La Roche Bernard is situated 5 minutes away from the Parc Naturel Régional de La Brière, a regional park which includes the largest wetland area in France outside of the Carmargue. The park covers around 100,000 acres and was established in 1970 to protect the cultural and natural aspects of the area. The area is characterised by a vast network of canals, islets, marshes and lagoons, which play host to a myriad of wildlife, and is a bird-watchers paradise. You can see traditional crafts, such as thatched roofing, bee-keeping and flower drying, that have been preserved within the Brière.
Located in a collapsed area of the Armorican granite bedrock, the Brière is a large lagunar depression where repeated oceanic movements over the last 10,000 years have produced blue clay sedimentation. In the Neolithic period it changed from a primarily forested landscape to a swampier more lacustrian environment. Dolmens and menhirs testify to human presence during that period. Some megaliths placed here before the formation of the swamps are now sunk in the peat, like the “fossil” trees called “mortas” by the Briérons. Over the centuries, the landscape was modified by peat cutting, pasturing, field clearing, fishing and hunting. With the progressive decline in these traditional activities, nature started to return the landscape to its original appearance.
In the heart of the Brière, the area around the Ile-de-Fédrun offers numerous opportunities for tourist excursions, such as a “promenade en barque” where visitors can take a trip on a small punt through the labyrinth-like canal system. You can hire punts and find your own way, or you can take a guided tour. Other organised boat rips can be made from Bréca and Les Fosses Blancs.
Local legend has it that Saint Lyphard was once under the spell of a fierce dragon that would only allow people to inhabit the area if they sacrificed a young child each year. Eventually, the dragon is slain by a hermit who tracks the dragon to its lair, and kills it with his sword. Nowadays, the dragon is gone and visitors can take trips around the local area on Caleches (horse-drawn carts).
In the heart of the Brière lies Kerhinet, a village that has been restored as it would have been in bygone days. It is a pedestrianised area offering various exhibitions of local craft and produce. A bar and excellent (we have eaten there a number of times!) restaurant make this a nice place to stop for a short visit en route between La Roche Bernard and the beach at La Baule.