St. Malo Calls Us Back

Cobbled streets of St. Malo, inside the old walls.

During the last week of September we had a little vacation planned to our favorite sea-side destination, St. Malo. This time we decided to spend four nights intramuros (inside the walls) and four nights outside in a different neighborhood.We have just returned from a very pleasant visit. In early September the weather was hot, in the middle it was just perfect, neither too hot nor too cold, however the week we left home the temperatures dipped and it was both cold and rainy the entire time we were gone. We didn’t, however, let that stop us from having a good time. They say that in Brittany you can experience all four seasons in a single day, and that is not a joke. While there, we would simply wait inside for the downpour to pass and then walk out into a perfectly nice and sunny day.

Space is at a premium in the walled part of St. Malo. We had a tiny apartment that looked out onto a pretty little patio. Set back from the main street, it was absolutely quiet once you passed into the courtyard. Even if our timing for the weather wasn’t brilliant, we did pick a good time to avoid the usual crowds. The city was relatively quiet while we were there.

Finding the sun inside the walls of the old city during winter months must be a challenge. The density of buildings makes for shady walks, punctuated by a few open spaces, a garden, a town square, and of course the grand promenade on top the walls themselves.

There are numerous shops and restaurants in the small walled area of the city. We had several excellent meals while we were there. We may not have walked on every single street, but almost. It is not a huge challenge to become very familiar with this little jewel of a city.

For those who have read the Pulitzer prize winning All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which takes place partly in St. Malo, the photo above shows the route Marie-Laure took down to the beach. We visited her house as well, and other locations written about in the novel.

A special feature of the coast around St. Malo is all the islands, many of which appear and disappear with the tides, which are some of the highest in the entire world! The photo above shows the Petit Bé at high tide. During low tide one can walk to this fort, but when the tide rises it is completely cut off from land.

On our last evening staying inside the walls, we sat and watched while the sun set over the sea.

Beach, Port and Dinard in the distance.

For the second half of our vacation, we stayed in an area of St. Malo just outside the walls called Saint Servan, a part of the city that we had never really explored. We stayed in a truly spectacular airbnb right on the port. The view from our bedroom window was mesmerizing. We watched sailboats and ferries come and go, swimmers, dog walkers, children collecting shells and splashing in the surf, joggers, rowers, paddle boarders. The wooded point in the photo above made for a wonderful stroll with a 180º degree view of the serpentine coastline.

This photo, back towards the walled city, was taken from that spit of land just mentioned. We spent a very pleasant morning simply gazing out to sea as we ambled along the point. This is also the location of a large German bunker complex. The area was occupied and heavily fortified by the Germans for years before the Allies routed them in 1944 and in the process completely leveled the old town and much of the surrounding area. The beautiful city you now see was actually completely rebuilt from the ground up in the 1950s.

Mostly we stayed out of our car while we were on vacation, but we did take two drives along the coast, to the west one day and to the east on another. All the beaches are quite remarkable. One day we drove as far as Cancale, another town we feel very comfortable in. Oyster farming is a huge business here and restaurants all along the Côte d’Emeraude (the Emerald Coast, which stretches from Mont Saint Michel to Cap Frehel) feature Cancale oysters. Olivier Roellinger, a renowned chef, was born here and still lives in Cancale. He makes a famous line of spice mixtures which is widely available throughout France. He is a Michelin starred chef and with his son opened Le Coquillage, where we ate one of the most memorable meals of our lives about ten years ago.

The drive went through some beautiful farm land as well as past lovely sea views. This is a land of many riches.

We stopped along the route several times, always with interesting rock outcrops and turquoise waves lapping at the sandy shore.

We said goodbye to this wonderful little pause before coming back to the Maison Conti, where we welcomed a house full of clients this weekend, but they are our very last ones for the foreseeable future. We will return to this delightful area very soon, next time with warmer jackets.

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