, take a trip on a boat or a kayak, try out paddleboarding, go for a picnic, stay in a bivouac, meet with local producers. Dive into a little-known feature of Rennes and its surroundings.

A river to rediscover

Biking on the banks of the Vilaine
©Destination Rennes / Julien Mignot

The Vilaine is lovely and should be better known. The whims of France’s 10th river and the negative connotations of its name do not always do it justice. However, the river that runs through Rennes and leads to the Atlantic Ocean offers peaceful landscapes and a variety of activities. If you take the time to get to know it, the Vilaine is a haven of peace: the long towpaths, parks and green spaces that line it are all part of an ecosystem that the Year of the Vilaine invites you to (re)discover. From July 2018 to July 2019, a number of events are being held for visitors. The programme of discovery centres around three main topics: “exploring and discovering”, “activities on the river” and “producing and providing”. 

1. Depart on a poetic crossing

The Vilaine aboard à boat
©Destination Rennes / Nicolas Joubard

Embark on a rural journey from Rennes to Laillé. Travel by barge accompanied by tales of the river, on a kayaking tour or by paddleboard and make a stop to stock up on excellent produce from local market gardens. Beyond exploring by bike, by boat or on foot, the Year of the Vilaine is an occasion to explore the area of Rennes lying alongside the river. With tours, conferences, exhibitions, cultural and sports events, throughout each season the programme adds to the range of activities in this rural area. Discover what’s on. 

2. Laze around by the water

Picnic on the quays
Picnic on the quays © Destination Rennes / Franck Hamon

There are other experiences worth a detour outside the events organised as part of the Year of the Vilaine. Starting with relaxing by the river for a well worth it, “slow tourism”-style break. If you are looking for a delightful corner in the heart of the city, why not go on a tour of the jardin de la Confluence garden. Recently created, it offers a view over the confluence of the Ille and the Vilaine, the two bodies of water that give their names to the department. Confluence, or Condate, is also the Gallo-Roman name for Rennes. Today, it is a lovely park that is full of people during festive events, but is also enjoyable in a small group over cocktails while the sun sets.

The Saint-Cyr quay is another place to relax and enjoy the end of the day. The ambiance is charming on summer evenings with its barges and grand trees, making it hard to believe that you’re just a five-minute walk from the centre of a major city.

3. Enjoy water sports

Nautical activities on the Vilaine
©Rennes ville et Métropole / Franck Hamon

From kayaking and canoeing to rafting and paddleboarding, there are a lot of water sports to try in Rennes. The capital of Brittany is not far from the sea and also has high quality freshwater lakes. In Cesson-Sévigné, the home of the Pôle France et Espoir de Kayak club, an area of white water makes it possible to get your fill of thrilling rafting and kayaking trips. For the less daring, the outdoor sports centre in Cesson is a good place to try stand-up paddleboarding or go on a canoeing or kayaking trip on calmer waters.

At the side of the plaine de Baud, canoes and kayaks can be rented from the Rennes kayak club watersports centre so you can visit the city from the river. This is a new perspective on Rennes and you can either explore independently or with a guide, from €15 for a half-day.

  • Canoe+kayak hire (from april to end of september) at rennes kayak club, 35b rue jean marie huchet

North of Rennes, on the Ille-et-Rance canal, CKCIR kayak club also offers canoe and kayak hire either with or without an instructor. In Saint-Grégoire, the canal also holds sprint races and kayak polo.

  • Ille-et-Rance kayak and canoe club, Ile de Robinson, 35760 Saint-Grégoire.

Further south, near to the magnificent Boël, the Pont-Réan watersports centre is a good starting point for trying such activities (canoeing, kayaking or paddleboarding) surrounded by red schist cliffs.

4. Strolling along the canal towpath

Bike ride to Boël
Bike ride to Boël ©Destination Rennes / Fabrice Mazoir

Whether on horseback, on foot or by bike, it is easy to explore the banks of the Vilaine. Starting from Rennes, via la Prévalaye and the Apigné lakes, and you can easily cycle to the Boël Mill and back in the day. Some new routes have been marked out for discovering the landscape of the river and meet local producers. Let yourself be led! Walking gives you more time to enjoy the calm of the towpath, along the locks, and to observe the Vilaine from all angles.

5. Stop to treat yourself

Le salon Mouch'
© Destination Rennes / Bruno Mazodier

Get a haircut or shave with your feet in the water… it’s possible at Salon Mouch’ in Rennes. You’ll find this unisex hair salon in a canal boat moored at the Saint-Cast quay, right next to a lock. Come onboard and relax. The slight rolling of the boat and the sound of birds helps you to totally forget the nearby city. When you cross the entrance to the salon, you immediately feel as if you’re elsewhere. The products used in the salon (from the Davines brand) are 98% natural so as to take care of both you and the environment.

  • Salon mouch’, quai saint-cast, +33 (0) 6 63 61 43 53. Open monday and wednesday to friday from 10 a.m. To 8 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. To 5 p.m.

6. Street fishing : go fishing in the city

Street-fishing - Rennes
Street-fishing © Place Cliché – Gildas Raffenel

Street fishing has rejuvenated the sport of angling. This sport is practiced in the middle of an urban area with light equipment and is gaining more and more fans. In Rennes, if you want to spend your time on the water’s edge why go very far when there are spots that can be easily accessed from the city centre? There’s also no danger of exhausting natural resources because the equipment is designed to be able to release your catches back into the water. This is an easy way to reconnect with nature and return to the origins of fishing, but in the city. In Rennes, the association la Pêche moderne (Modern Fishing Association) offers workshops for young people to learn about this activity with instructors from the Broc’n’street club.

7. Sleep on a canal boat

The Armor barge in Chevaigné
The Armor barge in Chevaigné © Péniche Armor

If you are looking for quirky accommodation for your visit to Brittany, the Gite Armor canal boat is waiting for you in Chevaigné, to the north of Rennes, on the edge of the Ille-et-Rance canal next to the Grugedaine lock. With its 3 cabins, this self-catered canal boat can host up to 6 people for a night, a weekend or a week (from €195 per night in the off-season and €230 in July, August and during the Christmas holidays.

Events at the water’s edge all year round

Festival Big Love - Rennes
© Destination Rennes / Julien Mignot

Festival Big Love, Match Festival, Trail du Boël, Rennes Urban Trail, Tombées de la Nuit… there is always something happening at the water’s edge in Rennes Métropole. The Vilaine is the setting for many cultural and sports events. There is even an auditorium on board the canal boats that navigate between Rennes and the sea: the Péniche spectacle.

Rennes lives by the rhythm of the water, it’s all one ecosystem developing around the canals and the Vilaine.

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