Pontivy in Brittany is a charming market town on the River Blavet and the Nantes to Brest canal, that has medieval roots and became one of Napoleon's 'new towns' in the 19th century.
Founded by an English monk called Ivy when he built a bridge across the River Blavet, the pretty market town of Pontivy sits in a valley surrounded by forests. In the 12th century, when Viscount Rohan settled here, it became the seat of one of Brittany's most powerful houses. Under the rule of the Rohan family, by the 14th century, the town had become an important political and administrative town. The medieval quarter of Pontivy is well-preserved today with winding streets and overhanging half-timber houses that almost kiss. The most impressive medieval architecture in the town is undoubtedly the 15th century fortress, the Château des Rohan. French military history has played a significant role in the town's past and in the early 19th century it was renamed Napoléonville in honour of the military commander.
Pontivy is a curious mix of serpentine medieval streets and grandiose 19th century architecture. Wander around the Place du Martray, which was Pontivy's main square in medieval times to the Maison des Trois-Piliers, the only remaining example of a Breton porched house in Morbihan. Napoleon wanted to make the town into a strategic military centre and pavilions were built for leading commanders, as well as the law courts, a prison, and houses for the mayor and other officials. The imposing Neoclassical buildings of the 19th century and their pretty sculpted gardens make for a charming sightseeing tour around the town. You'll also spot some quaint churches and chapels. However, Pontivy's most admirable work of architecture, the Château des Rohan, sits overlooking the river from the Rue Général de Gaulle. Built in the 15th century, the château has 3 towers, including 2 imposing circular towers at the front with a moat, and has seen action throughout several wars and seiges.
Though previously the river and the Nantes to Brest canal made Pontivy a strategic town for the military, today it is a great place to set out and enjoy some water sports and boating. Try your hand at barging on the canal, or go canoeing and kayaking on the river. The GR37 route follows alongside the Brest to Nantes canal and is great for hikers and cyclists alike. From Pontivy, you can follow the route east to Rohan and on to Josselin. Bicycles are available to rent from the Tourist Office and you will also find information about the Jean Robic cycle routes around the Pontivy countryside. There are also marked trails for horse riding in the area, just follow the orange signs with a horseshoe symbol. The Hilvern canal near the Forêt de Branguilly has some lovely tree-lined towpaths that are great for a quiet walk. There are several woods and forest to explore filled with megaliths and legends. The Forêt de Quénécan is so verdant that it has been nicknamed Brittany's 'little Switzerland' and is close to Lake Guerlédan.
Pontivy's market is on a Monday morning and is filled with fresh produce. You'll find well-stocked charcuteries and pâtisseries in the town and if you take a look down some of the side streets you'll discover some great little shops hiding there. The Maison des Trois-Piliers is perfect for souvenir hunters and sells postcards and other mementos. Enjoy some sweet crêpes or savoury galettes, depending on your mood, from one of the many crêperies in town or sample some Breton seafood in the restaurants. The Breton pastry kouign amann is popular in the pâtisseries and has a buttery, caramelised taste. Don't forget to enjoy some local cidre (cider) or poiré (pear cider) with your meal. Chouchen is often served as an aperitif before your meal and is a delicious mead that is generally served chilled.
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