Experience Brittany: Forest Bathing in Brittany forests
Every day, our senses are overloaded with blue screens, telephone calls, and email notifications, and many of us don’t step away from that world at the end of the workday. We all know what that means – burnout. It is no surprise then that our bodies need and crave time to decompress.
According to studies published in Yaleenvironment360 magazine:
…time in nature — as long as people feel safe — is an antidote for stress: It can lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels, reduce nervous system arousal, enhance immune system function, increase self-esteem, reduce anxiety, and improve mood.
I read another article recently on the Japanese term Shirin-yoku or “forest bathing”, which describes spending intentional, unhurried time in nature, making a conscious effort to absorb oneself fully and sensorially, and actively taking in the sights, smells, and sounds of a forest. This resonated with me as I feel most alive and rejuvenated when I am amongst the trees.
Numerous studies indicate a strong correlation between time spent in nature – a minimum of at least two hours per week – with overall happiness and well-being. Being in nature also piques our ability to think creatively; countless artists and writers have found inspiration for their works while gazing out over the ocean, standing in a field of flowers, or simply spending time in a cabin in the woods. They understood the magic that happens when we allow ourselves to be still, breathe, and completely aware of the wonders that lie in the natural world.
It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.Robert Louis Stevenson
Experience Brittany forests: explore the great outdoors
One of the things I admire about French culture is that this idea is taken into daily life, for the French understand and appreciate a slower pace and taking pleasure in living fully in the present moment. This is one of the reasons we Francophiles return to France as often as we can, to try and soak in enough of this way of life so that we may carry it back and incorporate it into our lives at home.
After traveling to France several times over the last few decades, I was introduced to the region of la Bretagne (Brittany) and fell instantly for its friendly people, cuisine, and raw beauty.
Simply put, Brittany is ‘the’ region for nature lovers. With thousands of hectares of enchanting forests, magnificent coastlines, and incredible rock formations, Brittany is perfect for those who want to spend their time exploring the great outdoors especially Brittany Forests.
Huelgoat Forest, Bretagne, France
My favorite Brittany forest to visit is La Forêt de Huelgoat, located in the Armorique Regional National Park in the Finistère department, just a little over 2 hours west of Brittany’s capital city of Rennes. This forest spans some 2500 acres with varied flora, fauna, and remarkable rock formations.
My friends and I visited the forest a few years ago and I remember the experience well. The moment we stepped into the forest, we left behind the day’s stresses and seemingly stepped into another universe. Nature’s palette changed from primary colors to neutral tones and we were clothed in a world of green foliage, branches, and rocks in varying shades of greys and browns. We breathed in the smell of the damp earth and heard only the sound of the wind dancing through the leaves.
Within moments, our minds forgot the hustle and bustle of daily life and we were brought into a state of complete relaxation. Our minds went quiet and our eyes adjusted to the change in light. We began to notice squirrels moving from one branch to another and heard the soft gurgle of a stream. Our breathing changed from quick and shallow to long and deep. We started to notice patterns in the ground, created from roots grazing the surface, and prisms of light that had made its way through the lush foliage and boulders that were splayed about, some seemingly out of a pirate’s tale …
While science-minded individuals say the massive boulders that are scattered about the winding river are the result of eons of geological brewing, legend says they were thrown by an angry giant who was served a rather simple meal in Huelgoat that left him hungry. Unsatisfied, he left the town and went on to Léon, where he ate a hearty meal.
Swearing revenge on the townsfolk who did not serve him a proper dinner, he went to the sea, found some large boulders, and with his immense strength, hurled them back towards Huelgoat where they rest today. Standing near them, it is hard to say whether they are the result of nature or the giant’s doing. In any event, they were certainly a sight to behold.
Huelgoat is an absolute treasure and not to be missed if you are looking for a rather magical outdoor adventure.
Spending time in nature on your next trip to France will ensure that you return home refreshed, and what better place to do so than in Brittany.
Upon entering the town, one travels over a small bridge that straddles the man-made lake. We parked in the small lot by the water’s edge then walked to the forest entrance at the Moulin du Chaos.
Things to know before you go
Signs indicate to exercise caution and the area may not be suitable for young children or those with limited mobility. While the path through the forest is relatively clear, the areas around the rock formations are naturally uneven and areas around the boulders can be slick, especially when wet. If you choose to explore this beautiful area, make sure you are wearing shoes with good traction.
A charming map of the town is posted at the side of the bridge.
Crêperie la Grotte
25 rue des Cendres (3,741.25 mi)
Open Tuesday through Friday 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.,
Saturday from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and
Sunday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Closed Monday
Additional information and photos here:
Creperie les Myrtilles
26 Place Aristide Briand, 29690 Huelgoat, France
Open 12 – 2 p.m. Wednesday through Friday,
Saturday 12 – 2 p.m. and 7 – 8:45 p.m.,
Sunday 12 – 2:00 p.m. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
Have you ever experienced Forest Bathing? Have you experienced any Brittany forests before? Share your experiences with us in the comments below.
Sources and Further Reading:
1. Spending more time outdoors to lead a more fulfilling life via Washington Post.
2. Brittany tourism via Regions-of-France.com
3. France – Forest areas by region via Statista.com
4. Japanese Forest Bathing via Time.com
5. The heart of Bretagne – la foret de huelgoat via Brittanytourism.com
6. Legend adapted via finisterebrittany.com
7. The forest of Broceliande via brittanytourism.com
8. Broceliande forest via placeandsee.com
9. The mythical forest of Huelgoat via ciel.fr
10. Tembling Rock via atlasobscura.com
11. Ecopsychology: How immersion in nature benefits your health via e360.yale.edu
12. Experience Brittany Hiking guide and the great outdoors via myfrenchlife.org
The Ultimate Guide to Brittany
A series of articles with a focus on wellbeing & nature
From the Brittany Coast to Forests and more…
1. Experience Brittany: a hidden gem at the water’s edge
2. Experience Brittany: Forest Bathing
3. Experience Brittany: Outdoor activities & natural beauty
4. Experience Brittany: learn French—cooking with Christine Todd – interview (this one)
5. Experience Brittany: the Rance River—serenity and significance
and many more to come…
ALSO don’t miss our LIVE chronicle of EXPERIENCE BRITTANY
BINGE on BRITTANY: The Nature Cocktail