Rennes is an ideal place for food lovers. The specialty is a sausage patty – Breton street food. It’s a sausage wrapped in a buckwheat pancake, maybe with onions, but strictly without sauce (if you’re Breton). It is sold in the main market in Place des Lices, in the smaller market in Les Halles and by the many food trucks outside the football stadium on match days. My Coquille restaurant is located on rue Nantaise, which has become a small gastronomic center close to the city center. We serve dishes based on local produce, such as fish, seafood and vegetables from small market gardeners, but the cuisine is influenced by my time working in Asia. Also in the street is the very traditional Café Breton, a real institution with an extensive menu of classic and modern dishes. There is also a great Thai restaurant, Chawp Shop Kphet. Pierre Restaurant de Copains, run by a friend who was a Top Chef finalist [the French version of MasterChef], is a lively and trendy meeting place. You could spend days eating on this street.
The Musee de Bretagne is really interesting – a journey through the history of Brittany and its people – and has works that many will recognise, including sketches by greats like Picasso and Gauguin. The most famous is The Newborn, by the 17th century artist Georges de la Tour. There are also pieces by artists inspired by Brittany, such as Narcisse Chaillou and Octave Penguilly, as well as regular exhibitions of modern art and sculpture.
Rennes is quite small, so it’s hard to choose a particular area, but the area around Place Saint-Germain, right next to Saint-Germain Church, is great. It has an attractive little square and good places to eat and shop; a new metro line that will open later this year will stop here. Behind the church is an amazing Japanese restaurant called Le Fuji: it’s been around for about 30 years and is really authentic. For shopping, there is a fantastic bookstore, Librairie Le Failler, which does interesting editions. And across the river, interesting shops on rue Vasselot include Wakatépé, which sells only ethical products – organic cotton and other sustainable clothing, and vegan shoes.
Rennes’ main park is the Parc du Thabor, which dates from the 18th century and sits on the city’s highest hill. When it opened, only men were admitted. It has formal gardens, a bandstand and an aviary, but there is a prettier park nearby: Oberthür Park is small but more charming, quieter and a bit wilder. This is the garden of the former residence of the engraver François-Charles Oberthür and his wife, Marie Hamelin. I love taking my kids there – there are old trees and a lake with lots of birds.
The Bar Le Doujezu is a famous place in Rennes. The name is a pun for “sweet Jesus” and it appeals to a good mix of ages. The music is quite rock and the bar is set up on an old Mercedes which is cool. South of the center, the 1988 Live Club hosts guest DJs from all over Europe. It’s very popular with techno fans, but there’s something for everyone. I’m a big rock fan, and even though we don’t really have a rock scene in France like in Great Britain, we still have a lot of concerts. I like The MeM, a bit away from the city along the river: it’s a great place, like a marquee, and there are bars by the river, or guinguettes, nearby. A favorite, which has just reopened for summer 2022, is La Basse Cour, in an old farmhouse.
Where to stay
The Magic Hall Hotel (doubles from €68 room only) is a fun place to stay, especially if you’re a music fan. There is a soundproof music room and the rooms are all different. The ground floor is like being in someone’s house, with an open kitchen and living area.
Chef Arnaud Guilloux was born and raised near Rennes, but worked all over the world before going home the Breton city in 2017