Shortly after Anthony and I met back in 2005, he got a job in Pontrieux. It’s still hard for me to believe that there are jobs in Pontrieux–to the casual visitor, it feels like one of those beautiful little towns that exists only for tourists and those looking for a slower life. We didn’t stay there long (job transfer) but the town has stuck with me. Pontrieux, home to approximately 1200 people, sits on the Trieux river about 40km away from Saint Brieuc and is a nice day out. In the 15th century, after the destruction of the local fortress at Châteaulin-sur-Trieux, villagers built a new town spanning the Trieux river and linked by a bridge (pont in French)–Pont-Trieux, soon shortened to Pontrieux, was born! The town became an important local port shipping goods in all directions and today it remains a popular destination for recreational sailing. The port is an easy 10-minute walk from the center of town.
Even if you’re not interested in sailing per se, one of the best ways to discover the town is by boat. The river is lined with lavoirs and guided boat tours show off this unique heritage. Before the advent of washing machines, local women used these stone structures located near springs or rivers to wash their clothes. Pontrieux boasts 50 beautifully restored and maintained lavoirs all decorated with flowers. (We actually have one minutes from our home although I wouldn’t qualify it as a tourist attraction!)
France loves coming up with different labels, certifications, standards, and diplomas for everything and anything. The tourist industry is no exception to this rule. To that end, Pontrieux proudly holds several titles–“Ville Fleurie” with 4-flowers, the highest rating, “Petite Cité de Caractère de Bretagne” and “Ville d’Artisans d’Art.” As a Flowered City (literally translated), Pontrieux is filled with beautiful flower beds and public gardens. The tourist office offers maps with suggested itineraries. The town is small enough, however, that it’s hard to get lost and you can just enjoy wandering along the river and exploring the tiny streets. Pontrieux also boasts any number of skilled artisans or craftsman with boutiques and sometimes even workshops open to the public. With small children, window-shopping is a safer idea, however, even I dared to take the girls into the wooden toy store!
Once you’ve finished walking around using up your camera’s batteries, Pontrieux reserves one last wonderful surprise–a working steam locomotive! Well, let’s just say it should be working soon; unfortunately due to unforeseen technical issues, the train will only start running again in June this year! La Vapeur du Trieux runs from Pontrieux to Paimpol from May to September during the tourist season. We took the train back in 2005 and I made the mistake of promising the girls that the train would be working on our way there this weekend. Rule Number One: Never promise anything to your children unless you’re sure you can deliver! Neither of the girls took the news well and our ears suffered a bit! Luckily, like any self-respecting Breton town, Pontrieux has a crêperie and a little bit of bribery did wonders!
When I took the train with Anthony, we rode on the 1912 231-K8. The current train, also a historical turn-of-the-century model, is a 141 TD 740. Depending on your plans, you can buy one-way or roundtrip tickets, children under 4 are free as long as you hold them in your lap. You can also choose between non-stop service between the two towns (about 30 minutes) or a ride with a stop in the middle at the Maison de l’Estuaire. To get into the spirit, 1920s-style costumed guides bring the trip alive pointing out info on the sights and train in both French and English. If the idea of riding a real steam locomotive and meeting Thomas the Tank Engine’s French cousin isn’t enough to excite your children, during the summer, special themed trips exist just for families. According to the 2012 schedule, storytellers and magicians will be spreading smiles on train rides in July and August. Staff are excited to talk about the train in detail and welcome enthusiasts from all over. I just might have to take the girls back again–with warmer drier weather and a working train, I can’t go wrong for the day!