by Sam Cleal
The small town of Quimperlé is in the southeast of Finistère, one of five departments in Brittany, just to the east of the capital Quimper. With a population of just 11,088 people, the town appears both emphatically rural and wonderfully quiet. It is traditionally divided in two parts, the ‘High Town’ and the ‘Lower Town’; both are within a very short walking distance and each can be viewed from the other, making for a lovely tour of the commune. The Lower Town, in the valley, is the historical centre, and is developed around the Saint-Colomban church and the fantastical abbey of Sainte Croix (Holy Cross). The more modern High Town, in the plain above the valley, centres around the Saint-Michel church and its market square. Seen from the Lower Town, its “mountain” topped with the Saint-Michel church has earned Quimperlé the nickname of “Mount Saint Michel on land.”
The impression I have from visiting Quimperlé is influenced by how picturesque and serene the place is; it seems to have the best aspects of rural French villages, combined with just enough commercial trade keep one occupied. The area was first inhabited by Neanderthals – although there is no trace of an actual settlement in the prehistoric times – and by the 12th century, a new town called Quimperlé had grown around the abbey of Sainte Croix, which stands out as an architectural highlight, having a grand aesthetic and a stunning Romanesque basilica that can still be seen. Similarly, the church of St Michel, which was built in the 14th and 15th centuries, appears immediately significant – its impressive tower dominates the town from its hilltop position.
But there is also a market on Fridays full of trinkets and treasures, artworks and antiques. The upper town has plenty of quaint little shops, there are music stores in particular abundance, and places to eat and buy French pastry and meat from, including my personal favourite, ‘La Coulée Douce’, a fabulous French brasserie that was built to hang over the river. But the highlight for me was the view of the river and the handsome buildings that run beside it, (in the header image.) The town is situated at the confluence of the Isole and Ellé rivers that combine to form the Laïta river, owing to the name of the town ‘confluence of the Ellé. This picture really epitomised to me the beauty and simplicity of the typical small French town.