Falling For France
by Nicole Carlozo -- October 24th, 2011
Join me on a written tour of France’s northern coast! I put my books away and journeyed on a week-long tour of Brittany during this year’s Fall Break. Throughout the week we were steeped in coastal knowledge, culture, gorgeous landscapes, espresso, and copious amounts of cheese and chocolate. Did I mention the espresso?
I’ve always wanted to visit France, and what better way than on a trip emphasizing my Masters Concentration: Coastal Environmental Management. This semester I signed up for the Marine Lab’s Fall Break course “Marine Studies in Brittany.” The course promised to educate us on France’s coastal issues, uses, and management, but also exposed us to the French culture.
I traveled with five classmates and two instructors around Brittany, with a quick stop in Normandy and one night in Paris. Don’t miss my next few blogs to find out more about the trip!
Day 1: October 9th
Bienvenue en France!
We rubbed the sleep out of our eyes as we stepped off the plane and into the Charles de Gaulle airport. A dark, misty morning greeted us through the large airport windows, but I didn’t worry. France would surely have much better views to offer. With the sun not yet peeking over the horizon, we made our way to baggage claim and the Paris train station. Unfortunately for us, the nine-hour flight only marked the beginnings of our journey. A four-hour ride to Brest still awaited us.
As we sped towards Brest and our awaiting instructors, my jet lag triumphed and I drifted in and out of consciousness. In my semi-aware state, the term “carbon footprint” began eating at my subconscious (what kind of Nicholas School student would I be if these things didn’t occur to me?). My worries were brushed aside, however, as soon as I looked out the speeding train’s window and realized where I was heading.
Day 2: October 10th
Les Huîtres de la Golfe du Morbihan
Monday began with a trip to Ifremer Trinité sur Mer, the French Institute for the Exploitation of the Sea, and ended with a walk around La Golfe du Morbihan at Lasné St. Armel. While the time spent with Ifremer employees learning about shellfish culture and water quality management was valuable, actually seeing the coast “in action” made me appreciate France’s coastal management all the more.
Upon arriving at Lasné St. Armel, we looked in all directions, searching for the sea salt processing and oyster culture sites that we would shortly tour. Instead, all we noticed were wetlands situated along a long mud flat – consequence of the receding tide. A cold mist settled around us as our French-speaking guide arrived and we set out along a winding wetland path.
Before long, we were overlooking three large fields filled with hand-dug channels. The guide explained how a gate at the channel’s mouth is opened to let water into the system.
It winds from field to field until it reaches the final channel, at which time its salinity is high enough to rake salt from the water. The entire process is seasonal and not practiced as much in Brittany because it requires a lot of sun (and Brittany is usually a cloudy, rainy place). Still, the guide emphasized the salt processor’s pride in producing regional salt.
A short walk from the salt fields led us to an oyster culture site. Most oysters in France are grown via off-bottom culture, where the oyster spat is grown on long poles and then placed in mesh bags and raised off the intertidal floor. Following harvest, the oysters are placed in refining pools to ensure better quality meat and taste. The entire process – from spat to market – takes two years.
Shellfish culture, known as aquaculture in the US, has been thriving in France since the 1850s. All culture sites are leased to harvesters, and so this industry is restricted spatially along the coast. Talk about Marine Spatial Planning!
The industry also has a long history of introducing new oyster species for harvest, whether accidentally or intentionally. The Pacific Oyster, Crassostrea gigas, is the dominant species at present, but disease continues to threaten its production and journey to market.
I wasn’t brave enough to try the fresh oysters (pulled from the pools and opened right there in the processing shed), but those who like oysters ensured me that they were indeed delicious. We celebrated the day with a plate of oysters, some lemon slices, and a glass of wine.
Following our day by the sea, we explored the town of Quimper, taking in the abundant flowers, stone buildings, bridges, and prominent gargoyle-covered church.