The Auberge in the Brittany Forest 

Since 2015, The Auberge Ar Duen in Le Domaine de la Hardounais.

by Brooke Chilvers

In France, I am forever seeking out the remaining bits and pieces of authenticity that offer a window into its past. That combination of old stones and pleasing landscapes, with good tables serving local fare. An interesting church.  Monuments to a lost generation of men worth contemplating.  Splendid trees or wisteria, lilacs, old oaks, or whatever.  Fields with happy cows and good-looking horses.  And now, at my age, good bedding.  

Oh, and art.  There must be something good to look at and remember.  

In the past, we’ve found this combination in the oddest of places.  Like the Musée du Papier Peint, the Wallpaper Museum, in lovely Alsace.  It’s fantastic, as was the civet de chevreuil at the nearby Le Coq Rouge.

Artist Catherine Noël works in both bronze and silvered bronze.

We recently discovered the delightful mix of history, art, nature bathing, and fine dining over a rainy weekend in May in the three-star auberge/hotel and estate, Ar Duen – Domaine de la Hardouinais, about 250 miles west-ish of Paris and 35 miles northwest of Rennes, in the very heart of Brittany.  

Ar Duen, with its 16 rooms and three different dining options, from crepes to racks of roasting meats accompanied by vegetables from its own gardens, sits at the crossroads of a quiet little town, Saint-Launeuc, on the edge of the 4,000-acre Hardouinais Domaine.  Its forests, ponds, equestrian center, gardens, and kennels are also owned and overseen by the auberge’s tasteful and discreet owner.  Here, mushrooms are harvested for the menu, and the green-coated veneurs, or hunters on horseback, of l’Équipage de la Hardouinais, with their packs of handsome French Tricolor Hounds, provide fresh game in season for autumn pâtés and terrines, and tasty compensation to the local farmers for their generous tolerance of wild boar, roe deer, and European red deer in their fields and pastures. 

Noël uses bronze or mirrors for her bat-l’eau centerpieces of wild boar or stag.

The northwestern region of France known as Bretagne, or Brittany to us, is broken down into four, more or less, equally large administrative départements, each claiming to be the “real” Bretagne. But an equally important division exists between Armor and Argoat – the Brittany of the seashore and coast versus its agricultural interior with its lonely plateaus and damp forests.  Seafaring and shore gathering versus farming and ironmaking, forever in competition over their characters and  cuisines.  

I am deeply in love with the landscapes and bounty of both Armor and Argoat.  Seaside sunsets as much as driving empty country roads through fields of boldly yellow rapeseed and spare, sparsely populated villages. 

Noël found inspiration in 17th century silversmith Thomas Germain.

The Forêt de la Hardouinais, first named in texts in 1570, is part of an ancient forest named Castallin, which itself was a vestige of the enchanted Arthurian Fôret de Brocéliande, known to every French child raised on Merlin, Lancelot, and the Lady of the Lake.  First recounted by medieval writers Chrétien de Troyes and Robert de Boron, later authors physically situated the tales in Brittany’s actual Forêt de Paimpont.  Yet still, today, folks prefer the fabled names for the forest’s ponds and caves, its springs and monumental stones.  

While busy Paimpont pays non-ending tribute to legend in every restaurant and boutique, the ”real” forest includes instructive remnants of the now deserted iron-forging villages whose furnaces already in 1656 fed off the Hardouinais and Paimpont forests; they even provided iron to the American Revolution!  From as many as 2,000 souls in the early 19th century, it all came to an impoverishing end starting around 1860, with the introduction of mass produced steel. 

Artist Catherine Farvacques also hunts on horseback with the Domaine’s French Tricolor Hounds.

In fact, Saint-Launeuc was a town on the path to desertification.  Its population was 546 in 1793, and less than 200 today.  Its school closed in 1988. Then the Domaine’s owner, René Ruello (b. 1949), brought his fortune and know-how home to his community.  The son of a baker in Merdrignac—a town still clinging to its last shops, last bread makers and butcher/traiteurs—whichis just down the road. A former professional soccer player, then industry builder of ready-to-bake goods, and now owner of several of Brittany’s best eating establishments (including the one-star Michelin Moulin de Rosmadec in Pont-Aven), since 2009 Ruello has been “revving up the neighborhood,” creating jobs and buzz with seasonal events, like the Festival of Gardeners, at the Domaine whose restaurant and equestrian center opened in 2015.  I suspect his real gift is spotting and giving light to the talented and dedicated individuals who run his carefully conceived and meticulously maintained operations.

With his limitless energy and force of character, gamekeeper Anthony Demay is the man for the job of managing the forest, including its stalking, driven hunting, and hunting on horseback—all practiced here by well-heeled hunters and local hunting clubs—ensuring that forest’s annual harvest of pigs, deer, and stag is safely and respectfully filled.  Ruello has been vital in bringing back a forest resounding with hunting fanfares and braying dogs.  When he learned that woodcock were being overshot by local hunters, he shut down their hunting for four seasons, and established a sustainable quota. 

The colors in Farvacques’s compositions fit together like a puzzle.

To follow a venery hunt for wild boar in the Domaine on YouTube, search “Semaine de la vènerie à la Hardouinais.” 

For sport fishermen, Ar Duen offers some 290 hectares (120 acres) of water spread over five ponds in the quiet of the forest; a single road crosses the Domaine. Ar Duen offers catch-and-release fly fishing of pike, perch, and zander, with guides and well equipped boats, or wading, or fishing from a floating tube.  Fishing, for never more than six sportsmen at a time, is from May to January. The guides can either lend you equipment or advise what to bring. Pricing is based on two days fishing and one overnight, either in the sporting chalet or hotel, with packages including meals and wine.  On the opening day of perch fishing, we met a group of happy and well fed sportsmen who’d caught up to nine fish each.   (

As for something to remember, Ruello also recognizes the talented artists who find their calling in the forests here, especially in the hunt.  

The contribution of the Domaine de la Hardouinais to the community is real.  

Working in the lost wax tradition of 19th century animalier artists, painter and sculptress Catherine Noël’s award-winning bronze and silvered bronzes sensitively depict eager hunting dogs, attentive horses, and elegantly poised woodcock hinting at motion.  Her signed and numbered editions of 12 can only bring joy. (

Especially impressive are her large so-called bat-l’eau centerpieces showing the stag or boar taking refuge in the water, intently pursued by the hounds. Their cleverly submerged chests emerge from the textured bronze or ingeniously employed mirrors.  Such pieces were originally conceived as surtout de table, awe-inspiring table decorations intended to stun blasé guests. Noël pays homage in her work to Thomas Germain (1673–1748), silversmith to royalty, including the King of Portugal, which means many of his works were lost in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake.  His remarkable, 24-kilo hunting themed surtout at the Louvre shows a seated hunting dog surrounded by the day’s bag of game, along with the hunting horn that brought him home.   (

Oil painter and sculptress, equestrian and huntress, Catherine Farvacques (b. 1963) also speaks of the forest here, its horses racing to the cry of horns and hounds, the way forward to the stag or boar directed by the muscular French Tricolor Hounds. An active member of the hunting community, the artist can draw on the estate’s shipshape kennel of 150 hounds, including some 30 new puppies each year. Trained to work in packs of 30, you can see the dogs in all their glory on YouTube; search “Visite de chenil – Equipage de la Hardouinais.” 

For her paintings of hounds, Farvacques balances their group action with the composition of their colors, the whirl of strongly contrasting blocks of black, louvard, and bay of each dog’s unique coat fitting together like a puzzle. She builds the canvas’s narrative out of the breed’s telling eyes, talking ears, and musical tails. Known also for her paintings of horses and bullfighting, as well as her bronzes, go to:

L’Auberge Ar Duen, facing the attractive Saint-Léonore church and its enormous 13th-century yew tree, with its forest and ponds in Le Domaine de la Hardouinais, offers real comfort and pleasure. To see for yourself what all this means not only for the traveler, but for the entire community—and for Brittany itself—go to:

As Brooke’s new tee-shirt reads: “Perak deskiñ amerikaneg? warc’hoazh e vo komzet brezhoneg gant ar bed a-bezh!”  Why learn American? when tomorrow the entire world will speak Breton.