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Just a stone’s throw from Rennes, Le Boël is worth a detour for its mill, its heathlands and its red schist cliffs. It is set against a small Breton ravine where tales of yesteryear and the present day merge into each other in the waters of the Vilaine river.
A few kilometres south of Rennes and in the direction of Redon, Le Boël winds its way through the municipalities of Bruz, Guichen, Pont-Réan and Laillé. It is a small ravine that marks a geological fault line. Le Boël is a border marking the separation between the Rennes basin and the Armorican Massif. For a long time, the schist quarries served the construction industry in Rennes and stones were transported by boat from Bruz and Pont-Réan.
AT THE HEART OF A REGION NICKNAMED “BRETON SWITZERLAND”
The dizzying cross valley offers a beautiful panorama over the twists and turns of the Vilaine river, with the cliffs of purple schist rising to almost 80 metres. Although far from the heights of the Alps, it’s not for nothing that this area is nicknamed “Breton Switzerland”. In addition, the trails are ideal for all outdoor activities (mountain biking, cycling, trail running, hiking), but the towpath also has multiple walking routes better suited to families. As for the Breton river, the nearby watersports centre is an invitation to get active: choose from paddle boarding, canoeing, kayaking or another type of vessel, almost anything is allowed!
A PLAYGROUND FOR SPORTS FANS AND WALKERS
Le Boël is an outstanding location for those who love walking in nature. The GR39 follows the towpath and continues on towards Redon and the Atlantic. However, other trails await walkers on the heights. Routes traverse heathland, where the yellow of the gorse contrasts with the purple and red schist. A dizzying backdrop for those who ascend a bit higher to the steep tops of the cliffs to admire the view over the river and the mill. There are a number of trails on both sides, snaking from the banks up to the heights. Even so, choose wisely because some routes are better suited to sports enthusiasts than families with pushchairs.
On the left bank of the Vilaine, a stone vessel appears to split the waters. The Boël watermill was built in 1652 on the initiative of Claude François Auguste de Marboeuf, the lord of Laillé and advisor to King Louis XIV. As it was built on his land, the mill was a source of income for this local lord.
With its distinctive bow-like shape, the mill still stands proud and remains a symbol of river heritage. However, it was partially destroyed by a violent storm in 1962 and barely escaped being demolished. After being partly rebuilt by a non-profit association and a team of international youth volunteers, it is now included among the 250 monuments selected to be part of the cultural lottery (loto du patrimoine), which was launched by Stéphane Bern. Therefore, the Boël Mill could have a new lease of life and a new renovation for the benefit of visitors. An unmissable landmark in Le Boël, you can admire it from all angles and imagine it as it was in days gone by, when its wheel turned with the flow of the river: view it from the right bank on the lock side and from the towpath, from the tops of the cliffs or close up after a lovely walk along the shady cliffs on the left bank for a rural resting spot.
The towpaths are popular with cycle tourists and fans of bike rides. Leaving from Rennes, you can travel along the flat cycle paths along the Vilaine all the way to the ocean. Whether as part of a longer journey or for just a short trip, Le Boël is both a great starting point and a lovely place to mark on your holiday map as a stop off. This is primarily because of the landscape, but also because of the facilities at the start, the end and for stocking up on supplies. There is a car park just next to the lock and the mill and a restaurant-bar-creperie, Le Marin’Boël, offers you the opportunity to cool down and try a crepe or a galette on the terrace or in one of the restaurant’s large dining rooms, with a stunning view over the river and the barges.
A DAY TRIP LEAVING FROM RENNES
For those who enjoy long bike rides, it is absolutely possible to leave from Rennes and head to Le Boël for a day trip and there is a wide choice of picnic spots along the route. Not to mention the newly marked cycle routes in the Vilaine Valley where you can discover culture, curiosities and local producers. In short, cycling to Le Boël is an absolute must: from the end of the Mail, head to the étangs d’Apigné (Apigné lakes) and follow the towpath for around 25 kilometres to reach Le Boël. For the average cyclist, you will reach your destination in 90 min – 2 hours.
OR YOU CAN TAKE THE TRAIN!
If you would prefer to avoid too many aches, you can get to Bruz with the TER BreizhGo train line by travelling with your bicycle on the designated cycle carriages on the regional express trains. Then alight at Bruz station and head to Pont-Réan via the Domaine de Cicé Blossac golf course and the Cicé forest to meet the towpath or head in the direction of Laillé via the recently relaid cycle path. If you want to do a short 5-km trip, go a little further along in the direction of Laillé, where there is another train station from which you can return to Rennes.
While the banks of the river are a haven for walkers, cyclists and families, Le Boël also draws trail runners and the terrain is popular with mountain bikers. For sports fans, enthusiasts of technical trails and heights, the climbs and descents here are sprinkled with obstacles (stones, roots, branches, small streams and muddy areas to cross or avoid).
For trail runners, it’s an excellent spot for training or competing against others, especially in June with the traditional Trail du Boël race, which offers two distances starting from the Pont-Réan slipway (one is 14 km long with 300 metres of incline and the other is 24 km long with 510 metres of incline) on a technical course that is varied, but also rather demanding, with superb crossings over and views of the Vilaine. In July, the neighbouring Tertre Gris trail also departs from Le Boël for its longest route, the Maratrail, which is 49 km long with an incline of more than 1,000 metres. This is the preserve of seasoned athletes!
As for mountain biking, the interlinking trails climb and descend on both sides of the Vilaine, offering a variety of viewpoints and really warming up the calf muscles. Several routes have been newly way-marked as part of the Year of the Vilaine.
For fans of watersports, Le Boël can be explored via paddle board, canoe or kayak. The view of the mill and the cliffs is even more amazing when you glide soundlessly through the water. Don’t forget to pay attention before you reach the bridge that marks the entrance to the ravine. When you get to Pont-Réan, you may see the Cahot menhir on the left. Also known as the “Menhir du Pré de la Pierre”, it is 2.8 metres tall and proof of a very ancient presence on the confluence of the Vilaine river and one of its tributaries, the Seiche. It was clearly cut from purple schist with geometric edges.
The ideal starting point for trips on the river is the Pont-Réan watersports centre at the slipway, where you can find the Pont-Réan canoeing and kayaking club (Canoë-Kayak Club de Pont-Réan – CKCPR). From there, you can rent a craft by the hour or the day. This is a great idea for activities to do as a family. Rental shops are open in summer, from Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon and 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. (except in the event of rain) and on Sunday from 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. From May to September, the rental shops are open on weekends and bank holidays from 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. If you have your own boat, pontoons are located before and after the lock at Le Boël.
INFORMATION ABOUT THE PONT-RÉAN CANOEING AND KAYAKING CLUB HTTPS://CKCPR.FR/
HOW TO GET THERE?
> BY CAR: Le Boël is about 15 km south of Rennes. To drive there, take the D177 dual carriageway towards Redon, exit at Bruz/Pont-Réan, follow the D577 towards Pont-Réan and then follow directions for Le Boël. To reach the left bank, from the bypass south of Rennes, take the N137 dual carriageway, exit at Chartres-de-Bretagne, take the Bruz and Laillé direction and turn off towards Le Boël before the DGA (Directorate General of Armaments). Parking is free, next to the lock (right bank) or close to the SNCF railway bridge (left bank).
> BY BIKE: Follow the towpath from Rennes towards the étangs d’Apigné (Apigné lakes) and Le Boël for around 25 kilometres over marked and flat cycle tracks. You can also travel via TER BreizhGo train line, stopping at Bruz or Laillé stations.
> BY BUS: From Rennes stations, take the number 63 bus line to the end of the line at the arrêt Pont-Réan stop (Bruz) (times can be found at www.star.fr). Then cross the Pont-Réan bridge and head left on the towpath at the watersports centre. Le Boël is around 2 kilometres away on foot.
PLACES TO EAT
> ON SITE: Le Marin’Boël bar-creperie-restaurant is open Wednesday-Sunday, dish of the day from €11, galette-saucisse on Sunday evenings.
> NEARBY: Le Bistronome, seasonal bistro cuisine, 87 avenue Joseph Jan, Bruz, +33 (0)2 99 52 62 83
> IN PONT-RÉAN CENTRE: shops, creperies, restaurant and bars close to the watersports centre
> IN LAILLÉ, market on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, shops and restaurants a few kilometres from Le Boël heading south along the towpath
PLACES TO STAY
> LE COURTILLON, guesthouse, gites and a spa in a 17th-century manor house at the centre of a 5-acre park, just a few kilometres away from Le Boël and the centre of Pont-Réan, 35580 Pont-Réan (Guichen) http://lecourtillon.com/
> DOMAINE DE CICÉ BLOSSAC, 4-star resort with a spa and golf club, hotel and apartments – the perfect place to relax. Avenue de la Chaise
35170 Bruz https://www.domainedecice.com/en/golf-resort-brittany-france
THINGS TO SEE AND DO NEARBY
> CANOE AND KAYAK HIRE, watersports centre at the Pont-Réan slipway https://ckcpr.fr/
> THE PARC DE L’AN 2000, a 47-acre country park next to the Seiche river, on the road between Bruz and Laillé. A relaxing place to walk and admire the flora and fauna
> L’ETRILLET ECO-COMMUNITY, an unusual place, with a fighter plane perched in the farm’s courtyard, that manages to be both a stop for pilgrims following the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail and a creative hub for innovative local projects. Registration is required to take part in the events and workshops, 35170 Bruz http://letrillet.fr
> FENICAT EQUESTRIAN CENTRE, pony club, carriage rides and outdoor activities, 104 Chemin rural de Fénicat, 35170 Bruz http://fenicat.fr/
> BIRD PARK OF BRITTANY, a collection of exotic birds in a floral park at 53 boulevard Pasteur, 35170 Bruz. www.parc-ornithologique.com