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.

Monotype

This week I had some fun in the atelier making a 9 panel monotype. I am attracted to the format of panels and I’ve done etchings, collages and drawings that use this layout. It was a fun experiment and I enjoyed the results, so after I was done with the one above, I thought I would do another and this time document it with photos to show you how it is accomplished. So here’s a quick tutorial.

You begin by cutting out a nice plastic template to create your panels. Of course when it comes to this kind of precision work, Rick handles that for me. I know I’m lucky that way. You lay it over your paper and tape down the sides to your table. Even though the plastic floats freely above the paper, it does seem to keep the paint from going in between the panels. I think the plastic film tends to cling to the paper. A similar paper template would not work so well, I would posit. Before putting any paint onto your image, you cut out random little bits of scrap paper and place them over the various panels to protect some white spaces.

The paint I used was acrylic and I applied it with plastic wrap. Tapping it down variously around the image. That makes a nice texture.

This is repeated for as many colors as you want to apply. One on top of the other, each using simple paper masks rearranged for each layer to protect parts of the former colors. I also used a piece of tracing paper which had been covered in pastel on one side and inverted onto the whole image and I drew lines on the back which transferred pastel lines onto the paper.

Of course you have little control over the final image and at a certain point it just looks like a big mess, but once the plastic is removed, it seems to come together as a coherent and interesting whole.

Change of Rhythm

We’re back to the time of year when the sun rises when we do!

July and August are always busy months for us at the Maison Conti, but this year they were particularly intense. Of course everyone wanted to get out of town and most of them were headed straight to the beach. Our house is conveniently just about halfway along most of our clients’ trajectories. We generally work seven days a week from morning to night trying to keep up with the comings and goings of our guests. The work is quite physical. Of course each year I get a little older and this year I really noticed the physicality of muscling large quilts around and carrying huge stacks of laundry and dishes. In fact I pulled something in my right shoulder one day while stripping the bed linens and I am still in pain.

September, however, brings with it a real sigh of relief. For one thing the weather cools way down, and for another the clients arrive in smaller numbers and less often. It gives me some time to focus on other things and to spend more hours in the atelier.

I hadn’t done any of my usual cyanotype projects or eco-dyeing this summer. During this last week I rectified that.

My favorite material to work on, for any of these mark-making activities is silk. It takes the colors so beautifully. I happened to have a few little pieces left over from my wall hanging project completed last spring, and I painted one of them with the photosensitive concoction used to make a cyanotype exposure. The chemicals, when painted on paper or fabric, must be left to dry in the dark before the support can be used.

When the silk had dried over night, I arranged some flowers on it, clamped it into a glass frame and brought it outside to be exposed in direct sunlight.

It takes about 10 minutes for the exposure to be complete. I then developed the image in running water for another 10 minutes. I love the way the flowers turned out looking almost like x-rays. The parts exposed to the sun turn blue.

My next activity was to do a little rust dyeing. I have lots of rusty objects which make interesting red patterns on fabric or paper if left in contact for a few days. I used a piece of cotton, a piece of netting and one of silk. I wrapped them in different ways. I spray the rusted object and the fabric with a mixture of 1/2 vinegar, 1/2 water, put them in tight contact with a rusty object, cover them in plastic, so they don’t dry out too quickly, which I hold down with river stones, and simply wait 2 or 3 days for the rust to do its magic.

I have a beautiful decorative object I got at a local antique store which I have tried using for mark making before, with limited success. but this time, when I took the plastic off, my piece of silk, which I had laid over it, was very richly rusted. Again, I think the silk itself is the special ingredient, since the cotton fabric I used on another rusty object, wasn’t nearly so affected.

The front of the silk, on the left, almost looks photographic. The back, on the right, is even darker. I found that curious.

Next up was to do a little eco-dyeing, using flowers from the terrace. I had intended to use the rust dyed fabric as the base for the eco-dyes, but since the silk was so deeply rusted, I couldn’t and didn’t want to use that piece. The net fabric failed, as the rust washed out completely when I rinsed it, but the cotton was rusted only around the edges, so it was perfect for my experiment.

I liked the result very much. The rust adds a color you don’t usually get from a plant and the purple petunias, which make a fairly strong purple impression once dyed into the fabric, look good with it.

Another piece of cotton, not rusted, was eco-dyed using Virginia Creeper and some little bright pink flowers we have in our planter this year. I don’t know what they are. They almost look like little begonias or perhaps malvia. They turned out to release a blue color.

Ah! The mysteries of plant dyes. The results are always a surprise. I haven’t found too many species of plants that I can rely on for the results I want. I prefer plants that leave a strong impression of their shape.

The one thing my experiments convinced me of is that working with silk is my preference. Why screw around? I sent off for a nice piece of my favorite satin silk, from my favorite online vendor, Ma Petite Mercerie. A package arrived yesterday presented, as always, so beautifully and, as always, included a piece of Carambar which Rick does appreciate.

Speaking of wonderful things arriving in the mail, this week I got a letter from my son who lives in California. He sent it on March 17th. It only took 5 months and a week to get to me! Inside were some spring flowers and they were in amazingly good condition, dried and pressed to perfection. I really enjoy looking at them.

The last thing I have to share for the week is a gift given to us by our dear friend Nelly the last time we saw her a few weeks ago. She is the master of old papers and old paper markets. I have been the grateful recipient of many of her historic documents. On one of her recent expeditions she found a very old map of our departement, la Sarthe, and she bought it for us.

This is a marvelous object, obviously handcrafted, dated 1836. The cover is made of some kind of thick paper that feels lusciously soft, almost felt-like. The map inside has been cut into nine sections and carefully mounted so that the user could fold up the map and take it with them. It is a road map in origin, but for roads with horses, carts and carriages, not cars. Someone has gone to the trouble of adding their own elaborate cover, presumably to preserve it for strenuous use. The label on the outside is lettered in that beautiful old fashioned script and then cut by hand, obviously, as the shape is not symmetrical, and pasted onto the cover. And why label the map “Sarthe” at all? Unless this was not the owner’s local area? There was meticulous effort extended to make the map durable/portable, suggesting to me that the map users were on a pursuit, not just a one-time journey. And what were they after? It is a mystery. There are little handwritten notes sketched on the top right, bottom left and middle right. They are mostly faded, or erased and difficult to decipher. At least some of them are directions. Some red route lines have also been added by hand to the map, to show that the users were going somewhere special, doing something important. A few red “x”s are also scattered here and there, some in the middle of nowhere, looking, for all the world to my imaginative mind, like spots to hunt for buried treasure. “X” marks the spot. Montmirail was not one of the places they seemed to be interested in, but I do want them, whoever they were and wherever they’ve gone, to know that we value their map very much, and are thinking and wondering about them!

Gin and Tonic

This spring we had a Brew Pub open up in our village. Nicolas, pictured above, has owned a house in Montmirail for many years, but it is only last year that he retired from his corporate job in New York City to our village. He is an extremely energetic person and began to contemplate learning how to brew beer. He had already purchased a small shop across from his house when the confinement began back in March. In June, despite the set backs, he opened up his new pub, just in time for our summer season here in town.

The pub has been a smashing success. Every time we have walked by, it is full and over flowing with customers. The shop is very attractively arranged as well. Nicolas serves tea, coffee, snacks and other alcoholic beverages besides his home brewed beer.

Nicolas has found local producers for the products he sells. He has created a wonderful and warm place for people to gather. He has both an indoor and an outdoor space.

One of my favorite features of his shop is a poster of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. We may be the only locals who know who she is. Nicolas lived in the U.S. for years and has both French and American citizenship. AOC is his representative. The shop has a real Brooklyn influence, here in this very obscure little French village.

So far he is making a pale ale and a white beer, and soon an amber. I don’t drink beer myself, but Rick says his pale ale is quite good. He has yet to try the white.

Nicolas is beginning to gear up to bottle his brew. His labels feature a photo of the castle of Montmirail. Our house appears there too, as it sits just below the château.

We were invited to his place this week on a day he is not usually open. He gave us the grand tour and we had a private gin and tonic tasting. We had tried some of his Coqlicorne gin earlier in the summer and liked it very much. It is made by a local team, a French man and a Scottish guy who produce the product not far from our village. The symbol of France, of course is the rooster, or Coq and the unicorn is the symbol of Scotland, thus the name and logo. It comes in three varieties.

The reason we got this invitation was that we were telling Nicolas about our German client who comes once a year and brings us various gin and tonic supplies every time. Last year he brought a Japanese gin and this year it was an Italian one. He also brought us a special tonic syrup to mix with sparkling water. We decided to have a tasting together.

Nicolas was the gracious bartender. We tried each gin, all flavored differently. The syrup added a nice taste and color. After three rounds we were all feeling rather jolly. It was a very pleasant evening.

Mid Summer

We have been very busy with guests at the Maison, but even as the days are filled with activity there is a sense that summer is passing rather quickly and fall seems just around the corner. This week it has been hot, but days are markedly shorter and the momentum is towards the future season. From our windows we have such a pretty view of the landscape and the big sky with an ever changing tableau. The full moon this week has been an occasion to bring out the telescope again. The moon as it rises, about our bedtime, is large, golden and low in the sky. We tend to want to give it a close look before heading to bed each night.

While we don’t have hummingbirds here in France, we do have hummingbird moths and they are a positive delight. They are insects, not birds, although they look and behave very much like their namesakes.

I was able to finally finish my silk eco-dyed wall hanging, which I have been working on for almost a year. We hung it in our office. The silk, which I purchase from a Parisian supplier, is satin silk, very pleasant to the touch.

Emily and James sent us a recipe for a delightful summer treat, pickled zucchini, which I am passing on to you. I’m not normally a huge zucchini fan, but I do like pickles and these ones are easy to gobble up next to almost any luncheon or dinner meal. And they’re healthy too.

Zucchini Pickles

Ingredients

  • 3 medium zucchini (16 oz), thinly sliced
  • 1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fine grain sea salt
  • 1/4 cup (small handful) fresh dill sprigs
  • 1 small fresh red chili pepper, very thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
  • 3/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup natural cane sugar

Instructions

Toss the zucchini, onion, shallots, and salt together in a colander and place over a bowl to catch the liquids. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours. Toss once or twice along the way. Get as much liquid out of the zucchini as possible. When you’re finished draining the zucchini, shake off any water. The zucchini should be as dry as possible. Place in a 1 quart jar along with the dill, chili pepper, and mustard seeds. Combine the vinegars and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring until the sugar dissolves, and continue to boil for a few minutes. Pour the liquid over the zucchini and seal the jar. Let cool, then refrigerate. The pickles last for a week or so in the frig.

A Performance at the Castle

Welcome to Maison Conti, bed and breakfast and summer camp!

Emily has not been able to pursue her theater projects for several months due to the confinement. July would not normally be a month when she would be working, or need our childcare assistance, but this year, after the restrictions were lifted, she wanted to get back to it. We were sympathetic. She and a pianist friend named Anna, have been developing a show called A Sense of Touch, inspired by the health crisis we have all been going through. They came to Montmirail last week for a residency at the château, where there is a grand piano and space for rehearsal. The grandchildren came along and it was our job to keep them occupied while Emily and Anna worked. A performance at the castle was scheduled for Sunday evening.

The atelier was the locus of much activity during the week. For one thing, all the props and costumes had to be created. All hands were on deck for that.

Emily’s friend Oria, half Argentinian, half Italian, arrived to help out with the construction projects. She often has done the scenery and costumes for shows that Emily and Jos have mounted. We had a few guests in addition the theater crew, so it was a busy and interesting week.

One very pleasant day, we took the kids to the lake in La Ferté-Bernard, a short drive from home. We have had lunch at this same table many times before. It’s right next to the river.

There is a lovely beach where kids and dogs can swim and play and keep cool. We spent the entire day by the lake, relaxing.

Quinn was quite intent on creating a fleet of paper airplanes. He has become skilled with an xacto knife and cut out and assembled about ten, some of which were pretty good flyers.

Zinnie’s paper project was making buildings.

I showed them how to make cyanotype tee-shirts. The photo sensitive liquid is painted on the shirt, some plants are arranged on top, the whole thing is pressed in a glass frame and left in the sun for a few minutes to expose. It’s developed with water. The children were pleased with their results.

We played a lot of cards, took walks and did some reading. Days passed quickly.

Zinnie wanted to get out her mother’s Peter Rabbit china set, which I keep at the maison, and have a tea party. Oria brought some very special tea from the French Alps and Anna brought fig bread.

Sunday evening the public was invited to arrive at the château an hour or so before the performance to have a picnic dinner in the park. It was a pleasant evening, neither hot nor cold. Yearime, another of Emily’s friends, arrived in the morning to see the performance. She helped prepare our picnic and accompanied us to the castle.

Approximately 100 people came to watch the show in shifts. Everyone was asked to dress in white. The show was indoors with masks. The salon where it was performed is called the room of the senses, as it has paintings of all the five senses on the wall. It seemed very appropriate for the performance, which wasn’t quite a concert and not exactly a play, but a kind of hybrid.

Anna is a professional pianist, very accomplished who works in Paris for major venues. She met Emily when they worked together on a show at the Opéra Comique. Emily has mostly been doing writing and directing for the last ten years. This was her first performance in a decade. She sang and narrated and pantomimed as Anna played piano.

It was a lovely show that seemed to please everyone who attended. It certainly seemed appropriate to the moment. The château owner was delighted and invited Emily to come back any time.

The program was varied, including Gnosiennes by Erik Satie, I’ve Got You Under My Skin by Cole Porter, Preludes #6 and 4 by Frederic Chopin, Children’s Scenes, Reverie and The Poet Speaks by Robert Schumann, Waltz by François Poulenc, Dance Me to the End of Time by Leonard Cohen, I Don’t Love You by Kurt Weill and The Death of Orpheus by Christoph Gluck and Giovanni Sgambati. It was so nice for us to hear Emily sing and Anna is a marvelous pianist.

While the second group watched the performance, we waited outside until the very end of the evening, watching the sun sink into the west, painting the sky in oranges and purples, fading to dark blue. Night falls very late here in summer, but by the time everything was finished and we were all reunited, it was dark enough to take our telescope to the edge of town to observe the comet Neowise, a once every 6800 year opportunity. A perfect end to a wonderful week.

More Adventures by the Sea

Typical Breton sailing boat with red sail.

July is our busiest month at Maison Conti, but this year, unusually, it is turning out to also be a month with much family time as well. Emily and Jos, after several months of shows cancelled and work put on hold, are now roaring ahead with many new projects. Often their work takes them on the road. Since school is out, they really need some help with the children, so we are on duty for two out of the four weeks this month. If it’s possible, my preference is to take them somewhere that offers more outdoor activities than we have at home, so I blocked out last week while they were with us, and we headed back to Brittany, taking another short vacation

Our pretty apartment. Quinn contemplating an image of Mahakala, a deity common to Buddhism and Hinduism. Also known as Shiva.

This time we decided to go to the southern Brittany coast in the Morbihan, about an hour further down the way from St. Suliac and our last seaside adventure. I found a little inexpensive place in a town named Etel, an area we had never visited. I was rather attracted to the decor in the photos of the apartment we rented, which was Nepalese in flavor. The door of our room, for instance was an ancient artifact brought back from Nepal and retrofitted into the apartment. The location turned out to be ideal for us.

Quinn meets the neighborhood cat.

We were right in the center of town, with a boulangerie next door, the weekly market at our doorstep and a perfect little “lake” a few feet from the apartment. Etel is on la Ria d’Etel, a tidal inlet/river, not unlike La Rance where St. Suliac sits. From Etel, however, one can see the mouth of the river flowing into the Atlantic. Next to the port is a saltwater lake which we called “the lagoon.” It was surrounded by grass and sand and was so shallow that the children could swim there with out any danger. They spent each day splashing about and making up water games.

Happy children in evening light at the mouth of the Ria d’Etel.

Just south of Etel is the very popular Presqu’Île de Quiberon (literally, the almost island), a long narrow peninsula, surrounded on three sides by water. We took a tour one of the days we were there.

The west side is the wilder rocky coast, while the east side has sandy beaches. There are several villages along the route and the landscape is flat scrub with wildflowers.

We drove down the west side and back up the east side. We stopped along the way to climb the rock formations and enjoy the sea views.

The coastline reminded me of northern California except that the rocks were shale rather than sandstone.

The weather was almost perfect the whole time we were away.

Bounding over the rocks.

The children never tire of the ocean and neither do we.

Little sea creatures glued to rocks near the shore, waiting for the tide to come back in.

We did some swimming at the very tip of the peninsula. When we arrived it was low tide, but my perch on a rock near shore kept moving up the beach as the quickly rising tide enveloped one sitting spot after the next

Gentle waves

This time we were determined to get out on the water. It’s a wonderful spot for water sports and you can easily rent kayaks, catamarans, wind surf boards, to mention a few choices. We decided to begin with a kayak adventure on the Ria near Ste Hélène, a few miles down the road from Etel. There were many launching points up and down the coastline and this one was recommended as the best kayaking spot.

Zinnie was Rick’s kayaking partner and she was quite adept at paddling.

But the water adventures didn’t stop there. Rick has always wanted to teach Quinn to sail, as he was a sailor in his youth on Long Island Sound. I discovered that we could go to Carnac, known mostly for the enormous numbers of monoliths there, and rent a sailboat. Our last day in town we took a picnic lunch, drove to Carnac, just a few kilometers from Etel, and after lunch went to see what boat rental options were. Rick and Quinn were quite interested in a catamaran there. Zinnie took one look at it and sagely said “I’m not going on a boat without sides.” So she and I stayed on shore while the boys took to the rolling waves.

Suited up and ready for launch.

The ship was large and Zinnie and I watched as Rick and Quinn, pushed off. We had a nice view from the parapet.

As they sailed off, rather quickly I must say, I pondered whether we would ever see Rick and Quinn again. It was a joke, but as it turned out, not completely inconceivable.

Sailing off to the horizon

They were gone longer than expected and when they returned it was with a rather harrowing story of misadventure. The rudders were incorrectly fitted and the boat was extremely difficult to handle. At one point it capsized and the boys was pitched into the sea. Luckily the sea patrol were on their jog and came out quite quickly to help them right their craft, which they were not heavy enough to do on their own. As the boat was coming back to right, it hit Rick on the top of the head. Happily he was far enough underwater that the damage wasn’t great. Quinn was quite delighted with the escapade but Zinnie and I were just as happy to have missed the whole thing.

The returning seafarers

Before heading back to Etel we stopped by the highbrow La Trinité-sur-Mer. It has one of the most famous marinas in Brittany as the starting port of many yachting competitions.

This dock is home to many large racing vessels

There are hundreds of boats berthed here, mostly private pleasure ones, but a few famous competition craft.

An impressive trimaran named “Actual Leader

Ille-et-Vilaine

A view of the coast outside of Cancale.

is one of four departments of Brittany. It is the eastern most, which makes it the closest to our house. We can drive here in the amount of time it takes us to get to Paris. Everyone seems to have their favorite parts of Brittany. Many clients we have go every year to southern Brittany, Morbihan, making that department one of the most touristic regions of Brittany. It certainly is lovely, with such places as Pont-Aven, Concarneau and The Golfe de Morbihan, all stunning. The north, the Côtes d’Armour is more rugged and wild and suits many people for its sense of remoteness. The far west, Finistère, literally “the end of the earth”, has its charms and fans as well. We have visited each corner, but for me, Ille-et-Vilaine is my preferred location, probably because of its convenience for us, but also for its towns and beaches which I find very attractive.

Emily on the cliff

La Pointe du Grouin, outside Cancale, is a gorgeous spot where you can take a walk along cliffs and view the water from all directions. The day we went with the family, the sky was blue and the water was turquoise. Emily and Co. had never been to this location, so it was exciting for us to share it with them. We had discovered it on one of our travels some years ago and I have never gotten over how beautiful it is. I was pleased to revisit it.

Little stone islands and a lighthouse in the distance.

Cancale is a town we first visited many years ago with some friends from California. It is the town of Olivier Roellinger, a renowned French chef, who has a shop there where he sells his famous spice mixes. We stayed in town that evening and were able to eat dinner at one of his restaurants, Le Coquillage. It stands out in my memory as the best meal I’ve ever had.

While we were walking along the cliffs we were able to watch a school of dolphins playing near shore. We also saw a fishermen set his traps as the dolphins came towards his little boat to investigate. There were speed boats and sail boats to observe from afar as well.

As we drove along the coast from Cancale towards St. Malo, where we intended to sit on the beach together, we passed another beach called Plage du Guesclin which was practically deserted. It looked so inviting, that we parked here and walked down to the sandy beach and spent a couple of hours swimming and sun bathing, avoiding the inevitable crowds at St. Malo.

The kids had a kite, which didn’t work so well and a boogie board which was also only of limited success, but of course there are always sand castles to be constructed.

We carried on to St. Malo for dinner. The city of St. Malo is actually quite large, but we only really know the historic (and touristic) walled city section, which is quite small and untouched by modern architecture of any kind.

St. Malo, as I have written about before on this blog, is one of our favorite destinations. The walled town, surrounded on all sides by water, with a narrow spit of land leading to it, is full of shops and restaurants. We had a fabulous dinner at a place that serves Japanese-themed Breton crepes. A strange, but, as it turns out, excellent combination.

At this time of year it stays light until about 11PM. so after dinner we were able to walk all along the walls which surround the town and enjoy the views, the breeze and the end of a very special day.

The sun was setting on the Rance as we drove back to our gite in St. Suliac.

On another day we drove south to the very end of the river, where the Rance is narrow, to the town of Dinan, a lovely historic town with an old port. From here you can take a ride all the way to St. Malo.

Port of Dinan

There is a street leading from the port, at the bottom of town, to the center, which is on the hill above. It is quite long and steep but worth the climb just to see all the lovely old buildings. There are several artists’ ateliers located here. Dinan has some of the most beautiful and old buildings in Brittany.

On our last day on the coast, we briefly visited Dinard which is across the water from St. Malo. It is a very up-scale resort town with fabulous 19th century mansions lining the cliffs. It is known as “The Cannes of the North,” and has been a playground of the rich and famous for a couple of centuries.

For me the best part of Dinard is the view back to St. Malo.

Saint-Suliac

View from our gite, onto the Rance.

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.

Map created by Daniel Derveaux. The red star, added by me, shows the location of our gite.

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.

Quinn and Zinnie hadn’t been to the sea since our last adventure there together in February.

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.