Around 50 km from Mont saint Michel, St Malo France holds a strategic position on the north west coast.
Ferries sail to the Channel Islands and across to England, but in years gone by this was a vital sea port for the French, and was almost destroyed by fire in 1944 during the liberation battles that were fought along this entire coastline.
Once the feared base of pirates (corsairs), heavily fortified against Norman (or English) attack, today’s Saint Malo is one of the top tourist draws in Brittany.
The star of the show is the atmospheric walled city (intramuros), largely destroyed in the second world war but painstakingly reconstructed. The modern towns of Parame and Saint-Servan lie outside the walls.
Saint Malo has a good bus system, with the main terminals located at the train station and just outside the walls (St Vincent). Get a booklet with maps and times from any bus driver. A one and a half hour ticket costs €1.05. Unfortunately there are no bus services late in the evening. The walled city is easily covered on foot, but you can also opt for a dinky “Tourist Train” that takes you and your wallet for a ride (€5.50).
Highlights and sights of St Malo France
- Watch the impressive tide.
- Walk (or jog) along the beach.
- Walk around the walls of the walled city (free).
- Visit the Festival des Folklores du Monde (World Folklores), which takes place at the beginning of July. There are dance and music performances from around the world. You can also dance when Celtic Breton bands play music in the main square of Parame district.
- Look at the many hundreds of sailing boats of all sizes and ages in the harbour/s.
- Ramparts (Remparts).
- The walled city (La Ville Intra-Muros)
- The Chateau
- The walled city view from the “Memorial 39-45”
- World’s first tidal power station. The tidal power plant reportedly attracts 200,000 visitors per year. A canal lock in the west end of the dam permits the passage of 16,000 vessels between the English Channel and the Rance. The display centre is looking a bit tired and there isn’t much to see from the barrage wall. Getting there is a bit tricky, bus routes C1 and C2 get you to within a kilometer walk.
A day exploring St Malo, France
We arrived in mid-morning, and headed straight for a croissant and coffee. Before 11am the sun stays well hidden behind the high walls of the tall buildings, and the long shadows keep the morning cool and breezy. Speaking of the wind, however calm it might feel within the shelter of the city, once on the walls (for that’s where you’re bound to head soon) the breeze increases significantly, especially on the western flank of the walls.
It is easy to stroll along much of the old wall and admire the views both inwards at the old city, and outwards at the crashing waves. There is a fortress at the northern end of the city, accessible only at low tide across a rocky causeway. We made it across to the entrance but sadly were not able to wait for the site to open.
As with much of our experiences along this coastline, there was a thriving tourist trade that was overwhelmingly dominated by domestic visitors. The city is full of attractive looking restaurants (including what looked like a very impressive sushi bar) and really was worthy of a whole day of exploration. In fact, Ryanair fly to nearby Dinard, and should folks from southern England wish to spend a weekend in this area courtesy of a cheap flight offer, they’ll be in for a treat.
I don’t profess to be a photographer with that ‘special eye for a picture’, but I do think we timed our entry into the city’s cathedral to perfection. As we walked into the hugely impressive building and allowed our eyes to adjust to the dim light, we looked up in wonder as the sun shone through the stain glass and cast the most dramatic light patterns across the dark red sandstone bricks. No doubt it’s something that the regular visitors to the cathedral take for granted. But for us one-time tourists, it was a truly spectacular light display.
A fun day exploring St Malo France.