Port town St-Malo is in the department of Ille-et-Vilaine in northern Brittany. Sitting on the Emerald Coast it has an ancient citadel, medieval city and cobbled streets lined with bars, bistros and boutiques. There are beaches, stunning views, marinas and museums. This is a town with serious oodles of charm.
Follow in the footsteps of famous seafarers and pirates, grab your bucket and spade and head to the beach, enjoy fabulous regional cuisine and – fall head over heels for the maritime magic of St-Malo.
Roam around the ramparts
You can’t visit St-Malo and not take a roam around the ramparts. Construction began in the 12th century and you can reach them from the steps at the St Vincent Gate. The views from the top are magnificent, especially when there’s a high tide – and they do get high in St-Malo (8-14 metres). On one side the ramparts run around the coastline taking in Quai Saint-Vincent and Quai St Louis and look over the Grande Porte and the battlements of 17th century Fort National. This historic monument built on a tidal island, was designed by Vauban, Louis XIV’s military engineer, and you can walk out to it at low tide. Gothic-style buildings, ship-owners houses and cobbled streets lay before you on the other side.
Eating out in St-Malo
There’s not much that beats sitting at a terraced restaurant under the great walls of St-Malo or by Porte Saint-Pierre steaming into a bowl of moules and dipping your chips and hunk of baguette in the juices in the pan.
When you’re in Brittany, it’s pretty much the law to eat crêpes (pancakes). So, it’s no surprise to find that Saint-Malo has plenty of delicious creperies. Crêperie La Touline (6 Place de la Poissonnerie) is a quaint little restaurant in the central area. They serve both sweet and savoury buckwheat crêpes and have a small terrace that’s great for people watching. It’s very popular with the locals both for the crêpes and the homemade ice cream. Bouche en Folie (14 rue du Boyer) is a friendly family run restaurant with a superb menu. It serves delicious fresh sea food, and the locals love it!
Channel your inner pirate
There are several museums in Saint-Malo – including one on a boat.
At the foot of the ramparts visit the Etoile du Roy (Star of the King) – and be an honorary corsair for the day. Etoile du Roy is a replica of a 1745 built frigate. A 3-masted, 47m long boat with 20 cannon guns, on this floating museum you can learn about life on board almost 300 years ago. Great for the whole family.
Meet around 10,000 fish in the Saint-Malo Aquarium. More than 600 species of every shape and colour of fish live here including sharks. Board the ‘Nautibus’ submarine to navigate underwater among 5,000 fish.
Beaches of Saint-Malo
Saint-Malo is famous for its spectacular tides. The difference between high and low tides at Saint-Malo is among the largest in the world. There are vast sandy beaches peppered with rock pools.
Off the coast there are tiny granite islands including one with a fort. Fort du Petit Bé was built in the late 17th century and was armed with 15 guns, including two mortars. Climb to the top and you’ll immediately know why this location was chosen, there are wonderful views all round. You can walk out when the tide is low, otherwise a boat ride is necessary.
La Maison du Beurre Saint-Malo
In the charming cobblestone Rue de l’Orme you will find butter heaven. At La Maison du Beurre Monsieur Bordier sells his world famous butter from a blue painted store front. The famous Brittany butter-maker uses a traditional method of kneading butter using a teak frame and wheel a technique dating from the end of the 19th century. A great take home edible memento – if you bring your cool box.
Four miles north of Saint-Malo is the former fishing village of Rotheneuf, it’s well worth a detour. In the late 19th century, a priest named Adolphe Julien Foure lived almost as a recluse after a stroke left him deaf and partially paralysed, yet he chiselled hundreds of figures into the huge granite cliffs. Even more extraordinary, he used only a hammer and chisel. It’s an incredible and quite beautiful sight.
More on Brittany
Beautiful beaches of Brittany
Guide to Cotes D’Armor and the stunning Pink Granite Coast
Dinan – one of the most beautiful towns in France