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Cities of France - Rennes

The capital of the region of Brittany, Rennes, in the north-west of France, is a fascinating city that deserves a visit. Combining Parisian sophistication with Breton charm, Rennes was once an independent kingdom and still retains its own very distinct culture.

Most of the city was destroyed in 1720 when, just before Christmas, a drunk carpenter knocked over a lamp and started a huge fire. Although over 900 houses in more than 33 streets were destroyed, luckily, the wooden Vielle Ville remained safe. Today it combines its old world charm with the demands of a modern city so the ancient timber-framed houses are now home to stylish cafes, bars and clubs.

Boasting two major universities, 30% of the population of Rennes are students which means the city has a vibrant nightlife. Some streets, like Rue Saint Michel, are almost exclusively lined with bars. The locals call this popular student hangout, "la rue de la soif", which means "street of thirst". A stroll down this busy rue on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday evening can be an interesting and memorable experience.

Rennes is a popular stopover for tourists on their way from Paris to visit Mont Saint Michel, but it is worth staying for a few days to explore the delights of the city.

You might consider visiting Rennes in early July to catch the "Festival des Tombées de la Nuit". Be ready to join in the fun as the streets are full of people enjoying the free street entertainment and eating or drinking on the terraces of the restaurants and cafés.

There’s no shortage of choice when it’s time to eat. Rennes’ restaurant scene ranges from tasty crepes and galettes or more hearty traditional fare. Or make your own with a visit to the fresh produce market in the central covered market building, Halles Centrales. Immerse yourself in the sights and smells of this vibrant market offering everything you could possibly want to whip up a tasty meal.

Every Saturday morning, France’s second largest market, le Marché des Lices, entices visitors to browse the colourful stalls of over 300 producers from across Brittany, in the unique historical backdrop of old Rennes. You’ll discover a vast array of fish, fresh meat, fruit and vegetables, dry and fruity cider, shellfish and the unmissable salted butter. Even if you’re not a foodie or a shopaholic, it’s unlikely you will leave empty handed.

The Museum of Fine Arts of Rennes is one of the biggest attractions in the city with a collection dating from the 14th to the 20th century including an exhibit of Egyptian pottery as well as drawings from Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and more.

For nature lovers, the Jardin du Thabor should be on your “to visit” list. Considered by many to be the most beautiful garden in France, it features sculptures, fountains and a massive bird cage. Or take a romantic stroll through the rose garden and wander amongst the 1,700 varieties.