QUIMPER, capital of the ancient diocese, kingdom and later duchy of Cornouaille, is the oldest Breton city. According to legend, the first bishop of Quimper, St Corentin, came with the early Bretons across the Channel to the place they named Little Britain. He lived by eating a regenerating and immortal fish, and was made bishop by one King Gradlon, whose life he later saved when the sea-bed city of Ys was destroyed. Gradlon had built Ys in the Baie de Douarnenez, protected from the water by gates and locks to which only he and his daughter had keys. However, St Corentin suspected her of evil doings, and was proven right: at the urging of the Devil, the princess unlocked the gates, the city flooded and Gradlon escaped only by obeying Corentin and throwing his daughter into the sea. Back on dry land and in need of a new capital, Gradlon founded Quimper. Ys remains on the sea floor; it will rise again when Paris ("Par-Ys", "equal to Ys") sinks. According to tradition, on feast days sailors can still hear church bells and hymns under the water.
The town's name comes from "kemper", denoting the junction of the two rivers, the Steir and the Odet, around which cram the cobbled streets (now mainly pedestrianized) of the medieval quarter, dominated by the cathedral nearby. As the Odet curves from east to southwest it's crossed by numerous low, flat bridges, bedecked with geraniums and chrysanthemums in autumn. Overlooking all are the wooded slopes of Mont Frugy. There's no great pressure in Quimper to rush around monuments or museums, and the most enjoyable option may be to take a boat and drift down "the prettiest river in France" to the open sea at Bénodet.