The medieval town, like nearby Josselin, was another of the mighty Rohan family homes and is characterised by the fortified 15th century château overlooking the river and over-hanging wooden houses around Place du Martray that wander down narrow cobbled streets to the river Blavet.
In contrast Napoleon decided to exploit Pontivy's central position in Brittany and used the town as a large military and administrative base. Pontivy was renamed Napoléonville and a regimented street plan was constructed along with upgrading the Blavet to form part of the Nantes-Brest canal.
Nowadays the old town hosts a good Monday street market and Napoleon's long straight Rue Nile has become one of the main shopping streets with a wide range of boutiques, department stores and street cafe's. On the southern town outskirts opposite the river are a number of hypermarkets, clothing stores, wine merchants and of course the inevitable MacDonald's restaurant!
Throughout the year Le Rex cinema on the outskirts of town (next to the E Leclerc hypermarket) shows a good range of modern films. Look for the ones marked VO (Version Originale) - indicating they're an original language film with French subtitles.
The area around Pontivy is rich in chapels and churches with several being used for temporary art exhibitions - follow the signs for Art dans les chapelles.
Down the Blavet valley to the South of Pontivy is the picturesque thatched village of Poul-Fétan near Quistinic.
Poul-Fetan was virtually abandoned until 1977 when the local council bought and reconstructed the village to mid-19th Century condition. Walking round gave us a fascinating insight to traditional French village life as there's many actors in period costume demonstrating traditional activities such as washing clothes in the stream, making butter by hand and spinning and dying wool.
Every year Baud (30 miles from the Gite) hosts one of the weekend meetings of the Camion-Cross programme. Camion-cross is racing the cab units of articulated lorries around rallycross circuits - we loved watching this fast and furious organised sport.
Other useful websites:Pontivy town website (in French)
Pontivy regional tourist information (in French)
Pontivy Castle history and photo gallery
Flickr Photos of Poul Fétan
Google Movies programme guide for Le Rex cinema
YouTube Video of the Baud 2008 Camion Cross Finale