Once you disembark off your ferry to St Malo, you'll notice the commercial part of the old town is crammed wall to wall with eager shopkeepers on the sell.
Just a short drive or train ride away, there is the chic shopping district of Brittany’s capital city Rennes to explore. But for any serious shopper keen to get going, the Centre Commercial La Madeleine-Carrefour on the outskirts of St Malo is a convenient first port of call. Not far from the city’s aquarium, this buzzing retail complex is open six days a week (closed Sundays), and features a hypermarket and more than 50 smaller ‘boutiques’ and restaurants, with Yves Rocher, Etam, Sephora and Swarovski among the many big brand names on show.
For anyone keen to get kitted out for sports and outdoors activities, the French Decathlon brand superstore is another essential calling place. It can be found just a short drive further on from La Madeleine, near the town of St Jouan des Guérets on the road to Rennes.
Rennes is perfect for a road trip during your St Malo short break. To do justice to shopping in Rennes itself, even if it is only of the window variety, at least one night’s stay is recommended. From designer stores to discount shops and quirky little back street boutiques to big modern emporiums, this town has it all. In the suburbs of Rennes at Pacé, the Swedish IKEA superstore provides another major retail attraction, especially for visitors with cars. Also, to the north of the city at St Gregoire, there is the so-called La Route du Meuble (furniture road) for a more Gallic take on interior design.
All around Brittany, the regular weekly markets perform a vital role in the social and commercial life of towns and cities. In Rennes the Saturday morning market at the Place des Lices is renowned for its exceptional Breton produce, with stallholders flocking in from all over the region. In and around St Malo, discounting Sundays, barely a day goes by without an opportunity to taste the atmosphere, or perhaps even some of the fresh farm and fish produce, at one of the city’s lively market places. Every Tuesday and Friday there are two markets happening in St Malo – the indoor market at the Halle au Blé within the city walls and at the Place Bouvet in St Servan, which is the town on the other side of the ferry terminal.
On Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays there is another market at Rocabey in the Boulevard de la Tour d’Auvergne. And every Wednesday and Saturday the one at Place Georges Coudray in Paramé is especially good for those on the hunt for antiques and Breton souvenirs. In Dinan the markets are on Thursdays and in Dinard on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Just a short trip from St Malo (by car or water taxi), Dinard offers some exceptional store shopping around its Place du Marché Halles, especially in fashion and jewellery.
Along with the international chains and local markets, the Bretons can also claim two famous brands of their own. St James is the make of authentic, nautical striped T-shirts and Breton Fisherman’s jumpers, dating back to the 19th Century which has been part of the French naval uniform since 1858. To this day, the Saint James atelier and factory is still located in the small village of Saint James about 20 kilometres from Mont St-Michel. The other name is JB Martin, a famous name in the French shoemaking industry that started almost a century ago in Fougères in Brittany. From its humble beginnings as Jean-Baptiste Martin, it is now supplying shoes for men, women and children in London, New York, Moscow, Zurich, Hong Kong, Casablanca and Tokyo.