The Walled Port City of Saint Malo, Northern Brittany

Having satisfied my craving for oysters in Cancale, I took the coastal road passing through a number of seaside villages to the city of Saint Malo. Like a lot of people, I had only ever thought of this city as a ferry port; ferries arrive here from, and depart for, Portsmouth and Poole in the UK. Anyone who has approached St Malo by ferry will have been struck by the striking and impressive walls that surround what was once an attractive medieval city; destroyed in the second World War, but since sensitively restored. And anyone who has taken the time to explore Saint-Malo will have found walking on the city’s ramparts and looking out to La Manche (the English Channel) as powerful.

St Malo sightseeing
The walled city of Saint-Malo, with the spire of the Cathedral of Saint Vincent.

The Saint-Malo that attracts many tourists today owes its origins to a monastic settlement that dates back to the sixth century; the name of the city deriving from one of the followers, Saint Malo. The fortifications derive were built in medieval times when the town was but an island on the River Rance – and the mouth of the river is still dotted with islands and strategically-placed forts.

The tidal island and medieval fort of Grand Bé, only a few hundred meters from the walls of Saint Malo. François-René de Chateaubriand is buried on this island.

Now, St Malo is attached to the mainland and is the most visited ‘attraction’ in Brittany, and not just because of the ferry port. Most people arriving by ferry simply drive off and head on to their European destination, missing out on an interesting place to spend their first night in France. Karen has also recommended spending time in a Channel port in her post, “Calais: More than just a booze cruise destination“.

St Malo is a wonderful place to visit, the highlight of St Malo sightseeing being walking the medieval ramparts and the reconstructed city, itself a warren of cobbled streets with great shops and restaurants. In fact, it is said that this European city has the highest concentration of seafood restaurants in all of Europe. Yes, I did have lunch in one; but given my mid-morning oyster snack I had a glass of rosé and a healthy (cheese) salad.

St Malo sightseeing

My travel tip for this week for anyone passing through Saint-Malo via the ferry port, at whatever time of the year, is to stay a night or two and start as you intend to go on.The photographs used in the post were taken by Susan Hazelwood, a friend living and blogging in northern Brittany.

You can read about Kimberly’s visit to St Malo,  southern Brittany in Margaret Doherty’s guest post and  “A boat trip the islands off the Brittany Coast” in Heather’s post.

Click here for the lowest prices on St Malo hotels

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About Thomas Dowson

Hello, I am Thomas Dowson - a freelance writer and archaeologist living in Normandy, France. My field of expertise is prehistoric art - such as the cave paintings in the Dordogne and South Africa. But I am becoming passionately interested in France more generally, and Normandy in particular, and what this country and one of its very well known regions has to offer people with all sorts of tastes and desires. In 2005 I exchanged a university archaeology lecture room for a Bed & Breakfast in Normandy. More recently I started the Archaeology Travel website; sharing my expertise and love of archaeology and travel with others who also want to explore the many different pasts around the World.