FERRY + HOTEL
Inside and out of St Malo's walls
Pirates. They’re everywhere. St Malo’s Jack Sparrow swagger holds you hostage the moment you step across the old town's giant portals.
Encircled by ancient ramparts, the old town’s labyrinth of cobbled streets and tall granite buildings is steeped in a history based on seafaring and
privateering. The Musee de la Ville (Museum of the history of St Malo) holds the stories of the past and the big surprise is that those granite buildings aren’t what they seem - most are ‘new-builds’, restored after heavy bombing in the war. The current museum was re-created after WWII as part of the city's reconstruction (80% was destroyed in 1944) The museum's initial purpose was to honour the rich maritime past of this corsair port, which was also the birthplace of great intellectual figures such as Chateaubriand.
Throughout St Malo's characterful streets, you'll spy restaurants and cafés vibrating with the hum of visitors and locals alike. They'll all be enjoying platters laden with fruits de mer, moules mariniere and crepes washed down with the region’s signature cider. It’s impossible not to get distracted by the food, and a leisurely stroll around the ramparts is the best way to whet your appetite. Or, hop on the tourist train for a snail’s pace town-taster where you can really get a feel for where everything is.
Outside the old city walls are beaches and an extended town, and a stroll past the port takes you to St Servan and its 14th century Tour Solidor, home of the Museum of Cape Horners. There’s a picturesque marina, excellent quayside restaurants and bars, plus a buzzing high street full of independent shops.
St Malo is the place to be, but nearby lie plenty of other options. Many more facets of Brittany await exploring. Top spots? Try these for starters.
Sail to Dinard
It takes just 10 minutes to cross the River Rance by ferry from St malo and you can feast your eyes on some great views. Stripy beach tents, Belle Epoque villas - at the start of the 19th Century Dinard was one of the most fashionable resorts in Europe. Families love the sandy beaches, the well-heeled flock to the swish casino and thalassotherapy spa and foodies head over to the fantastic market held on Saturdays. If you’re driving, head off around the coast towards St-Jacut and St-Cast for coves, Famous-Five-style islands and more. It's great golfing territory too.
Drive to Dinan
The beautiful old port has quays lined with restaurants, a 40m-high viaduct and a towpath that meanders to a beautiful abbey founded in the 6th century. Above lies the old town, a warren of drunken half-timbered buildings and a magnet for artists and artisans. Ramparts. Restaurants. More moules. This is picture-postcard perfection.
Take a train to Rennes
Brittany’s capital might be ancient, but the vibe is unmistakably youthful. Parks, parliament buildings, one of France’s biggest fresh produce markets, plus cutting-edge boutiques and lively bars - here’s a small city that lives large. Medieval fortresses provide magic, arts festivals abound year-round and if you’re hungry for more culture, the TGV whisks you to Paris in just 90 minutes.
And don’t miss…
Cancale - Brittany’s ‘oyster central’. Dine in style on the quay opposite the beds where the oysters are grown or buy direct from seaside stalls.
Mont St Michel - The ‘eighth wonder of the world’ is a magnet for tourists, so visit outside the peak summer seasons and you can avoid the crowds. The abbey is the big draw but consider taking a guided tour of the fascinating bay, which has some of Europe’s highest tides.
Combourg, Dol de Bretagne, Saint-Suliac - all worth a visit, and all within a short drive of St Malo.