Quimper, Brittany - A Cyclist's Guide

Wendy Mewes, author of this excellent guide to cycling the Nantes-Brest Canal, has this overview of cycling in Quimper, the capital of France's Finistre department.

Quimper's majestic cathedral. Photo: Erwan Bazin Photography

Quimper's majestic cathedral. Photo: Erwan Bazin Photography

Quimper is the capital of the Finistere department, the most Breton area of Brittany in the far west. It is a small city on the Odet river, which provides pleasant quayside walks.

The many flowery passerelles reflect the fact that there were once large houses with their own bridges where the public administration buildings now stand. The ancient centre radiating out from the magnificent cathedral of  is mainly pedestrianised, with streets of medieval houses containing ultra-modern shops. It's bounded by two small rivers the Steir and the Frout: the little round markers on many buildings with 2000 on them indicate the exceptional flood levels of that year.

The cathedral, built in phases from 1239, is famous for its great beauty, but in particular, the crooked nave. This was most probably due to the building of the adjacent Bishop’s Palace, which now houses the Departmental Museum – one of the best you’ll see in France. Just across the square is the art gallery where you can get a feel for the importance of Brittany as an inspiration for artists in the 19th/20th centuries. Quimper’s famous son Max Jacob, friend of Picasso and Modigliani, who died in Drancy in WWII, has a dedicated room on the ground floor.

On the other side of the river is the elaborate Prefecture, rebuilt after being burnt by the retreating Germans in August 1944. Quimper’s resistance fighters were proud to have liberated the town before the arrival of American troops.

The tourist office sits at the foot of Mt Frugy, a steep hill which provides good views over the town. Archaeologists have discovered a ritual site here, and the original pre-Roman settlement in this area was at Locmaria, about 800m away on the same side of the river. This has been a traditional pottery area since Celtic times and today the Henriot works still functions. You can tour the factory or shop for the famous Quimper pottery with its naïf peasant figures.

The church of Notre-Dame de Locmaria here is a fine example of Romanesque architecture, quite a contrast with the Gothic cathedral up river. It retains part of a 12th century cloister. There’s also a medieval style garden on the riverside nearby.

Cycling around Quimper

The city is in theory cycle-friendly, with the political will there for the development of more cycle-lanes. Some pavements are authorised for use by bikes, but pedestrians always have priority. Fast moving one-way traffic systems can be daunting. The centre is small enough to explore fully on foot, and the important ancient area of Locmaria just along the river can be accessed by the riverside paths.

Pays Bigouden, with its main town of Pont l’Abbé (French) and many glorious coastal spots, is easily accessible by bike from Quimper on a green way. A disused railway line also provides a 20km connection with the atmospheric port of Douarnenez to the west, passing close to the famous little 18th century town of Locronan, often used as a film-set.

For bike rental in Brittany, see our bike hire listings.

Getting to Quimper

Quimper has TGV train links with Nantes, Rennes and Brest – see our train/bike pages for ticket info. Quimper is about 1.5 hours' drive from the ferry port of Roscoff, served by Brittany Ferries from Plymouth. It's possible to cycle from Roscoff via the green ways (V7) about 120km to Rosporden, which is c30km from Quimper. See our Brittany’s green ways cycling overview.

Accommodation and food

There’s a fabulous indoor food market, Les Halles, open every day (Sunday morning only) near the cathedral, and a large open air market selling all sorts of things just across the Steir over the Pont Médard on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Hotels in the centre can be expensive (although the Hotel Gradlon, 30 rue de Brest is a nice place to stay), but the Orangerie de Lanniron near Locmaria offers a range of accommodation options from chalet and camping to overnight hotel facilities in a beautiful riverside setting. There's also a municipal campsite, open June 1 to September 30. For more self-catered and B&B options, see the Quimper tourism site, or check here for links to accommodation in France, including hotels, gîtes, gîtes d’étapes, B&Bs, self-catered and campsite options.

Books and maps

Brittany's Green Ways: A Guide to Re-Used Railway Tracks and Canal Towpaths (UK, US, Fr) is an invaluable guide, as is The Nantes-Brest Canal (UK, US, Fr), a guide for cyclists and walkers.

French publisher Rando Editions has a guidebook, Le tour de la Bretagne à vélo, in French.

See the Footprint guide to Brittany (UK, US) for a general tourist overview; Footprint also has a new Brittany With Kids (UK, US) guide for families, while Lonely Planet has a Brittany and Normandy book.

Michelin has a regional Brittany map (UK, US), as well as a green guide to Brittany (UK, US). IGN also has a regional map of Brittany (UK, US, Fr). The IGN site also carries dozens of more detailed maps covering every corner of Brittany and its departments. In the UK, Stanfords bookshop has an excellent range of Brittany books and maps, including hundreds of IGN maps.

See also Wendy's Freewheeling France guides to cycling the Nantes-Brest Canal, as well as her history of the Nantes-Brest Canal. She's also written our guides to St-Malo, Rennes, Brest and Vannes.

Wendy Mewes is the author of eight books about Brittany, including the Red Dog guide The Nantes-Brest Canal and the Footprint guide to Brittany (UK, US). She organises many walks and provides professional guided visits through Brittany Heritage Services. You can follow Wendy on Twitter @brittanyexpert

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