Redon in Brittany is a perfect launching pad for a cycle tour along the Nantes-Brest Canal. Wendy Mewes, author of this excellent guide to cycling the Nantes-Brest Canal, has this guide to Redon.
Redon nestles in the south-west corner of Ille-et-Vilaine, at the confluence of the Vilaine and the Oust. It was once the port for Brittany’s capital Rennes, with goods being unloaded from ocean-going ships here and taken upstream by canal. Today the town is the canal centre of Brittany, with the Nantes-Brest waterway crossing the river Vilaine here and the Musée de la Batellerie, treasure-trove of Brittany’s inland waterways situated on Quai Jean Bart. This contains artefacts and videos (one in English) of working and social life on the canals in days gone by.
There’s a contrast between the current pleasure port and the ancient trading area on the Vilaine a few streets away, where many old buildings of former commercial usage remain. The Passage de Saulniers, for example, refers to salt-merchants whose warehouses can still be seen. Wealthy traders’ houses with their distinctive iron balconies, where living accommodation was above the storage areas, line the river-bank.
Once an important staging post on the Compostella trail, many pilgrims travelled here overland and then continued by boat towards Nantes. A plaque on the eponymous Quai St-Jacques commemorates this religious traffic.
Redon’s a town full of contrasts: a successful modern commercial hub and marketplace combined with many medieval houses and an ancient abbey of great renown. This abbey was significant in Brittany’s history. Attempts by the monk Conwoïon to gain permission for a religious foundation here in the 9th century initially met with a lack of favour from Louis the Pious, emperor of the Franks. Louis had recently abandoned his efforts to conquer the west of the peninsula, instead appointing a Breton, Nominoë, to be his representative. When Conwoïon appeared to be rebuffed by Louis, Nominoë gave the go-ahead himself, and the abbey was built in 834. Its later cartulaire – a record of all land-holdings and persons in economic contract with the abbey – is a rich source of information for early Breton history.
In the 17th century, Cardinal Richlieu was commendatory abbot here and the cloister to be seen today, now part of a lycée, bears evidence of his work. The abbey church has both Romanesque and Gothic elements. A peculiarity is the lone tower nearby – its partner was never built after a great fire destroyed the connecting section.
Redon has a very good, helpful tourist office, reached from the abbey by an underpass.
Cycling in Redon
The tourist office website has cycling circuits to download. For longer distance, the towpath of the Nantes-Brest canal gives access to 365km of cycling. Eventually a green way linking Rennes and the Gulf of Morbihan will pass through Redon. At present you can go north to join the V2 not far from Rennes.
For bike hire in Redon, see our bike rental listings for Brittany.
Don’t miss the chance to visit St-Just, 18km north-east of Redon, where some of the best Neolithic remains in Brittany stretch widely over a lonely heath. The famous town of artists and artisans, La Gacilly, is situated on the river Aff 14km from Redon and is well worth a visit. It was the home town of Yves Rocher and his beauty products are still made in the town - you can visit the factory and the shop. There’s also a well-signed Route de Vilaine, for driving or cycling between places on interest and scenic beauty in this area, often on quiet roads.
Getting to Redon
By car, Redon is 2 hours south of the ferry port at St-Malo. See our ferries to France section for more information and links. It's 4 hours by car or 3 hours by train from Paris via Rennes. It also has links to Lyon, Toulouse and Bordeaux via Nantes. See our information on taking bikes on French trains.
Accommodation and food
Redon has a good range of restaurants and hotels. Recommended for a short stay are the good-value Hotel Asther with its friendly staff and central location, and Hotel Le France, which is situated facing the Nantes-Brest canal, and will rent you a bike for a day out; it also has bike storage if you're bringing your own wheels.
For eating out, you won’t get better value and service than at L’Abri Cotier (39 rue des Douves, 02 99 71 13 42), but if you want luxury in food and surroundings, try La Bogue (3 rue des Etats, 02 99 71 12 95) in a building where the Breton Parliament once met. For a true Breton eating experience, go for the Creperie L’Akène in the old port area – great beers and sausage-stuffed crepes.
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
Books and maps
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 guide to cycling the Nantes-Brest Canal, as well as her history of the Nantes-Brest Canal. She's also written a regional overview of Brittany, and guides to Brest, Rennes, Quimper and Vannes.