Ploërmel, France – Discover the Secrets in and Around this Central Brittany Town

Ploërmel, France. Population 9,791 as of January 2019. Located in the region of Brittany in the far northwest of France, it is a working-class town surrounded by farms. They have some industrial plants there as well as schools, places to eat, several supermarkets and a Mcdonald’s. 

Are you dying to plan your visit yet? 😄

Even the tourism office listing on Google Maps directs you to a website that talks all about all the cool places to go and things to do OUTSIDE of Ploërmel! 

Man…really?? Poor ol’ Ploërmel just can’t catch a break. 

Until now.

I’m here to tell you that this small, sorta-southeast-of-central-Brittany town has a lot to offer. You might just wanna stay awhile. It’s easy to feel at home in Ploërmel.

Photographic artwork of an old manor house with stars swirling above in a colorful night sky
I’m an art lover. Really, I am. Not just quoting The Kinks there. This is one of many works showcased in an
outdoor exhibition spread along trails bordering Lake au Duc. This is “Manoir de Lemay” by Isabelle Dufil.

The Lac au Duc, one of the biggest lakes in Brittany, came to life in the 15th century when it was fashioned by hand using the outflow of the river Yvel. Today, its waters are used for all sorts of recreation, agricultural applications, hunting, fishing and even for drinking water. There is a path called the Balade des Hortensias that stretches for about three-quarters of a mile winding along its eastern bank and then back along the other side of the Bluegreen golf course. There are an astounding 5,500 hydrangea bushes representing 550 different species pleasantly scattered all along the path amongst a multitude of other plants, flowers, bushes and trees. It is a very pleasant path for a leisurely stroll, a good brisk walk, a jog or a bike ride. No horses allowed, but you can bring your dog along if you are mindful of a couple of basic rules.

Ploërmel, France public notice sign warning of a fine for not picking up your dog's poop
Keep your pooch on its leash and put its poops in a pouch! Or you might get a hefty fine…ouch!

Outdoor signage with map for the Circuit des Hortensias trail of hydrangea bushes in Ploërmel, France
In 1780 Philibert Commerson introduced France to the hydrangea – a new plant that he imported
from Japan. He named it the Hortensia after a woman he knew named Hortense.

The path back to the start of the Balade des Hortensias is actually part of a 31-mile-long section of a bike path that was repurposed from an old railroad line. This trail is known as Véloroute (bike route) Number 3 or the Voie Verte (greenway) Mauron-Questembert and runs in between those two towns. It is also part of a larger network of over 800 miles of similar paths in Brittany. So if a parent tells a child, “Go ride your bike” in this neck of the woods, they best not reply that there’s nowhere to go. I walked many miles along and around this trail and many times found myself surrounded by nature and completely alone for as far as I could see with nothing but the sound of birds singing in the trees. Highly, highly, highly recommended.

Bike route outdoor signage with map of Veloroute Number 3 showing path through Ploërmel, France and to the north and south
The Voie Verte Mauron-Questembert trail is nearly 10 feet wide, asphalt-paved and very well-maintained.
Ninian River and its banks near Ploermel, France
PRO TIP: Just off the trail to the southwest of Ploërmel where the D122 crosses over the Ninian River, there is a little dead-end road you can walk down that follows the river downstream aways.
It terminates at a very private and peaceful spot beside the river at the border
of a local farm with trails leading up into the hills to the east.

Having awesome nature walks that begin just across the street from my stay was certainly a highlight, but what drew me back to Ploërmel for my most recent stay was the outdoor market that is held every Friday in and around the Place du Tribunal. I first experienced this market some years ago the morning after a one-night stopover and was seriously impressed. It’s not like they have unicorns prancing around or fire walkers or medieval sword fights there – at least not on most days – it’s just that they have SO much stuff and it’s all so good. Fruits, veggies, meats, fish, sweets, baked goods, dairy products, flowers, clothing…there are SO many vendors. Multiple vendors sell hot-and-ready-to-eat foods like crêpes and galettes, paella, choucroute, tartiflette, Chinese, Thai and Indian foods…the list goes on. It’s a great place to get local, farm-fresh, high-quality and delicious food at reasonable prices.

A lady in a red coat standing in front of a farmers market stall selling sheep's milk dairy products
One of my favorite foods at the market is the fruits de bois (berry) sheep’s-milk yogurt from
GAEC Lait Berbis. Absolutely stunning. Their sheep’s-milk cheese is really good as well.
One of many stands selling fruits and veggies that are both locally grown and sourced
from other countries to ensure a good variety throughout the seasons.
(This is currently the featured photo on the Google Maps page for the Marché de Ploërmel.)

One of the things I love most about France, not being at all religious myself, is that most towns have a church or two that you can visit most anytime whether a service is in session or not. Regardless of your thoughts or feelings regarding any religion, these buildings are temples to the history of human civilization and are often full of wonderful artworks – stained glass, paintings, sculptures, tapestries – and the Église Saint-Armel is no exception.  

Aside from the aforementioned attributes, it has a wooden ceiling, gargoyle water spouts that seem to stick out a country mile and a very cozy and inviting feeling to it. It’s a great place to stop by and just sit for a while or wander around and amaze at all the art. Especially on days that are either cold and wet or a little too warm. The winter months in Ploërmel have a generally light but frequently persistent breeze, making this a great place to escape that, too.

A sculptured statue of Saint Armel stands proudly in front of a stained glass window that bears his name.

Is there more to Ploërmel? Of course there is! You can go to Kebab Chez Tonton 56 for a great meal and honestly the VERY best house-made harissa I’ve ever had. And yes, this very spicy sauce indeed packs a serious punch of HEAT! You can stop in the Boulangerie-Pâtisserie Maison Laurent for a “pain suisse” that will have you forever looking through every boulangerie you go to searching for one as good. (A pain Suisse is a brioche dough pastry filled with cream and chocolate chips. My favorite!) Need a baguette on Sunday and everyone is closed? Aux Miettes de Perlinpin’Pain has a baguette vending machine right outside their door! Fresh French bread 24/7!

The medieval old town in the main village is well worth a stroll. Just steps away from the town center you can check in on the progress of the restoration of the 17th-century convent the Couvent des Carmélites. A very short walk away from there is the statue of Pope John Paul II which caused quite a stir in 2006 when this gifted sculpture was installed as it violated a 100-year-old French law separating church and state. There are of course museums as well like the Museum of Natural Sciences, the Museum of the Breton Resistance, the Museum of the Junkyard Poet and everyone’s favorite…the Astronomical Clock with its mechanical model of our solar system.

Statue of Pope John Paul II standing underneath and arch with a cross on top of it
The statue was moved about 30 yards from a town square to privately owned land in 2018 after a French court ruled that it violated a law that forbids religious symbols to be displayed on public monuments.

Ploërmel also has a bowling alley, a movie theater and tons of local soccer matches to watch at Stade Municipal Patrick Caillaud as well as the aforementioned golf course and lake with all of its recreation options. Ploërmel also puts on the largest carnival in central Brittany as well as the Fête de la Musique, the Fête du Vélo, the Fête de la Nature, the Fête du Marché and the Festival Brocéliande Sport Nature. (In English, that’s a music festival, a cycling festival, a nature festival, an outdoor market festival and an outdoor sports festival.) And that’s just in May and June!

Of course there are awesome sights to see outside of Ploërmel. Josselin is an absolute must-see with its fairytale castle the Château de Josselin perched above a delightful stretch of the River Oust which forms part of the Nantes-to-Brest Canal. Not to mention its gorgeous town center and basilica. The medieval village of Malestroit features dreamlike stretches of the Nantes-to-Brest Canal and the River Oust and is also worth a visit. The Broceliande Forest is full of magic and the legends of King Arthur, Merlin the Wizard, Sir Lancelot and more. These are just a few of the great places to go that are very close by.

But to say there’s nothing to do in Ploërmel?? That, my friend, is quite simply…a myth.