Pontivy is a small town in the central part of the Morbihan department of Brittany, sitting where the river Blavet and the Nantes – Brest Canal meet. It's a little place of a less than 15,000 people but to us it felt like a serious town after more than a week we spent in an isolated cottage in the countryside, with only some forays into the local large village called Baud.
Despite its small size, Pontivy is a "proper town" and a bit of a centre for the local, farmy area of the countryside. It has a handsome central square, a decent high street for normal shopping and a pedestrianised side street for touristy knick-knacks. Estate agents turn up at every corner, many advertising their offers in English and English sounds all around Estuarian and 'outh-London accents mingling with the Sloaney "yaahs". Not for nothing this part of Brittany is known as Pontivyshire. The English come here to live or buy holiday homes attracted by the relatively low property prices away from the big cities and the coast as well as the east transport links to the south coast of England.
Pontivy has two clearly distinguishable sections. The old part centres on the magnificent castle , surrounded by narrow alleyways of the old town with its half-timbered houses going back to the medieval times. The newer part was laid out in a grid in the 19th century, during and after the construction of the Nantes – Brest canal and the regulation of the Blavet. During the Napoleonic times Pontivy was a major military and administrative centre in the region, and the Town Hall and surrounding areas were planned and realised. The town was even renamed Napoleonville in the Emperor's honour (it actually happened three times – in the original Napoleonic era, during his 100 days and then again during Napoleon III's rule). The name Pontivy got eventually restored, reminding us of the 7th century Lindisfarne monk called Ivy who built a bridge here.
Pontivy is quite a delightful place to simply walk about, either in the labyrinth of the old town or by the river. There is also a good market on Mondays.
The main historical sight is undoubtedly the castle of the Dukes of Rohan. To any Tolkien fan, the notion of the "Rohan Castle" must bring an extra thrill, even more so on learning that the house of Rohan traces its line to the semi-legendary founder of Brittany, Conan Meriadoc. Pontivy's castle is of slightly less ancient pedigree, the original building destroyed by the English in the 14th century and the current structure erected in the late 14-hundreds. It's a picture-perfect medieval castle, with round towers and conical "witches' hats" slate roofs (just like the ones Le Duc anachronistically, or perhaps anachoristically, transplanted to his reconstructed Carcassonne). The castle is still owned by the Rohan family, though on a 99 years' lease to the town and thus can be visited. The interiors were substantially refurbished in the 18th century to create a more comfortable dwelling, but it's really the external sight of the chateau's imposing fortifications that is the most attractive.