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Port Review: St Malo, France

By:
Joanna Hall
 

The walled city of Saint Malo was formerly the base of the once-feared Privateers, or Pirates, and it’s one of the top tourist draw cards in Brittany. It’s also a fascinating port of call for cruise visitors.

Overview

Saint Malo is steeped in maritime history, and in the Middle Ages it was a fortified island at the mouth of the Rance River commanding total control of the estuary and the open sea all around it. It's hard to believe, but Saint Malo was all but destroyed during the Second World War as a German fleet was based here. The ramparts that ring the city surprisingly survived the bombings but the town itself was mostly destroyed. Locals insisted the town be rebuilt in the traditional manner and that's exactly what they did brick by brick. Looking at it now, and you can see that the buildings are sort of new, even though they resemble 18th and 19th century architecture but somehow it still feels real.

The Facts

Location: North western France.

Currency: The euro.

Docking/Anchoring: Smaller ships can dock right next to the Old Town at the Quai Saint-Louis, while bigger ships dock in an industrial area about 10 minutes away by road.  

Transport: If you’re docked in the industrial port, most cruise ships will offer a shuttle service to the Old Town. There are taxi stands outside the walled city.  

Don't Miss

The ramparts are the medieval walls that ring Saint Malo and parts of it date back to the 12th century. It’s now been restored so it’s possible to walk the entire Old Town, which takes between one and three hours depending on how many times you stop to take photographs and enjoy the stunning medieval landscape.    

Saint Malo Castle is in the far north eastern end of the Old Town inside the walls on Place Chateaubriand. The castle was built in the 14th and 15th centuries and has four towers and you can climb the towers to enjoy great views of Saint Malo and the beautiful coastline. 

Within the medieval castle, there’s the Galerie Quic-en-Groigne which has wax displays showing the colourful history of the town, and a Municipal Museum which has a more comprehensive history of Saint Malo. The Hôtel France et Chateaubriand occupies the site of the house in which the famous French steak dish, chateaubriand, was born.

Best Photo Op

In truth there are endless classic Kodak moments all along the ramparts, but from just before Saint Malo Castle, you can capture the walled city, classic architecture and the ocean all in one hit.

Shopping

If you’re only here for a day, it can be really frustrating as you need a full day of sightseeing to really appreciate Saint Malo, but those quaint little shop windows on cobbled streets also demand attention. Here you’ll find scores of gallery-cum-shops selling jewellery, art and ceramics and if you don’t like the prices then no matter: most people who come here resort to window shopping anyway. For bibliophiles, there’s a fascinating book shop called Librairie Septentrion at 2 Place Brevet. 

Food and Drink

When it comes to cuisine, the city is known for its classic French offerings in a unique medieval setting, with the added benefit of an al fresco dining experience. From buzzing little boulangerie selling croissants and croq monsieur to top end gourmet restaurants, Saint Malo has it all and you could spend weeks trying them all and still not achieve that goal. For an inexpensive eatery, there’s Le Corps de Garde at 3 montée Notre-Dame right under the ramparts where you can get crêpes and galettes for under 10 euro. L’Absinthe is classical French tucked away in a quiet spot near the covered market at 1 rue de l'Orme and for a gourmet experience, Chef Didier Delaunay aims to deliver perfection at Restaurant Delaunay at 6 rue Ste-Barbe with Breton lobster a specialty.

Pick of the Excursions 

While you can easily walk the ramparts and Old Town independently, a scenic walking tour of Saint Malo with a guide is popular as you’ll be given an in-depth history of this fascinating town as you make your way around the dozen or so main attractions. The walking tour is usually about two hours and then you’re left to explore further at your own leisure.

Mont St. Michel is one of those impossibly beautiful medieval structures set in an other-world landscape which has to be seen to be believed. The excursion is a bus tour that takes you through the Brittany countryside to the abbey of St. Michel which rises 200 metres above sea level. The abbey is a magnificent complex of Romanesque and Gothic monastery buildings.

Another excursion out of St. Malo is a day trip or half day trip to Dinan, which is a picturesque and medieval Breton town. Here you can wander ramparts, towers and ancient churches through a maze of cobble stone streets, while the older men of the town play boules in small squares.

 

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  1. Posted by on 24th Sep 2018 Verified Customer

    Lovely Walking City 4 Star Review

    We stopped there on a cruise a couple of years ago and loved it. The only reason I markeed it down was it was so damn busy...like Dubrovnik can get. But we walked the walls and had lunch and a nice day overall. Well worth visiting.

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