Cancale is a dream of a little town, located on the northernmost point of Bretagne, rubbing shoulders with Normandie; with just about 5000 permanent residents its big enough to offer all the amenities you might want, fine hotels, B & Bs catering to different sized wallets, seafood restaurants and food shopping if you linger a while and have cooking facilities. Yet it’s small enough to be cozy and take no time to discover all the nooks and crannies, the hidden sea shore paths that will lead the hiker from one grand vista to another and make friends with the locals. How splendid is it? Let me put it this way, my original intention was to spend 3 days and ten days later I was regretfully forcing myself to move on.
(NOTE: To improve your viewing experience click on the photos below to enlarge – once for medium, twice to zoom in.)
The fact is this fishing port is also home to the largest oyster beds found in all of France. Romans on their way to conquer Britain found this place congenial to their eating pleasure, as well these mollusks are said to have been particularly appreciated by no less a royal palate as that of the Sun King, Louis XIV and Napoleon as well. History doesn’t record whether Josephine benefitted from the well-known aphrodisiac effects of the delectable mollusk. Oh, and is this why the British Navy back in the late 18th Century attacked this town? Was it pay back? Or a desire to get in on a good thing too. We’ll never know I suppose.
Local ‘farmers’ own framed sections of the seabed and tend several metres of wire cages where they grow and ‘harvest’ their succulent mollusks.
Three rivers ferry abundant nutrients to the Bay Saint Michel hence providing an abundance of food for the nourishment of delectable oysters.
Just harvested an empty bed awaits tiny new arrivals to start the growing cycle all over again – lucky us.
Fun and somewhat odd to spot a ‘farmer’ sorting his ‘harvest’ on the way to the local oyster processing plant.
Just off a few metres from the port quay, several oyster stalls run by talkative, better informed women than the local tourist office. Here for about 6 dollars, (depending on the current exchange rate) the Cancalaise will deftly shuck a dozen couldn’t be fresher oysters garnished with a sliced lemon; if you are really clever, you come armed with a crisp baguette, a chilled bottle of wine, take a seat anywhere nearby on a rock or bench and enjoy indulging your taste buds.
The town looks westward across the Bay Saint Michel and on a clear day the abbey can be seen as a small triangular island jutting out of the wide sea. Yes, that’s what I’m pointing at, all excited that I was to suddenly discover it was there for me to admire.
Indeed, there it was, a little over 30 minutes drive around the picturesque bay. It was also visible at night as it was illuminated but not enough for me to capture it with my camera. Still, it was always something for me to look for before saying goodnight to yet another splendid day.
A word of advice – you’ll most likely be driving to Cancale as there’s no train service and only sparse bus service from St. Malo. As you approach the town do not take the Centre Ville road, but look for a sign indicating Port de Cancale. Take it and don’t panic as it soon becomes a narrow, tortuous road and you start thinking you made a mistake. Keep going and soon enough you’ll come across the spectacular vista as below. You’ll end up where you want to be, right on the beach road where you’ll find the best accommodations. Park the car in one of the free parking lots and spend some time checking out lodgings and if you’re not planning to stay overnight (c’est dommage) you’ll discover oyster bars or better still the stalls and fine seafood eating.
Cancale is a two-tiered town built along the seashore and above on a plateau.
Low tide strands pleasure and fishing boats; Mt. St. Michel Bay is reputed for its fast incoming tides, local lore says it will overtake a galloping horse.
In my travels I naturally gravitate towards working seaports while avoiding touristy, overcrowded seaside destinations. Cancale is a great combinations of leisure, hiking, photography and mingling with real folks daily working the sea and the oyster beds.
Mending his crab net – this Cancalais is one of the traditional fishermen working on the briny.
These crabs don’t resemble the handsome Dungeness of British Columbia – ugly but nonetheless tasty.
The pier, fishing boats and a manor on top of the hill featuring a splendid pine tree. A steep climb will get you up there where you’ll discover the best view of the area possible. As well a monument to remember the Cancalais who lost their lives at sea.
This magnificent pine lords it over the entire lower town.