Saint-Malo: Small Town, Big History

What is it about Saint-Malo that tempts tourists to board ferries to France?  What leads them to cross the English Channel in droves? Historically, this stretch of water was dangerous, as it was the turf of the infamous corsairs.” These privateers pillaged ships and guarded their loot behind the city’s heavily fortified walls.  Fortunately for visitors, Saint-Malo is more welcoming these days, and it is more than willing to share its current bounty of seafood and crêpes. Here are some great ways to explore Saint-Malo:

Explore the City

A walk along the city’s ancient walls or beach is the best way to start exploring the town.  Next, visitors can continue out to the Fort National or the Île du Grande Bé. These sites are only accessible at low tide, and a modern-day Malouin rescue flotilla descends on those who time their visit poorly.

The Cathédral St-Vincent is another stop on every walking tour, as is the impressive Chateau. The French government put it in place to help them keep tabs on the privateers, and visitors to La Maison de Corsaire can see firsthand how well all the 17th and 18th century plundering paid off.

A trip to the WWII memorial provides a sobering counterpoint – most of the city’s ramparts were completely destroyed during the war. Their careful reconstruction is a testament to both the city’s determination and pride in its past.

Taste the French Cuisine

Saint-Malo’s numerous cafés and crêperies are great places to grab a bite and wash it down with some local cider. La Maison du Beurre is a paradise for dairy lovers, as they have several artisan cheeses and butters to sample. Platters of oysters and mussels are served up pretty much everywhere, but connoisseurs should check out famed restaurant Le Chalut.

Those who prefer sea life that is alive and swimming should visit the Grand Aquarium instead. Throughout the old town, charming shops open onto cobblestone streets and provide a pleasant afternoon diversion. The Celtic Breton musicians about are yet another reminder of Saint-Malo’s unique heritage.

Although the passage of time has altered this port city, it has changed less than one might think. To stand on a pier, with salt on the air and boats creaking in their moorings, is to stand in the shoes of countless voyagers, past and present. Many who plan a day trip to France chose Saint-Malo for its convenience, but this proud little city is a destination in its own right.

Photos (1, 2, 3, 4)