Vannes: St Vincent Ferrier



Walking towards Cathedral St-Pierre


Old city gate at Place Gambetta has a statue of St Vincent

I wrote a general introduction to Vannes earlier (see here ). It’s a lovely place, for many reasons, as I explained.


St Vincent at the top of the gate

Another interesting feature we noticed all around the city is the frequent reference to St Vincent, and he seems to be part of the fabric of this city. For example, we found a statue of the saint high on the gate, at the end of rue St Vincent, which leads from the city to Place Gambetta and the marina. So we decided to try and find out who this saint was and why he is important here.

We started at the Cathedral St-Pierre, built in the Flamboyant-Gothic style but with neo-Gothic additions. At the ornate front entrance is a statue of St Vincent that welcomes people in, telling us that he is obviously important here. Inside we got a pamphlet on St Vincent Ferrier, which was pretty informative.


Cathedral St-Pierre


St Vincent welcomes all to the Cathedral


Bust of St Vincent in Cathedral St-Pierre (on his tomb)

Turns out he was a Spanish monk born in Valencia in January 1350. He was obviously very intelligent, studied hard, and joined the Dominicans of Valencia, taking his first religious vows at age 18. By age 28 (1378) he was an ordained priest, with a doctorate in theology and knew Latin, Hebrew and physics. In those times (1378-1415) the church was divided between three rival popes (one in Rome, one in Avignon, one in Pisa), a situation that Vincent realized was not good for the church. So one of his missions was to try and heal the schism. At this time, too, the One Hundred Years War between the kings of France and England was wreaking havoc on the country. So, Vincent’s other mission was to travel the roads of Spain and France, calling for reconciliation and peace.

Vincent travelled extensively in both countries, getting as far north as Franche-Comte and Savoy in France. In 1418 he arrived in Brittany, preached in Vannes and then all over the province, finally arriving back in Vannes in 1419.

StVstatue copy


St Vincent’s house in Vannes

StVhousesignHe was tired from all the walking and preaching and felt that he wanted to get back to Valencia before he died. But, a storm on the Morbihan Gulf forced his craft to return to Vannes. The city gave him a small house on Place Valencia, close to the Cathedral. Sadly, after a few days he died there, on April 5, 1419.

Vannes and the surrounding area organized a very solemn funeral for him in the Cathedral, as he was already considered a saint here. The location of his grave changed several times in the Cathedral but since 1956 it has been in the rotunda Renaissance Chapel. Its official name is the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. We visited it, and it is still very solemn as it is a place of pilgrimage in his honor. It’s a circular space, all in grey stone, with a high ceiling, and little decoration other than the bust of St Vincent on his tomb. In the Cathedral there are some pictures and stained-glass windows depicting scenes from his life, but we have no photos of those. We did, however, see this banner/panel on the pillar near the entrance to the chapel.



Rotunda chapel with St Vincent tomb

We then found Place Valencia near the Cathedral and the house that he lived in briefly. It’s another pretty square in Vannes, with timber-framed houses and small streets leading off it. Standing there quietly, it is possible to imagine life those hundreds of years ago and to imagine an old priest coming here to rest.

Apparently the city has embraced him as their own.

We also had lunch at a creperie called Creperie Saint Vincent one day (see next post).



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Vannes is a Ville Fleurie


Vannes, along the river


Vannes—flower box on bridge


A one-flower town

Background: What are Villes Fleuries?

The ‘towns and villages in bloom’ award (ville fleurie) is given to French places that make a special effort to create a pleasant natural environment for both residents and visitors by focusing on plants, flowers and open areas within the town.

The awards range from 1❀ to 4❀❀❀❀ (4❀❀❀❀ is the highest). There are many places that have received 1❀ and 2❀❀, fewer receive 3❀❀❀, and about 200 that have received the prestigious 4❀❀❀❀ for their efforts. Generally, 4❀❀❀❀ ‘towns in bloom’ in France have made significant long-term efforts to improve their gardens and parks and are worth visiting for this reason alone. Many of these towns are also tourist destinations in their own right, with churches, museums, other historical sights and so on, which is probably the reason that tourists are visiting there anyway—the flowers become a bonus.


A two-flower town





Each year towns can apply for a “Ville Fleurie” rating. This rating includes the best use of green space, quality of life in the town, ways of conserving water, planting of trees and flowers. The places with a 4❀❀❀❀ rating always seem to have an abundance of flowers with vivid colors, or clustered together in striking groups of colors, all begging to be smelled, photographed and admired.

Flower plantings of various kinds are everywhere in these towns, from parks to small gardens to flower boxes on the “ponts” (bridges). The changing of the flowers seems to happen every few months and it’s fun to see what will show up in the gardens next.




Luxembourg Gardens, Paris



I cannot even begin to imagine what the flower budget must be in each town or village in France—obviously significant, as is also the time and effort that must go into creating the floral beauty. The French appear to appreciate—and use–their green spaces, which is very obvious when you wander around the wonderful gardens and parks in Paris (where most people start a visit to France). Over the years we have been in Paris at all times of the year and loved the gardens in all seasons. We’ve also enjoyed watching gardeners at work planting in the spring, pruning trees in the summer, replanting for the fall etc. This is especially notable in the Tuileries Gardens, Luxembourg Gardens and Park Monceau.


Vannes—lovely gardens in the former moat







Now, when we travel around France we take note as we enter a town or village whether it has a Ville Fleurie sign and always end up with masses of flower photos if it does.

Vannes has been a Ville Fleurie with a 4❀❀❀❀ rating, and it wanted to keep that rating, hence its special event Les Jardins Éphémères (which I wrote about here )

But, besides the Ephemeral Gardens, we noticed many other instances of the love of


Vannes—living picture frames

flowers. Here are some examples.




Agapanthus sale

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Now Always on a Sunday



Note the banners

Open on Sundays

Galeries Lafayette is an upmarket French department store chain, the flagship store on Boulevard Haussmann in the 9th arrondissement, very close to Opera Garnier. From January 8, 2017 it is now open on Sundays 11am-7pm (Mondays-Saturdays 9:30am-8:30pm), which marks a huge change. This came after a long and painful battle among its owners, trade unions and employees, showing how difficult it is for France to reform its labor market. Interestingly, 92 per cent of its employees voted in favor of Sunday trading.


The beautiful dome


Africa Now theme

Until recently French law did not allow Sunday trading for many stores, but that has now changed. Two years earlier French president Francois Hollande pushed through a reform package of more business friendly policies, to help boost the French economy. It’s named La loi Macron, after the economy minister at the time—now the new president. Bon Marche and Printemps, among others, have followed suit.

Going to the huge department store, the Galeries Lafayette, is an event in itself, a tourist attraction in its own right and most times we are in Paris we do pop in there, mostly to see what special decorations they have, or to have lunch in one of the eating places on the top floor.


insideGo there to do shopping, as thousands do, or just to gawk at the throngs of shoppers, and at all the merchandise in every segment from fashion to accessories, from beauty to home decoration, and fine food. I’m not really a shopper, and very soon the crowds get too much for me. But, we also go there to look especially at the lovely architecture with the gorgeous glass and steel neo-byzantine dome built in 1912. You can get a good look at the dome from any of the lower floors.

Built in 1898, Galeries Lafayette sprawls over three buildings and takes up whole city blocks. In the heart of Paris on Boulevard Haussmann, this flagship store is considered by many to be the second most visited attraction after the Louvre. Some say it’s also one of the world’s leading department stores, with more than 100,000 visitors each day and 70,000 square meters of sales area.


Africa Now

africa3We were there in late April on a Sunday and there were, indeed, thousands of shoppers, many of them foreigners, so the open-on-Sunday policy seems to be successful!

The store was also spotlighting Africa with their Africa Now—art, fashion, music, design with an African theme and flair. We’d read about that earlier and wanted to see what this special idea was—because we come originally from Africa, we are always interested in anything with an Africa theme. It was a lot of fun, and will continue until June 25. They also had strings of black banners with sayings in white writing, on different levels all across the central atrium.



Some had a love theme (“Let’s dance until we die”, “aimez moi comme un beau reve”); others a travel theme (“le grand voyage”); some seemed to be linked to Africa (“Brazzaville Libreville”, “Your eyes tell me stories of N’Djamena”); while others seemed a bit random (“ une fenetre, une porte”, “L’air du soir”, “My Hero”).

I wasn’t able to find out the significance of these. Any ideas?

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Sculptures in the Tuileries Gardens



My hand shows how realistic these hands are

The Welcoming Hands 1996, in the Jardin des Tuileries since 2000, by Louise Bourgeois

Bronze patine, granite

The Tuileries Garden, one of the oldest public gardens in Paris, always impresses visitors with its orderly design along the city’s historical axis, with its ponds and lovely gardens, but also with numerous outdoor sculptures. One we had not seen before is “The Welcoming Hands”. Walking along that path recently we noticed the hands, and were fascinated, thinking that perhaps they were some of Rodin’s work, as he loved to work on hands (and there is another of his works near the Orangerie).


Part of the Tuileries Garden, just beyond the Welcoming Hands

hands3But, this is a different artist, Louise Bourgeois, French-American (born Paris December1911, died Manhattan May 2010). It consists of five sets of intertwined bronze hands and arms, varying in size from 20-30 inches wide and high, on rough-hewn granite pedestals. Located near the northwestern corner of the garden, these delicate hands and arms tell, and ask, so much. Who do they belong to? Why are they cut off? These hands hold each other tightly, as though to prevent the other one from leaving, or as a sign of solidarity.


I admire another set of hands

parkferrisOne also notices the historical reference that the sculpture as a whole might be making to its surroundings; it looks out at the famous Place de la Concorde, forever associated with the guillotine since the French Revolution, and therefore probably with severed limbs. However, for me, these arms are not gruesome at all, but rather more loving, and the artist herself called them “Welcoming Hands”.

These days, the Place de la Concorde is a busy traffic thoroughfare and has the giant


A game of boules

Ferris Wheel close to the edge of the park. We were there two days after the terrorist attack on Champs Elysees in April, and it was a quiet, peaceful Sunday, warm in the spring sunshine. It was very nice to see that ordinary Parisians were going about their usual Sunday activities: walking in the gardens, playing boules, relaxing on one of the many metal chairs, buying icescreams etc.



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Where to Eat in Vannes




One of the murals inside

Brasserie Les Halles et des Arts

9 rue des Halles, Vannes

This brasserie is on a side street, just up from Les Halles (the Covered Market Hall, just inside the old walls on the east side of Old Vannes) and is obviously very popular, as each time we walked by it was pretty full. On our last evening, we decided to try it and were very happy with our choices and our meal.

You can sit inside, both upstairs and downstairs, or at a few outside tables. The inside is decorated with attractive large murals.



musselsWhen we first got there, the large glass door between inside and outside was open and we opted to sit at a table just inside, to benefit from the outside air without being outside totally, as it was a little cool. Soon after we sat down though, the staff closed the door, as the breeze got really cool. We didn’t mind actually, as the people at the table just outside had started to smoke and the smoke was drifting inside, which we dislike intensely!

A chalkboard advertised the Menu of the Day for 16 euros—a appetizer plus a main dish, R3fishor a main dish plus a dessert. A good deal, but we opted for the menu, as we wanted more choice. I had a wonderful mussels dish, Rod some oysters to start and then a house special of a dish with 3 fish. Plus a bottle of rose wine. All great, with good service in spite of the place being busy, and the total was only 58.80 euros.

You can pick up a business card with a punch card on the back: after 10 visits, the Brasserie will offer you a free aperitif for the whole table (kir, sangria or fruits juice). A nice idea, if you live there.


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Eating Around Gare de Bercy



Bercy Cafe’s delicious version of Salade Perigourdine

 Bercy Café

On recent trips in France we have quite frequently traveled from, or to, Gare de Bercy—often on our way to Clermont-Ferrand. On a couple of occasions, we’ve arrived at Bercy with a number of hours to spare before our train departure, and it was lunch time.

The station itself has only a couple of take-away food stands, no actual café to sit down for a light meal. So, we wandered around the nearby streets and there are many cafes and restaurants.

We picked the Cafe Bercy pretty much at random the first time, as their menu had


Perfect with a small pichet of rose wine

good lunch salads. But, the salads were so good that we returned on another occasion.

So, if you are ever at Bercy Station and need a meal, try this café, just a 5-minute walk from the station platforms.

118 rue de Bercy,

Open 7 days a week, 5:30am-2am

Service continu 11:30am-midnight. Service continu (continual service) means they don’t have set hours for serving lunch and dinner, as many places in France do. It wouldn’t make sense to restrict meal times here, as their clientele must often be travelers like us.

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Jardins Éphémères, A First in France


Rod in the gardens (previously moat) just outside old Vannes city walls


The first garden we saw

In the summer of 2016, Vannes had a wonderful garden series, called Jardins Éphémères (Ephemeral Gardens).

When we first walked into the old walled city from our hotel just outside the city walls, we noticed a pocket-sized patch of greenery alongside one of the walls and thought “Oh how pretty.”

Next we noticed the “lace” discs on poles in the median strip of the main road in front of the marina when we walked there for dinner. An information board told us it was called “Escape” “It is a reflection on perspective. The garden is caught in traffic, but it must not hide the view of the harbor. It is an open perspective between the town and the port of Vannes.” That was when we began to realize that this must be a series of special “gardens” and we decided to find out more in the next days.


“Lace” discs at marina


“Escape”, with old entrance gate to Vannes in background, left


“Escape”, the garden on the median by the marina/port

Jardins Éphémères (Ephemeral Gardens) has the meaning of fleeting, impermanent gardens. Or maybe the idea of gauzy and misty also comes into it, depending on one’s interpretation, I guess.

We found out that this was was the second year the city held this special event. The first edition of Les Jardins Éphémères in 2015 was one of the most successful events of 2015 in Vannes. In the heart of the old city there were 16 contemporary, classical, modern or offbeat gardens that captivated the locals and the millions of tourists (some estimate 2 million a year).

The concept was the idea of Vannes’ mayor David Robo as a way for the city to keep its 4-flower reputation. France has a system of designating whether a city/town is pretty with many flowers: The city/town gets designated as a Ville Fleurie (a Flower Town) on a board as you enter the town—more flowers on the board mean a more flowery town. Vannes has been a Ville Fleurie with 4 flowers (like 4 stars for a hotel) and the city wanted to keep that honor.


One sign describing a garden on 2016


Vannes cathedral

There was no cost to the city for the first Jardins Éphémères except watering costs to maintain the gardens. This is because the garden creations were financed and donated by landscape professionals. These people in turn benefited from a showcase of millions of visitors, and communication media to publicize their work.

Because 2015 was such a success the city decided to do it again in 2016. For this new edition, about forty creations were received from a call for projects. The city retained twenty-one proposals, which became 21 gardens installed on 21 sites in the historic heart of Vannes. The teams were multidisciplinary, composed of landscapers, nurserymen, architects, writers, sculptors or landscape schools. As in 2015, all works were realized and financed by the landscapers.

There was a map with a garden walk to find all 21 gardens, but we only discovered that


City Hall was the site of a garden (see below)

after the fact, so we missed a few. But it was fun anyway, discovering these Jardins Éphémères dotted all over the Old City and tracking down as many as we could. Some were fairly large, some very tiny, some pretty, some whimsical, some funny, some overflowing with greenery, others with almost no greenery. But, each one had a theme and a story, which is a lovely concept. And, what they planted and and/or where they planted fit into that theme.

As we read, some of the gardens are emblematic, some colored, some innovative, or fragrant, or edible. One, in the Town Hall, was even made of paper, so really anything goes! The city and the creators obviously put a lot of creative time and energy into making these and it was a great addition to the city landscape.

As we wandered around we realized that each garden had an information board explaining its meaning. We read the boards and tried to understand what the creators meant and wanted to convey.

Some gardens: (pictures below each description)

Le Jardin des Ruches (beehives); the board invites “lover of bees you are welcome here.”



Next to the Cathedral St Pierre is Entre Ciel et Terre (Between Sky and Earth), also described as “between man and countryside.”


Le Jardin Gourmand; described as a garden to nourish, to honor the richness and diversity of cultivated plants, including a small street library, and various garden tools.



Le Serpent qui Danse (The Serpent that Dances); “Follow the serpent dancing and undulating with feminine curves along one side of the port. This fascinating reptile from the waters now has a body of straw to better blend it in with nature.”


La Colline aux Mille Jardins (The Hill of a Thousand Gardens); This garden is just outside the old city walls, next to the Prison Gate. Vannes school children colored the pots, presenting their imaginary gardens. Beautifully done, we thought.





Reconquête (Reconquest): This garden, also on one side of the port, evokes a winning back/retaking of earth by the fauna and flora in an urban environment.



La Guinguette des Belles Éphémères (The Outdoor Café of the Beautiful Fleeting Things): Who are the beautiful ephemeral beings, mysterious personages that adorn the Hotel de Ville Square, motionless around the pond?




Jardin Gourmand

Apparently a few of the 2016 garden installations around the marina/port were damaged (sadly), but the city has decided that they will go ahead with an edition in 2017.

These are the first Jardins Éphémères (Ephemeral Gardens) in France and no other city has copied, so far. Although, the city of Nancy does have a large garden called Jardin Éphémère in the main city square, Place Stanislas, which it has put on every year for 13 years now.



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