Sophie Zunz has spent her career traveling the world, from her current role as co-founder of Boston's uber cool Moxie Agency to her earlier work in fashion (most interesting business trip: spending three weeks on the road with Ricky Martin when Armani sponsored his La Vida Loca tour). But the place most special to her is her family home in Brittany, where Sophie and her children spend their summers. Here, the Charlottesville, Virginia-based mom shares what makes Saint-Briac-sur-Mer so special.
Saint-Briac-Sur-Mer is a seaside commune in the IIIe-et-Vilaine Department in Brittany in northwestern France. I have been fortunate to call this area my second home since birth, and home to generations of my family before me. As a child, it was easy to take things for granted, but upon my annual return with my children, Henry and Lila, the attachment and appreciation of this small village grows deeper as I watch the area’s beauty and bountiful activities fuel their unbridled joy and happiness.
A brief history: the name Saint Briac comes from an individual, an Irishmen, who arrived to the area in 548. Brittany is bordered by the English Channel, and before becoming part of the Kingdom of France in 1532, it was an independent kingdom that could be referenced to as Lesser or Little Britain (as opposed to Great Britain). Although the Bretons, as the locals are called, trace much of their heritage to groups of Brittonic speakers who emigrated from southwestern Great Britain, it is mostly the Celtic era culture that lives on through music, food and festivals.
The area’s raw beauty is most immediate upon arrival to Saint Briac. It’s easy to know why artists Emile Bernard, Auguste Renoir and Paul Signac all spent time there and used the area for inspiration. Today, probably the most known connection made to Saint Briac is that it is the home to the Forbes family estate. Secretary of State John Kerry, a grandson of James Grant Forbes, spent many childhood summers and still stops when visiting France.
Saint Briac has seven beaches, and the tide runs in six hour shifts. For the kids, this is one of the best attributes of vacationing there. To best understand the transformation this 6 hour difference makes, I recommend watching this short time-lapse video:
The tidal shifts allows for longs days of exciting adventures, without feeling that you spend the whole day doing just one thing. When the tide is out you can take long walks along the oceanic cliffs “les rochers” through all seven beaches. Walking along side the boats which rest on its side and picking up sea treasures make any child’s imagination to run wild. Another great activity when the tide is out is fishing. Henry, who is eight, would spending hours catching crab and small shrimp (“crevette”). This year, we caught sandeel “lançons” – a small fish that lives in the surface of the sand when the tide is out. When the tide is up, we love to swim, surf and boogie board. Henry takes surf lessons when he’s there, but there are also many other lessons offered for other water sports.
One of our favorite things we do each year to take a ferry from Dinard, a neighboring seaside town to St. Malo. You can go by car, but it’s a 15 minute boat ride and worth it for the view alone. St. Malo is a walled port city, notorious for its piracy past, but now filled with shops and restaurants. It’s also still a working port. You can easily spend a day there walking the pedestrian only streets and be entertained by street performers.
Aside from all of our water and seaside adventures, our other favorite part of spending time there is the food. Each day, in either Saint Briac or a surrounding village, is a farmers’ market - “le marché”. The bounty of fresh fish, fruit and vegetables, cheese, saucisson will make just about anyone salivate. And for the kids, each vendor (there are also clothes, toys and housewares) is a place of discovery. Locals shop daily and early. One of the specialties in the area is the galette (savory crepes made from buckwheat flour). My kids could eat these daily with cheese in them. One of my weaknesses is one with a pork sausage, served hot and wrapped from the marché. You could add mustard but it’s not needed. The well-seasoned pork married with the buck flour taste is a perfect union. The kids devour the fresh fruit; the “mara de bois” strawberries are probably the sweetest most perfect strawberry I have ever tasted. There are so many things we love, you can spend your whole vacation eating, but if checking out the area, among the above other must-haves are the Kouign-Amann and oysters from Cancale.
Snapshots from Sophie's Saint-Briac
Editor's Note: Regulars in Saint Briac rent houses, but there is a small hotel in town worth trying if staying for only a few days. Hôtel de la Houle has reasonable rates, cheerful decor and a family-friendly attitude. For those who want something more grand, the Grand Hôtel Barrière in neighboring Dinard has all the resort amenities, including an indoor heated pool and a kids’ club.