“When a wanderlust fever scorches my soul, packing a light suitcase and escaping abroad is the only blessed cooling balm.” Le Fabulist
Almost within shouting distance, three delightful, picturesque towns in the northernmost corner of Bretagne will provide an unforgettable travel experience for the most jaded traveler. One would be hard pressed to find a more splendid trio anywhere; each shines with special interests of its own, from ancient history artistically kept alive for the visitor to contemporary activities and a natural sea-bound playground. In particular, Saint Malo is a familiar name to those with a knowledge of the mayhem wrought during the June 1944 invasion, the pivotal D-Day that propelled the Allies to chase the German invader back across the Rhine River thus to victoriously bring to a close World War II, and not a day too soon.
(NOTE: To improve your viewing experience click on the photos below to enlarge – once for medium, twice to zoom in.)
The pestilence of war long forgotten, now a solitary and peaceful stroll getting feet wet in soothing salt water – how much blood and tears here, once upon a time?
The Fort National was but one of many built by famed fortifications architect Vauban in the late 17th Century. It is accessible at low tide; look for the French tricolor, if it’s flying then the fort is open to the public at the moment.
Known as Paramé, this seaside community only recently annexed to Saint Malo is a convenient place to park your car, if you can find a spot, then spend the day on the beach or exploring the nearby ‘Intra Muros‘ with fine shopping and restaurants inside the walled town.
The important, strategic port town was laid waste, in large swaths barely two stones atop each other, but if one had no foreknowledge of the devastation it would be impossible to imagine seeing the thriving, bustling town today.
The massive historic entrance towers at the left top and a sunken ship with concerned locals looking on – is anyone alive?
The imposing medieval towers yet guarding the entrance to the ancient quarters of Saint Malo. Inside ‘Intra Muros’ are quaint cobble stone paved streets, chic boutiques and a weekly market on Fridays. Do I need mention it’s so much better to plan a visit in the off-season? I was there in mid-May and it was perfect!
Ancient building still serving as the town’s City Hall; stroll along Rue Jacques Cartier, familiar name to Canadians who studied his three visits to Quebec, and the Rue Sainte Barbe with fine eating.
Within the fortified walls an ancient cross-timbered building – you have to wonder how many pieces of cardboard strategically placed under the legs are required to keep the kitchen table more or less level?
An entire street with equally rickety charm, as a real estate salesman might put it, “Needs a little work but you can’t buy that kind of character!”
You can always reach across and borrow from or lend the neighbour across the way a fresh baguette or maybe a bottle of wine.
There must have been a good reason for this covered ‘bridge’ across the street – and yet it leaves me perplexed as to the why?
Not much of a photo but please take a close look on the wall – it must be the most original street name ever – it translates literally as ‘The street of the cat that is dancing!’ I was tickled pink and next trip I’m going to discover the genesis for this flight of fancy. Whoever came up with it deserves a medal for originality and whimsy!
Parking as in almost every European town dating back centuries can be a real headache. In this town a bright light came up with a gem of an idea – when the street isn’t wide enough, borrow from the sidewalk. A truly original idea and why haven’t I seen it applied anywhere else?
Visiting tall ships – Saint Malo was aptly referred to as ‘Le Port des Corsairs’. From its strategic location privateers, buccaneers or let’s call them a less inspired but nonetheless accurate, ‘pirates’ (often under the protection of the crown) swooped on merchant ships sailing to England or wealthy Flemish ports. After long voyages to the Orient, loaded with priceless silks, gold and of course the very much sought after East Indies fragrant spices these trading ships were tempting targets and might I add a ‘commercial’ activity vigorously practiced by all sides.
A galleon such as might have been sailed by ‘Surcouf’ a native son famed for his legendary prowess as a redoubtable ‘corsair’ and yet renowned for his gallantry and chivalry. Saint Malo thanks to its favorable location at the turn of the 19th Century was notorious as the home of the French privateers.
A statue to the patriotic high-seas brigand, wait, no, after all he was filling the coffers of his king as well as his and his crew’s pockets. Merchants in Saint Malo had no cause for complaints either as Surcouf, nicknamed Le Roi des Corsairs over his career brought home fabulous loot from the 47 ships (many English) he captured during his swashbuckling days; has anything much changed? Let’s see, the Somalia pirates are protected in their country as a welcome source of ‘hard currency’ where there is practically none. Different times not much difference in mores and methodology.
Across the estuary of the Rance River from Saint Malo you’ll discover the exceptionally beautiful town of Dinan and it’s dreamy port.
However, first let me explain something that may prove useful next time you checkout a map – in France a D on a yellow background indicates a ‘Départmental‘ – the local roads that criss-cross the entire country. A red N denotes Nationale, a much longer highway that was and remains the backbone of French roadways; they cut right through the heart of towns and cities, thus the driver is sure to come through the most interesting and ancient parts of it, probably where the local church or cathedral can be found, the market square too and the most interesting hotels as well. Finally, the newest, fastest and most direct are those designated A for Autoroute. In a few hours you can whiz down from Paris to the Mediterranean, to Germany, Spain or northern destinations with the least amount of traffic-related stress although be prepared for some fast drivers leaving you far behind in two heart beats.
The two pics below are out of context, I agree, but it illustrates how good an Autoroute is for driving. This was a newly-opened stretch leading towards Beaune, the famed Burgundy wine town. and early in the morning, barely a crow to be spotted, and yes, alright, I admit to testing the Renault’s ability to move along and that it did – and before you tsk-tsk as soon as it hit the 200 kph (120 mph) I immediately eased up on the accelerator. And the devil made me do it.
Autoroutes are ‘péage‘, it costs but it pays in saved time and even in less fuel spent. Départment is the French equivalent of a province or American state, but of course nothing close to the same size territory but often with a larger population. At any rate, when possible I always look for the D to travel from town to town and I’m never disappointed as you wander through the ancient ways and byways of what the French like to call ‘La France Profonde‘, or alternatively ‘Douce France‘. Indeed the finest of what this superlatively endowed country offers is often in small, out of the way towns and villages. Getting there is half the fun too.
A serene corner of the world came to mind when I first laid eyes on this tranquil vista.
Above the impressive viaduct that leads from Dinan the city to the port.
Nooks and crannies with an abundance of colorful flowers growing in the protection of ancient stones.
Dinard is a little known (outside of France) shining jewel of a town bathed by the Gulf Stream, thus benefitting from a climate several degrees warmer than surrounding areas.
The benign climate allows for the luxuriant growth of semi-tropical plants and flowering shrubs the likes are generally seen much further south, in Provence, for example.
Taking a rest during my long stroll around the idyllically named ‘Promenade du Clair de Lune‘. Soft sentimental music is piped out throughout the evening for couples to enjoy a romantic ‘rendez-vous’. A must do activity when you are in Dinard or don’t bother going as you’d miss a splendid several hours to gawk at the precariously perched villas each with an eclectic architectural style. The most inept photographer can’t miss capturing a fine souvenir to share with friends back home.
In the late 19th Century, moneyed Americans and British aristocrats made Dinard a fashionable summer resort, the place to be and to be seen. It became in fact the most popular seaside resort in all of Europe, all the while retaining its distinctive French appearance and charm.
The architecture of these stunning buildings and the considerable costs to build on the rocky escarpment was worth it for the panoramic view seen from the balconies.
What an enchanting, surreal sky!
Notice the palm trees; they can be seen everywhere along the water’s edge and fronting the first-class casino.
There are several clean and long sandy beaches in Dinard – the town is known as a fine venue for water sports, scuba diving, sailing and swimming.
The casino centered in the background; I suppose if one were to blow one’s inheritance a cooling dip in the convenient beach may soothe a fevered brow.
Here’s looking at you – see you next trip!