I recently received this lovely note from a reader, Sandi, regarding A French Wedding: ‘Wonderful book. My husband was from Brittany and we enjoyed Douarnenez every summer. His Aunt’s seafood platter and Kouign-Amann was amazing. Thank you for bringing back some wonderful memories.’
It’s such a joy (and relief) to hear from readers who give the thumbs-up on your depiction of a setting. Because places are so dear to us it’s impossible to completely capture them in a way that will satisfy everyone. This was always going to be a challenge for the location of Douarnenez, where A French Wedding is set – trying to get it right for those who know and love Brittany as much as I do, painting the right kind of picture for those who haven’t yet been. Too much fondness applied and it becomes too saccharine, a pinch too much cynicism and fictional Brittany is suddenly bleaker than its weather.
As I mentioned in my last post about it’s famous pastry, the more I learned about Douarnenez – its tiny size, its rugged geography, its fishing industry, its history and folklore – the more I knew it was where A French Wedding needed to be set. Douarnenez is exactly where Juliette would come from and where she would go back to after living in Paris, bereft and in search of, well, herself. And, of course, Max – British, wealthy, famous and similarly lost – would buy a cottage on the coast and transform it into the kind of holiday house worth showing off to friends – full of glass and brass and large wooden tables ready for entertaining.
I took these photos of Douarnenez on a research trip back in 2015, with my family in tow. We had just come from Korcula in Croatia, where the Adriatic sea glittered and the sun shone white and hot, so Douarnenez was a stark contrast. Always a fan of the underdog, I loved the town. I loved the stone houses in the village clustered around the oily marina, the gulls riding the thermals, even the brooding grey of the sky. We stayed in an incredible, ancient home – Manoir de Kerdanet – run by Sid and Monique, eating Far Breton for breakfast and sipping local cider in the evenings while Monique told us the local myths and history. We went to the local markets and ate all the local produce we could find including cheeses, salt-marsh lamb and the incomparable kouign-amann. One night we went out to a restaurant perched on a cliff’s edge and devoured fresh lobster baked in glossy copper pots, as the mist rolled in towards us.
The trip was validation that I had chosen the right place for Max to celebrate his fortieth birthday and set the story for A French Wedding. I had been seeking somewhere small, coastal, historical, unpolished and real, wild even – and Douarnenez ticked all the boxes.
Have you been to Brittany? Did you love it?