Quimper, sited on the north bank of the Odet estuary, is the capital of the ancient kingdom of Cornouaille, but the contemporary city has a very relaxed air about it, with bars and eateries aplenty, especially in the streets radiating from the cathedral. The town has a distinctly Breton atmosphere, and books about the Breton language and music are available in many shops. The town gets its name from 'kemper', a Breton word that describes the confluence of two rivers., the other being the Steir, although there is a third river, the Jet.
The cathedral itself is dedicated to Saint Corentin, one of the figures responsible for founding Brittany after the fall of the Roman Empire. Much of the cathedral is Gothic, although the magnificent twin spires, which soar over the town, were added only in the 19th century. Much of the interior decoration – furnishings, reliquaries and statues – was stripped away during the Revolution and the Reign of Terror (1793), and while the lime-washed interior that remains may not suit some tastes, it does leave the cathedral with a bright and appealing atmosphere. Unusual, perhaps – unless it was as a result of my consuming too much rosé at lunchtime – the central nave and choir are not in a straight line; actually they are intentionally out of line, so someone else’s lunchtime rosé is to blame.
But what intrigues even more is the beautiful stained glass window in the south transept which depicts the Last Supper with a figure, for all the world that of a woman (Mary Magdalene, perhaps), leaning on the shoulder of Christ, as suggested in Da Vinci’s painting of the scene. Cathedral literature, however, is adamant that the figure is that of John.
West of the cathedral lies the old town, a place full of shops, crêperies and half-timbered houses. The town is renowned for its pottery (faience), which has been produced here since 1690.
The Musée des Beaux-Arts (40 place Saint-Corentin, 29000 Quimper. Tel: 02 98 95 45 20; www.mbaq.fr. Open daily Jul–Aug, 10am–6pm; Apr–Jun and Sept–Oct, Wed–Mon 9.30am–noon, 2–6pm; Nov–Mar daily except Tue and Sun am, 9.30am–noon, 2–6pm) houses a collection of ancient paintings divided between northern schools (Van Haarlem, Rubens, Van Mol, Grebber, etc ...), the Italian school, but less consistent high quality (Bartolo di Fredi, dell'Abate, Reni , Solimena, etc ...), and the French school, especially rich for the 18th and 19th centuries (Boucher, Fragonard, Robert, Meynier Chassériau, Corot, Boudin, etc ...).
The Musée Départemental Breton (1, rue du Roi Gradlon, 29000 Quimper. Tel: 02 98 95 21 60; www.museedepartementalbreton.fr. Open Jun–Sept 9am–6pm; rest of year 9am–12.30pm, 1.30–5pm. Closed Mon, public holidays, 14 Jul and 15 Aug) presents a collection of Breton costumes, furniture and pottery.
Office de tourisme de Quimper Communauté Place de la Résistance, 29000 Quimper.
Tel: 02 98 53 04 05