St. Malo, a town in Brittany on the northwestern coast of France, has some of the biggest tides in Europe. They can vary more than 40 feet from low tide to open sea, as you can see from views of the national fort, which becomes isolated at high tide.
St. Malo is just down the coast from Mont St. Michel, to which we will return on a later blog. Yes, a cathedral, and one built atop a mountainous island. It is quite something!
For the geographically challenged, such as myself, here is a map so we can get our bearings. The pin marks St. Malo.
To illustrate my geographic ineptitude, I confess that until my early 20s, I carried a vague notion that Portugal was in South America, an impression likely garnered by Brazilian friends speaking Portuguese. Glenn, political philosophy and European history major, still wonders how I make it through the day. I point out, somewhat tartly, that I studied science, maths, economics and history. I simply didn’t have room for geography. That’s why we have Google maps. To save people like me.
Back to St. Malo. The town is surrounded by high walls, providing protection both from the sea and the invaders who arrived on it.
Wooden piles more than 10 feet tall, added in the 1700s, provide a further deterrent for the sea.
They’re in excellent condition after nearly 300 years of being water-soaked and bashed by waves.
At low tide on a sunny day, it’s hard to imagine crashing waves breaching the walls, but it happens.
It looked calm and peaceful when we were there in April a few years ago with our friends Paul and Chris, with whom we had visited the Chateaux of the Loire Valley and the Dordogne, including Sarlat, on a previous trip.
On this trip, we started in Paris, took in the Palace of Fontainbleu, Chateau de Chantilly, St. Malo, Dinan, Nantes, Angers and finished up in Bordeaux. I’ll update the blog with links to the other places as soon I post them. The one upside of all this social distancing is I’m finally getting around to processing all the photos. Thank heaven I discovered the spot removal feature in Lightroom because it seems I was shooting with a very water spattered lens…
Our previous trip had also been in April, and perhaps we had been lulled into a false sense of security about the weather. Do these people appear warm and happy? We were. That was then.
Our arrival in St. Malo elicited collective choice language. It was frigidly freezing, though the adjective we employed also started with an f, it was not quite as polite. For the first day or so, we shivered our way around the inside of the town, with its mostly pedestrian streets.
We were delighted with the quality of the shops and purchased several pairs of beautifully made, very reasonably priced shoes.
I found the street signs for the shops utterly enchanting.
I spent some time searching out a particular street sign that I had read about somewhere – the Street of the Dancing Cat. How wonderful is that?
It reminded me of a gate sign we had found in Amboise. Do the French have an unusually large number of weird cats? Judging from their signage, it certainly seems so.
In addition to intriguing street and shop signs, there are fish gargoyles. France is truly a marvel.
Between forays to explore the town, we popped into restaurants to warm up and enjoy the local fare.
Chris and I rapidly became addicted to the local huîtres, or oysters as they’re known back home. In France, they are numbered by size, with the smallest oysters carrying the number 4, and the largest a number 1. Go figure.
The Cancale oysters are the creme de la creme of bivalves. Not only are they delicious, but they’re also quite beautiful. Doesn’t the striped, ruffled edge resemble a petticoat peeking out from beneath a skirt?
A couple of days into our stay, the sun came out, the mercury on the thermometer rose, and we ventured out at low tide to explore the promenade and beach for which St. Malo is famous.
The bathing pool was quite deserted; only one hardy soul attempted to paddle at its briny edges.
There were more takers for sailing than swimming.
St. Malo has a long history of piracy, providing much wealth from local extortion and overseas adventures. The rocky coastline caused many a shipwreck.
Saint-Malo became notorious as the home of the corsairs, authorized to conduct raids on behalf of the French crown – a lucrative gig, as seized vessels and cargo could be auctioned, with the corsair captain entitled to a portion of the proceeds. Corsairs were considered legitimate combatants in France (and allied nations), provided that the commanding officer of the vessel had a valid lettre de marque or lettre de course, from whence corsairs got their name. In acting on behalf of the French Crown, they were cloaked with a certain legitimacy, and this had a handy side benefit: if captured by the enemy, they could claim treatment as prisoners of war, instead of being considered pirates.
Because corsairs acquired a swashbuckling reputation, the word corsair has become a romanticized way of referring to privateers, or even pirates.
As Canadian visitors to St. Malo, we were surprised to learn that Jacques Cartier, who discovered Canada, lived in and ventured forth from Saint-Malo. From our childhood history lessons, we did recall that he sailed the Saint Lawrence River and visited Quebec City and Montreal, but that was as far as it went.
Back down on the shore, we walked out on the rocks and then worked our way around to the harbour.
It’s truly a majestic town, with the high crenellated walls and fortress.
The harbour is very busy with both commercial and private boats.
Back in through the gates, we entered the hotel and restaurant district.
Naturally, we paused to enjoy a warming drink at the Chateaubriand.
A little sunshine, some lovely spring flowers, a glass of champagne and some oysters after a bracing walk on the beach.
Yes, St. Malo is a beautiful place. I’d love to return one day and would enjoy it even more in warmer weather!
I hope you’ve enjoyed our short trip to Brittany, and I hope you will join us on further adventures in la Belle France as I dig through the cache of photos.
I’m sharing this post with Between Naps on the Porch.