Perched on the Emerald Coast in the Brittany region of north-western France, St Malo is a town with a long history. It is named for a Welsh monk, Mac Low, who became bishop of Alet in the sixth century. The district of Alet is the oldest part of St Malo.
Construction of the old walled town of St Malo, called Intra-Muros, began in the twelfth century. Enjoy spectacular views of the Bay of St Malo as you walk along the old granite walls which encircle the old town for more than a mile (1.75 kilometers).
The Porte St Vincent is the main gateway into the old town. Built in 1708, St Malo’s coat of arms is displayed at the top of the gateway. Find out more about St Malo’s past in the town’s history museum (musée d’histoire de la ville), which is close to the gateway. The museum’s collections are housed within the historic setting of two towers of the castle.
After entering the old town through the Porte St Vincent, you will find yourself in a bustling square filled with pavement cafés and restaurants. The square –Place Chateaubriand – is named for the writer, François-René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848). He was born in a house on the Rue Chateaubriand, just off the square. A plaque commemorates his birthplace.
Chateaubriand is buried fairly near his birthplace on the island of Le Grand Bé, which is a short distance from the old town. At low tide, you can walk over the sand to Le Grand Bé to see his grave. The word “bé” is a celtic word meaing “tomb”.
Jacques Cartier (1491-1557), the sailor who discovered Canada in 1534, is another famous son of St Malo. Find out more about his life in the Jacques Cartier Museum located at the explorer’s former home between St Malo and Cancale.
Cartier’s manor house has been restored and the rooms have been re-created to appear as they did when he lived there in the sixteenth century. You can also see a statue of Jacques Cartier in the old town of St Malo at the Bastion de la Hollande. Cartier is buried in the town’s cathedral.
Wander through the narrow streets of the old town for a closer look at the sixteenth and seventeenth century buildings. Relax in a café and watch the world go by as you sip a coffee or hot chocolate or treat yourself to a thin sweet pancake (crêpe) or ice cream.
Do some window shopping in the stores that crowd the main shopping streets. Look for stores selling regional delicacies such as duck paté, buttery Breton cookies, multi-colored macaroons, and luxurious chocolates.
Eat lunch or dinner at one of the many restaurants in the old town. Begin your meal with an appetizer of local oysters followed by a hearty galette, which is a thick buckwheat pancake stuffed with your choice of savory fillings. Accompany your meal with a glass or two of the locally brewed cider.
After visiting the old town, walk along the Chaussée du Sillon bordering the sea. If the weather is warm enough, you can relax on the beach here. In cooler weather, a walk along the beach at low tide is an excellent way of enjoying the coastal views. Many hotels are situated on the Chaussée du Sillon. Ask for a room with a sea view and watch the tide roll in and out.
In St Malo’s Grand Aquarium, you can explore the oceans of the world in one place. From sharks to sea horses, you will see a wide range of marine creatures. For an underwater encounter with these creatures, take a tour of the aquarium in its submarine –le nautibus.
St Malo is the ideal base for exploring nearby areas of Brittany and Normandy. The island of Mont Saint-Michel with its narrow winding streets leading up to its famous eighth century abbey is within easy traveling distance. The beautiful town of Dinan is about 12 miles from St Malo. It has many interesting medieval timber-framed buildings lining its cobbled streets.
Whether you enjoy relaxing on the beach or exploring historical sights, St Malo is a good place to visit. You will be charmed by its quaint buildings and fascinated by its interesting history. After sampling the hearty local cuisine, it won’t be long before you are planning your next visit to this attractive place.