Are you ready for adventure? Or maybe a microadventure? This alternative method of travel, using green transport options, for just a weekend or a day, is being coming more and more popular. Pioneered by British adventurer Alastair Humphreys, this quirky way of travelling makes it possible to get away, to meet people and to explore areas that are unknown and close by. The microadventure is an outdoor experience, a distillation of a long-distance trip in a “simple, affordable, accessible and efficient” format. The aim of the game? Simply to have new experiences and to change your perspectives on the world around you. Here are some suggestions of things to do in and around Rennes, an area rich in options for a change of scenery.
Adventuring à la carte
1. Road trip (on foot) in Petite Californie (Little California)
California is a dream for any traveller. Did you know that Rennes has a mini-neighbourhood named “La Petite Californie”, which is a little island to the east of the city centre? Its name is a reference to its unusual history. Before the railway arrived in Rennes in the 19th century, several sites were planned for the station. This Rennes neighbourhood was part of this. Some speculators thought that it was a good idea to buy land in the hope of creating a new El Dorado. A lot of prospectors had their hopes dashed: the train ultimately ended up passing through the south and they never hit the real estate jackpot. The name stuck and this little neighbourhood, which is surrounded by the Vilaine river, has retained its unique and island character that is bohemian, playful and exceptionally calm all at the same time.
There’s nothing like an on-foot road trip for exploring. Like any microadventure, there are several ingredients needed for success and in Petite Californie, there is no lack of zest to these ingredients – a healthy dose of street art, a pinch of Odorico mosaics, a few architectural nuggets, all against the backdrop of the river.
A route studded with street art, Odorico mosaics and greenery
Enter the Petite Californie neighbourhood via rue Dupont-des-Loges. It has one of the most enjoyable bars in the Breton capital (the Hibou Grand Duc) that is next to the Alaska Brocante et Snack shop. At the entrance to this neighbourhood, there is also the Odorico house, which will soon become a restaurant. The traces of the family of Italian mosaic artists can be seen all over the façades and the floors of the buildings. Petite Californie can be reached directly by crossing the metal bridge. On the right, you can see the Rennes old mills, which are still operating, with their traditional architecture of brick and schist. The mills are a reminder that the industries linked to water are still thriving. Mills, launderettes, tanneries and flour mills were concentrated here up until the Second World War.
A neighbourhood apart, an island in a city
Two steps further, take time to admire the private mansion belonging to the former mayor of Rennes, Jean Janvier, before turning towards the Vilaine river, which crosses the charming Odorico walkway adorned with mosaics. This route also passes several pieces of street art. War ! is perfectly ensconced in this neighbourhood, with its uniqueness and tranquillity, an urban oasis.
Not much further on, you can see a colossal work of urban art: the robot without a heart created by famous plastic artist Blu behind the Théâtre National de Bretagne. The best point of view for admiring it is from the railings of the France 3 Bretagne parking lot. Following the south side of the river is a great way to appreciate the stroll and view over the water. You can take the route from the east point of Petite Californie by meandering along a little-trodden path that passes under immense willows and by fishermen and those seeking a quiet moment. When returning to the narrow streets, there are many architectural details that are worth seeing: mosaics, of course, as well as original façades, a trompe l’oeil and an intimate atmosphere that make Petite Californie a neighbourhood unlike any other.
- Duration: approx. 1 hour (around 2 km)
- Difficulty: very easy
- For whom?: for those new to urban exploration, architecture and street art
- Recommended equipment: a notebook or sketchbook, a camera, comfortable shoes for walking
2. Safari photos in a Tuscan landscape
Your mission? To create a postcard of a Tuscan landscape, all the while staying in Rennes. To achieve this misleading yet charming tableau, head to Thabor gardens, nicknamed “the Prince of gardens”. When walking through this 10-hectare park, which combines the art of French and English-style gardens, keep your eyes and nose open to appreciate the unique rose garden at the end, which has 2,000 varieties of roses. Then, as the Thabor is the highest point in Rennes, you will have a panoramic view with a majestic Tuscan-style building in your line of vision: Lycée Saint-Vincent Providence.
A picture-postcard setting
The panorama alone is enough to be a break from the usual routine and you can choose the best viewpoint to make you believe that you are in Italy.
Its rooftops of a bold red are in sharp contrast with the Breton landscape, which is ordinarily dominated by grey-blue slate. These are thanks to architect Charles Langlois, who designed the buildings that currently dominate the neighbourhood. Tuscany was already the inspiration during construction of the first buildings of the area (which are now occupied by Lycée Jean Macé secondary school) in the 19th century. The three colours used in this unique building – the red of the brick and tile, the white sandstone walls, and the black schist – have also been used as the colours for Stade Rennais football club and Roazhon Park stadium. There is even an urban legend that the school lent its jerseys to Rennes players at the start of the century!
- Duration: as long as you like to stroll through the Thabor garden and take photos
- Difficulty: none
- For whom?: those who love gardens and cultural curiosities
- Recommended equipment: a camera with a zoom function or telephoto lens
3. Plunging into the Grand Petit Canyon with a paddleboard
We call it the Grand Canyon, located in “Breton Switzerland”. If you think this is too much, it is also known as the “mini Grand Canyon”. Its real name is Le Boël, which is where the Vilaine river winds between the cliffs of purple schist. The area is perfect for strolling, hiking, walking or cycling with the family. It is also ideal for more extreme sports, such as trail running or mountain biking because the inclines and descents require some technical skill. And if you want to explore on a paddleboard? Stand-up paddleboarding, or “SUP” to enthusiasts, has recently become a very popular water sport. It is easy to get to grips with as you only need a sense of balance to get started within minutes. Its advantage over kayaking or canoeing is that you are standing upright, giving the feeling of walking on water. But there is no miracle; you could fall from your perch at any time, so choose your outfit accordingly!
Be careful to not get too close to the lock and the spillway.
The starting point for this adventure is the Pont-Réan slipway (20 minutes away from Rennes). In summer, the local canoeing and kayaking club, CKCPR, offers paddle boards (and kayaks) to hire for various periods of time: 1 hour, 2 hours, half a day or a full day. Life jackets are provided. Then set a course for Le Boël, leaving the lovely bridge behind you. After around 2 km and a few twists and turns of the river, you will arrive at Le Boël, with its view of the beautiful purple schist cliffs, the mill and the lock.
However, take care to respect the safety and navigation rules that apply to light crafts (see the navigation information on the Vilaine Valley). At Le Boël, do not get too close to the spillway to the left of the lock. If you want to cross the lock, you can disembark at the waiting pontoon on the right bank, then walk along the towpath and get back into the water from the pontoon past the lock.
- Duration: 2 hours without rushing to make the round trip starting at the club, but a half-day allows you to take your time and take the time to see the Boël Mill close up (on foot).
- Necessary equipment: paddle boards are available to hire on site or bring your own. Life jacket (provided with hire at the canoeing and kayaking club), swimsuit, closed-toe shoes, t-shirt and clothes to change into, a watertight bag. Don’t forget sunscreen and insect repellent.
- Difficulty: relaxed, but still slightly challenging
- For whom? for fans of outdoor activities, beautiful scenery and water sports.
4. From hiking to cycling and bivouacking in Petit Québec
After the small canyon, head to Petit Québec, which is a nature spot located after Cicé and its forest. Over time, the ancient quarries became ponds that are a site of rich biodiversity. The banks of the Vilaine are lined with a multitude of these ponds. Bordered by forests of resinous trees, they give a feeling of being in North America.
The best way to visit is by bike. So-called ‘bikepacking’ like this has been the chosen method of some to travel the world. This mini-excursion will give you a taste… but without going too far! From Rennes, Petit Québec is about 10 km away following the towpath. When you arrive, stop for a picnic and set up a bivouac (but no campfires). To continue the Quebec theme, you can get a traditional meal from the poutine experts at Poutine Bros. In the untouristic guide to the Vilaine Valley (on sale at the Tourism Office), you can find maps and practical information on this area.
- Duration: one day or a day and a half if bivouacking
- Necessary equipment: a bike equipped with panniers for hiking and hybrid bikes and a small backpack to bring a picnic and then take back your rubbish. Fluids to stay hydrated, insect repellent. Bring your best Canadian accent too!
- Difficulty: moderate
- For whom? for those who love cycling adventures, forests and leaping into the unknown
5. Searching for a mysterious calanque
When you go on an adventure, you dream of coming across THE secret spot, the gem that will make your eyes sparkle and your Instagram likes soaring. Thinking about an urban environment as land uncharted allows you to expand your horizons and find a different way to travel. And if the unknown, the dream location, the ideal beach is just (about) a stone’s throw away from your home? This is a question that all self-respecting travellers have to ask themselves. There is a little-known calanque just a short distance from Rennes. But that’s not all. The multiple artificial ponds and old quarries create the ambiance of a lagoon or mangrove swamp. The Perrelles and Babelouse lakes are already wonderful surprises for fishermen and fans of nature. However, they are not the turquoise blue of far-flung tropical destinations.
The Lormandière lake in Chartres de Bretagne has a Mediterranean calanque. The approaches are slightly sloping, which accentuates the outstanding views. It’s circled by a scenic path, and informative signs recount the history of the site’s old lime kilns.
- Duration: a day-long trek to explore the lakes of the Vilaine Valley. Starting from Rennes, the most direct road to adventure is the towpath: head west towards the Apigné lakes, then go south following the river. For a shorter trip, start from the Ker Lann rail stop to get to Lormandière.
- Necessary equipment: light hiking shoes, a sunhat or similar. Insect repellent, sun screen and fluids to stay hydrated and refuel (energy bars or gels). Binoculars would be a good idea to observe the flora and fauna.
- Difficulty: difficult
- For whom?: For keen explorers who love to venture into the unknown, without a predefined plan, map or compass. Because “it’s not the destination that matters, but the journey taken with its detours along the way”.