I've been reading a lot about some of the towns to visit in Brittany. What I've read most about Roscoff is that many people (usually from the UK) use this city as a drive through after exiting the ferry. I've also read a lot about the onions of Roscoff and of the men who used to sell them in bundles from their bikes. But read little else on what to expect on a visit to this town.
So, it was with low expectations that we decided to head to Roscoff one afternoon; even though we weren't taking a ferry anywhere and weren't planning on eating any onions (they don't agree with us). I had a few things marked on the map, but wasn't sure really what all there was to see and do in this town.
It seems we both thought Roscoff was going to be a charmless, port town with the coastline being built up with industry leaving any notion of charm behind. We were both so happy when we pulled into town and saw how absolutely charming it truly is.
First Stop in Roscoff
We stopped at the Office de Tourisme as soon as we got in. The office is located across the street from the water next to one of the many historic buildings in town. The super helpful woman at the counter gave us a map of a walk (circuit du patrimoine) we could do through town. The walk is about 3.5k and highlights significant buildings and people who've lived in Roscoff. The historical sites along the route are well marked with plaques bearing details in French and English.
We began our walk by heading out to the Chapelle Sainte Barbe to the east of the rest of the notable points. This is a charming walk along the port and up a small hill to the tiny chapel. According to tourism sites, Saint Barbe is the patron saint of Roscoff. The story goes that when the onion "Johnnies" would start off on the ferry toward the UK to sell their wares, they would salute the chapel and recite a local Breton poem. A storm started rolling in while we were ascending the hill to the chapel and a huge rainbow was visible out in the distance over Ile de Batz.
As we wandered around town we noticed there's some interesting modern architecture in this area that we have not seen in other parts of Brittany. There are several houses that appear to be built from the remains of concrete bunkers or armaments. Unfortunately for us, these buildings are situated that makes it difficult to photograph. This new use of an existing building is an intriguing proposition for two people who are obsessed with ramshackle and totally uninhabitable buildings. While we didn't aesthetically love the end result, we absolutely loved the concept.
Lunch in Roscoff
Our stomachs started to growl so we knew we needed to start heading back into the main part of town. I noticed on the map that there was a house marked where Alexandre Dumas had stayed for a summer and a quick check of Google Maps let me know we would pass by on the way to the restaurants I had bookmarked. Apparently, Dumas was writing a cookbook and based on the history Roscoff has with onions, he decided it would be the perfect place for researching and writing his "Onion" chapter. The plaque at the house kindly included a passage from the chapter which provided some insights on how to cook with/use onions; it was mostly to use them with meats and in soup. This excerpt didn't leave us thinking we wanted to check out the rest of the book and chapter and we were glad he shifted his writing in other directions.
Luckily the bulk of the restaurants we were interested in were along the circuit we were following so we were able to see several other notable buildings on our way. Several of the restaurants were closed (as seems customary for January) but fortunately the well reviewed Brasserie le Surcouf was open. We were talking about splitting the seafood platter but when I saw the quantity of seafood and the amount of work that it entailed decided against it. We decided instead to each get our own dishes and maybe leave that sort of thing for another time (the table next to ours had it and there was so much cracking going on!). Zac ordered a three-course menu that started with some of the best oysters we have had. They were amazing. He then had a fish dish with celeriac that was perfection on a plate while my seafood and fish stew was tasty but not as fantastic as Zac's entree. The lovely meal ended with a slice of the local Breton special prune cake. To me, this cake was really more like a clafoutis with its custardy consistency but call it what you want, it was delicious.
While we were eating, the burgeoning storm drenched the town. Fortunately, the rain ended before our meal did and the sun was shining as we headed back out to complete our walk.
The Famous Onions of Roscoff
Onions are such a big deal here that there is a museum dedicated to them and to the "Johnnie's" who sold them from their bikes. But, the winter curse struck again, and the museum is closed the entire time we are in France. The building looks interesting and when else will you get to an onion museum?
A bit more wandering and it was getting late enough that we needed to think about heading back to take care of our chickens. We originally thought to stop by the Boulangerie Guillou for a delicious little something for the road but, were still a little full from lunch. This just leaves a reason for us to come back and delve more into the surprisingly charming town of Roscoff.