OYSTERS GALORE ON BRITTANY'S EMERALD
The great thing about a short break in Northern France is, that it is
not far away and you're guaranteed a complete change of food, tempo and
scenery. So why not follow me on board Brittany Ferries at
Portsmouth and sail to St Malo on Brittany's Emerald Coast which
stretches from Cap Fréhel to Mont-St-Michel? The name "Emerald
Coast" was derived from the colour of the sky and the green
reflections on the sea from the grassy cliffs. They combine to
produce a unique and ever-changing light which, believe me, will hold
As the ship approaches St Malo your first vista
of this new world is of the tall granite facades of grey houses
with steeply pitched slate roofs peppered with dormer windows. They
rise above the town's incredible ramparts which date from the 12th
century and are guaranteed to keep your enemies at bay! As
you tramp along the ancient cobbled streets and alleyways to your hotel,
you cannot help but smile at the plethora of shops and stalls selling
everything from sardines to sea-going oiled sweaters. Restaurants,
cafes, bars and creperies jostle for space as they spill down the
hillside to the port which is crammed with sea going vessels of every
shape and size.
St Malo Harbour
Although St Malo boasts an ancient castle, a
cathedral, a history museum, aquarium, fortresses and other attractions,
top of the list has to be its beautifully preserved mile-long ramparts
that encircle the old town. They date from the 12th century and
are among the oldest and most extensive in Brittany. At intervals
along the way, plaques describe items of interest that include fortified
towers, notable houses, gardens and accounts of historical incidents.
Tragically, the 1944 battles during World War 2 devastated 80% of the
town¹s buildings, but virtually every one has been painstakingly
reassembled, stone by stone.
St Malo, Petit Be Fortress
Another jewel is the spectacular coastal path
which winds its way from St Malo to Cancale, an old fishing town. This
rugged, wild coastline is covered in grassy bracken, heather covered
cliffs and pine trees. Picnic on one of the headlands and you will
be mesmerised by the ever-changing cloud formations in the sky, the
blue-green sea and off-shore islands and islets. The wide,
pristine sandy beaches and coves, often backed by huge rocks, are washed
by the tides twice every 24 hours. St Malo boasts some of the
highest tides in Europe and visitors often plan their holiday to
coincide with them. If you would like to enjoy this incredible
spectacle that takes place in March/April and September/October contact
the Tourist Office (address below) and they will send the latest tide
Absolutely unmissable is a visit to Dinan, a
town on the banks of the River Rance where, in the 9th century, monks
built a monastery. By the 12th century, the town had become an
important trading centre and was already surrounded by walls. But
it was not until the 15th century that the beautiful timber-framed
houses we see today were built for wealthy inhabitants. There are
corbelled houses with overhanging upper floors, houses supported by
pillars and others with high wide windows jutting on to the street.
All are a joy to behold and visitors stroll along the tiny
streets, squares and gardens craning their necks in order to try and
take it all in. They also flock to the Governor¹s House for riveting
glimpses of the medieval way of life and to the old Clock Tower where a
wooden staircase provides access to a parapet walk with splendid views
of the town and countryside. As you would expect there are a
variety of up-market restaurants along with friendly "eateries"
of every description. My choice was the Creperie du Beffroi in the
heart of old Dinan where I enjoyed a mouthwatering Seafood Galette.
"What's that"? you may ask. It is a light, round,
flat-shaped breakfast roll filled with a variety of fillings including
mussels, chicken from Rennes, salt meadow lamb from Mont-St-Michel Bay,
sausages, or egg and ham.
The Brittany Coast
Sooner or later, everybody heads for Cancale a
small fishing town lying a few miles east from St Malo along the coast.
This is the place to buy and eat seafood, notably freshly caught
oysters sold in the Port de la Houle and you can actually "pig-out"
right there on special terraces provided for this purpose. If you prefer
eating in a more civilised fashion, the delightful Creperie du Port lies
close by, along with numerous other restaurants! Afterwards, do
visit La Ferme Mari, an oyster farm which lies on a cliff-top between
Cancale and St Malo. This museum and farm reveals all the amazing
secrets of producing oysters. At 4pm daily during the season, an
English speaking guide leads the tour.
Although one could spend many fulfilling days
sightseeing in and around St Malo alone, there are, of course, other
alluring places to visit in this region. If you have not brought
your car call at the local tourist office for bus timetables and details
of coach excursions. Most popular is, of course, Mont-St-Michel
with its great sea wall, shifting sands and incredible heritage. In
the year 708 a Bishop dreamed the archangel St Michel commanded him to
build a church on top of a 258ft high cone of rock which, at that time,
stood in the middle of a forest. With great difficulty he
did so but not long afterwards the sea engulfed it, leaving just one
single causeway which can only be crossed at low tide. In due
course an Abbey was also constructed on this rock with a cloistered
garden at roof level. Holidaymakers wishing to reach these dizzy
heights will have to stagger up a zig-zagging uphill pathway. Not
only is this pathway lined by tacky souvenir shops selling kitsch, but
it is one of the most popular attractions in France and visited by over
half a million people every year!
Sunset on the Emerald Coast
Speaking personally, my favourite stretch of the
Emerald Coast is "The Painters' Road" which lies between
Dinard and Saint-Brieuc-Sur-Mer. You can walk, cycle or drive
along it, stopping to read some of the 28 informative plaques. These
give details of famous artists (Emile Bernard, Renoir, Picasso and
others) who, during the late19th and early 20th centuries recorded their
impressions of these seascapes and the surrounding countryside
Another delightful excursion is to visit the
Magical Moonlight Promenade Show along Dinard's sea front. This
free entertainment which runs daily at nightfall during the season,
provides a background of music with floodlit scenes of exotic vegetation
growing alongside the promenade .
A Mecca for sailing
As you would expect, there are a variety of boat
trips that start from St Malo. They sail round the Bay, up the
coast to Dinard and also cruise along the enchanting River Rance. You
can even take a day trip to The Channel Islands on high-speed Condor
Ferries, while dedicated anglers can board a traditional high seas
fishing boat on an instructional early morning fishing trip.
Other people just hire a boat and sail where the wind takes
them - but what if it rains?
Fortunately, during the season, you can visit St
Malo's 15th century Castle with its stirring History Museum along with
other undercover museums and two fortresses. I can also warmly
recommend those enchanting Malouinières - unique private mansions built
in the countryside around St Malo in the early18th century by wealthy
sailors and privateers. They are characterised by symmetric
granite facades and sober, awesome architecture set in gardens
surrounded by high walls.
How to get there
Brittany Ferries sails from Portsmouth to St Malo year-round. Fares
start from £129 each way for 2 people and car in the low season
(children under 16 years travel free). Prices rise to £159 in the
shoulder season (April/June and September/October). Up to 40%
reduction is available on special Minibreaks (up to 5 days). For
more details see the web site www.brittany-ferries.com or call
08705 360 360. Alternatively, visit your local travel agent.
Where to Stay
I stayed in the heart of the old city at the delightful Hotel Le
Louvre, 2 Rue des Marins, 35400 Saint Malo. Tel: (33) 02 99 40 86 62.
e-mail<Contact@hoteldulouvre-saintmalo.com> Also see their web
site www.hoteldulouvre-saintmalo.com Price per day, when
sharing, costs from £27 per person per night including breakfast. This
price also applies to mini-breaks and the Hotel's special offer of 7
nights for the price of 6. If you book this hotel as part of a Brittany
Ferries package the fare is reduced by 15%. This basically
furnished, comfortable hotel has 50 rooms, all with ensuite facilities.
Car parking on request.
For all enquiries relating to this area contact;
Comité du Tourisme
4 Rue Jean Jaures -BP 60149
35101 Rennes cedex 3
Tel: 33(0) 2 99 78 47 40
Web site www.bretagne35.com
See also www.saint-malo-tourisme.com
You can also contact: The Premium Rate French Government Tourist Office
in London. Tel: 09068 244 123 (60p a minute at all times) or
e-mail <firstname.lastname@example.org> See also web site