The second development occurred in 1868 when a boat carrying oysters from Portugal had to take shelter from a storm and dumped its cargo near the mouth of the Gironde River in southwestern France. Unexpectedly, the Portuguese oysters thrived there and eventually moved up the coast to Brittany, restocking beds formerly occupied by native plates.
On my way out of Cancale I drove along the Emerald Coast toward the fine old walled cities of St.-Malo and Dinan, then crossed Brittany from north to south, which took me almost as long as the drive from Paris the previous day. Brittany is a big place, I discovered, with inland mountains and moors, orchards and crossroads marked by weathered stone crucifixes, or calvaires, some dating to the Middle Ages.
I was bound for the village of Locmariaquer on one of the tidal rivers that shred the ragged Brittany littoral around the Gulf of Morbihan, another cup of seawater containing hundreds of tiny islands, locked into the coast by two almost-touching fingers of land. The region produces some of the best oysters in France, including the Locmariaquer. It's smoother than the Cancale, but you need to go there to understand; more than anything it tastes like the ethereal gulf where it is farmed.
Approaching my destination, I drove through Carnac, famed for its beaches and prehistoric stone monuments, and the yachting town of Trinité-sur-Mer, with a Cape Cod air and navy-blue-and-white-striped French sailor shirts in almost every store window. I washed my dirty clothes at a coin-operated laundry for seafarers on the harbor, then crossed the bridge over the River Crach, prime oyster habitat.
When I finally reached Locmariaquer I got my first sight of the Gulf of Morbihan and checked into the Hôtel des Trois Fontaines, where the friendly couple who owned the place told me where to find oysters for dinner.
The first night I tried L'Escale in town, which has a deck from which you can pitch your empty oyster shells into the water; lunch the next day was thick fish soup with croutons and Gruyère at Lautram, a modest hotel-restaurant across the street from the church of Notre Dame de Kerdro. Another dinner at Le Chantier, a small, casually elegant seafood shrine on the River Crach, was unforgettable. There I had sole, steamed whole and unadulterated by fancy sauces, with a dozen oysters as a precursor. When I asked the waitress where they came from she just pointed down the river.
I spent my days biking around the Locmariaquer peninsula, stopping at oyster farms for free samples and taking a cruise on the gulf to Île-aux-Moines. The long, narrow islet is a pretty summer colony with a coast walking path. Following it, I found Ets Martin, another oyster farm so small its harvests are rarely exported, chiefly provisioning the island. Ets Martin oysters have a singularly sweet taste I savored, knowing it unlikely that I'd ever get another.
Out and about in Locmariaquer, I kept seeing a little blue and yellow van emblazoned with the logo for Erwan Frick oysters. Tracking it down to a farm outside of town, I met the producer, a ruddy-cheeked young man with curly dark hair who fed me some of his excellent oysters; attacked by disease, plates are rare in the region, he explained. Frick also taught me how to open an oyster by slitting the abductor muscle that holds the shell together, a skill I needed because I had decided to take some Frick oysters back to Paris.
The next day they sat on the seat beside me, wrapped in seaweed and tightly crated, filling the car with aire des huîtres. In town a few hours later I took the Fricks to a friend's apartment where we devoured them, leaving nothing but a heap of shells, proof that two people can eat four dozen Brittany oysters in a month without an R and merrily live to tell the tale.