Tag Archives: Normandie

Cancale ‘oyster capital’ of France

“I do not weep at the world I’m too busy sharpening my oyster knife.”  
Zora Neale Hurston

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.

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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.

 Hotels facing the pier feature fine seafood restaurants below with a great seascape to gaze upon.

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.

Over a century old, the ancient sentinel has withstood every  wild windstorms the sea has tossed at it – it remains stoic, regal and immovable.

Seen afar from the sea, a monument to remember and honour native sons lost at sea.
 A quiet street in upper town, closed off at the top by its fine church.
The  town is justly proud of its fine church – one of the more original fountains to be seen anywhere.
Below the Port de la Houle at low tide.  I’m resting (had a steep climb to get here) before undertaking several hours of  hike along the craggy upper path to Point du Groin.  An excellent day was in store, magnificent seascapes, wild flowers, balmy day in May, my face caressed by the wind I couldn’t have been happier in Eden.
Miles of scented seaside path along the escarpment framing Bay de Saint Michel; I wore a daylong smile nothing would have erased.
The colour of the sea a sure sign the lucky two would catch their quota; how I envied my fellow anglers.
And him too!
A pleasant sailing excursion was obviously the order of the day.
Pointe du Droin, the final destination before regretfully turning back.  The installation  provides vital weather and radar information to seagoing fishing boats.

Wild flowers find shelter underneath a protecting rock.
Near Cancale a short drive will take you to several long sandy beaches; bring a picnic basket, a good book and fill your lungs with iodine well-being.
Of course a faint heart found the water still too cold for her little toes.
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Whereas an enthusiastic fellow used to Canadian waters found it all rather exhilarating although admittedly  a tad on the cool side.  
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As often happens I was fortunate, hugely lucky to find this B&B (Gout-zi) right on the beach front.  The two windows provided a prime look-out on the goings on below and  across.  If I mentioned what I paid for it, in late May, it would be near unbelievable, at least from the perspective of a traveler who might have been whacked hard for accommodations anywhere across British Columbia.  Those of you who might think it expensive to venture across to Europe, don’t be needlessly daunted, in actual fact it’s much cheaper if you’re just a bit astute and are willing to do some solid research before hand.  With so many web sites available it’s plain silly not to be well-prepared. and I do mean it.  Just so anyone doesn’t think I don’t appreciate B.C. far from it, almost every corner of this vast province offers spectacular natural scenery, varied flora and fauna and often benign weather.  The thing is why do the folks here  think it good business to overcharge for all too often  mundane accommodations and for the government to dip into the traveler’s pockets with tax plus more taxes? It makes absolutely no sense and thus the tourist industry here is nowhere near as active as it might be otherwise with some intelligent business practices and an enlightened Ministry of Tourism.  I could write a novel on this subject so be grateful I stop right here and now.

A partial front view and …

from the rear window.
Perhaps one photo of me too many but it’s the last one, promise.  Just thought it appropriate to indicate how happy I was, at all times, during my entire stay.  Would I return? I can’t wait and maybe we’ll bump into each other, just stay away from my ‘Gout’zi‘ and we’ll get along just fine.  Oh, I’m not being selfish, there are plenty of superb other B&Bs or hotels, up to you to discover your own tiny plot of Shangri-la.

Mt. St. Michel – Normandie, France

“The archangel Michael took supreme command. He reassured their minds by his serenity. His countenance, wherein his soul was visible, expressed contempt for danger.”

Anatole France – The Revolt of the Angels’. 

Approaching one of the world’s finest UNESCO site, Mont Saint Michel in Normandie, France.   Your very first view of the splendid abbey looming in the distance will dazzle your eyes and leave an indelible mark on your heart.   No matter how many times I journey to this splendid example of man’s genius for  monumental architecture, I am humbled.  In truth I simply can’t imagine any such sublime creation is now possible, neither the time, the funds, the medieval builder’s knowledge but especially the faith of generations of monks in another better world is now lost in the dim past.  Yet, the stones of Mont Saint Michel remain as witness to mankind’s great achievements.  Where hundreds of monks kept the faith, sadly today but a handful keep vigil and pray to the Archangel for protection and better days ahead.  

(NOTE: To improve your viewing experience click on the photos below to enlarge – once for medium, twice to zoom in.)

At low tide, fat, contented sheep feed on salt marsh grasses resulting in tasty meats appreciated in fine restaurants through France.

Nearing closer for a better angle the sheep simply didn’t care about  my presence simply shuffling off a tad and peacefully getting back to munching on their favourite grasses.

My traveling companion was simply overwhelmed and I caught her eyes glistening with tears – her explanation was she’d never seen anything as inspiringly beautiful.   She expressed my sentiments perfectly. 

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Twice a day, at high tide Mt. St. Michel becomes an island and at low tide it’s surrounded by a large expanse of shallow sands.  Many a foolish tourist has come to grief when unawares of the incoming tide, faster than a galloping horse it’s said.  Now guided tours allow for long walks in safety, avoiding the infamous quicksands.

Almost neap tide and a fine sunset – now to explore hidden nooks and crannies and imagine echoes of a millenary past replete with an  epic history

This magnificent refectory hall sounds hollow; only a very few monks remain where once hundreds worked and prayed.

The splendid main transept; the photo below the principal altar.

Pilgrims, visitors of all faiths light votive candles – seeking the protection of the mighty heavenly warrior is not to be derided, you never know when you’ll need help warding off the dragon of ill fortune, Satan’s ally.  Amen!

Aptly named ‘La Merveille’ this architectural jewel provided resident monks with a serene venue for their daily spiritual communion with God.

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The main street leading up to the abbey.  Do yourself a favour and visit anytime other than summer months when hordes of tourists murder the ambiance.

Old stones hundreds of years in the aging (like vintage wine) under the ever vigilant protection of Saint Michel.

Indulge your palate with a tasty, cloud-light local omelet.  This particular establishment has been around for a long time and is generally credited with being the original creator of the egg and butter dish.   The secret is in the thorough blending of the ingredients and the right technique as happily demonstrated by the friendly fellow.  

 

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It is said the proof is in the eating and my friend agreed this omelet was everything she’s hoped for and some since she’d read about it in a Japanese travel article.  I’ll admit I stuck to a copious plate of mussels and fries and no regrets!

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High above the abbey and town, the archangel Saint Michel protects all.

Wander about at night, inhale the sea air and be mesmerized by the mysterious ambience,  bend an ear and catch the echos of times past wafting in on the waves, from Viking raiders to hooded monks chanting vespers, to you standing there thrilled to realize you are there, now.

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One more photo to capture and assign to memory this mystic, almost surreal vista.  If you have the chance to walk the jetty after sunset, smell the sea air, listen to the wind, you’ll be possessed forever.  No matter how often I’ve been there it never fails to send shivers scurrying down my spine and a conviction that no matter what, all’s well  on this good earth when such splendor created by the genius and faith of man still survives to enchant succeeding generations of travellers.