Department 35 capital: Rennes
Main cities/towns: Saint-Malo, Fougères, Vitré, Cesson-Sévigné, Bruz, Dinard, Saint-Jacques-de-la-Lande, Redon
Ille-et-Vilaine is a department which even some French people have trouble locating, although they will find its main cities (Rennes, Saint-Malo, Dinard) on a map in no time at all.
The department is aware that its strange name throws people off the scent. In the 1980s, the tourist office suggested changing to Haute Bretagne, but only 25% of the population were in favour in a referendum to decide the issue.
It is the Brittany department with the smallest coastline – just 110km – but 40km of this is the gorgeous Côte d’Emeraude, with its white sand beaches and emerald-green seas.
The railways came early here, allowing the development of tourism aimed at the Paris haut-bourgeoisie in the Belle Epoque, and transport infrastructure has kept up.
Now, as well as the railway, the A84 autoroute links Rennes with Caen in Normandy, with its interchange giving quick and easy access to Paris.
As you would expect, property prices in the prized coastal areas are stratospheric. However, away from the sea it is possible to find bargains, albeit requiring a lot of work.
An example is a six-room, grey granite and slate-roofed home of 90m² with a stable in a commune south of Rennes with 1,000m² of land, which needs just about everything doing to it, on the market for €39,600.
Even cheaper is a 70m², one-room house with 5,000m² of land not far from Fougères. Double-glazed windows are fitted but little else, and the roof is suitable for an attic conversion. It is on the market for €24,000.
This part of Brittany produces more milk than anywhere else in France, and rural areas are densely populated, rivalling English counties across the Channel.