When in late May the government announced that travel restrictions within France were lifted, I immediately booked a week’s holiday on the Brittany coast. I chose a gite in St. Suliac, a plus beau village (a label indicating one of the most beautiful villages in the country) on the Rance River.
This is one of my favorite areas in France as St. Malo, Dinard, Cancale, Dinan and Mont St. Michel are all at hand. The 100 kilometer Rance tidal river flows into the Channel. All along its banks are historic fishing villages and picturesque old ports, St. Suliac being the best of all, in our opinion.
The village nestles into a curve in the river’s course. From the hilltops you are able to look both north and south down the Rance as it meanders through the valley on its way to the sea.
Surprisingly, at least to me, the village was calm and not overrun by fatigued Parisians looking for a weekend out of doors. One got the idea that we were some of the first tourists to visit the town after its long confinement. On the evening of our arrival we were lucky enough to have dinner at a local restaurant that was opening for it’s first service since March. We happened to be walking by as the fishermen were delivering their catch to the restaurant owner so we were inspired to book a table to experience the local fish fresh from the sea. Our meal was very memorable. The fish was turbot, and it was deliciously cooked and beautifully presented.
The village itself is charming, with twisting alleyways, effulgent vegetation, ancient stone buildings and lovely views of the river. It has a nice épicerie, boulangerie and several restaurants. We had been here once before a few years ago when we stumbled upon it by chance. It happened to be in July when they were celebrating their annual boating festival. There were thousands of people in town that day so we hadn’t gotten the true flavor of the place.
The tides are relatively dramatic here. We had a great deal of pleasure watching the water change levels and colors depending upon the time of day. Our gite was on the hill behind the beach. The monument you can see on the distant cliff in the photo above was a short, level walk from where we stayed.
The gite I choose, which was ideally located but modest, just happened to have space for six people to sleep. Since we hadn’t seen Emily and her family for a few months, except virtually, we invited them to join us. The kids attend physical school only two days of the week (the other days study is done at home), so they were actually free to stay five out of the seven nights we were there. They arrived in the afternoon after a 4ish hour drive from Paris. We were all very happy to be together and to be in such a wonderful location.
Even if the weather wasn’t as warm as it had been in May, the kids were in the water several times a day. The bay is not at all deep, so they were able to walk far out even during high tides.
On the weekend the bay was absolutely full of wind surfers and sailors. We longed to rent a boat to get out onto the water, but unfortunately the rental shop was closed the whole week we were there. You can also take chartered boat trips up and down the Rance, all the way from Dinan to St. Malo, but we were never able to organize ourselves to take advantage of that.
Near our gite was a little wooded trail that leads to a monument built in honor of the Virgin Mary in 1894, using local materials. During the nineteenth century fishermen from St. Suliac would fish for cod off the coast of Newfoundland from March to November. Many sailors were lost at sea and never returned. One of the worst disasters occurred during one fishing season in the 1880s when a large number of locals went down with their ship. The next year, before leaving for their dangerous voyage, the fishermen prayed to the Virgin and promised her that if they all came back home alive, they would build her a monument. They kept their promise. The site provides a panoramic view of the area.
All along the Brittany coast you can find wonderful trails that were created for custom agents to patrol for smugglers. They are called les sentiers des douaniers. Descending from the monument and heading north, away from St. Suliac is such a trail which we walked for about a half mile, through woods and over rocks, but always with the the water to our left.
At one point there is a very steep and I must say rather rickety stairway that lead down to a beach. From there one could walk on, although we did not. The little beach disappears at high tide but at the moment we arrived, it was completely deserted and provided a narrow strip of sand and stone to enjoy, which we certainly did.
I have many more photos of our week on the coast. Next Sunday I will post some more of nearby locations we visited. Although you might not believe it by looking at the map, St. Suliac is about 20 minutes from Dinard, St. Malo, Cancale and Dinan, all wonderful places.