A fortified city might sound off-putting, but it’s actually quite the opposite. When the sun is reflecting off the city walls and glinting off the thousands of little white windows it’s quite picturesque. Boats litter the harbour and sea birds glide on the winds. Stepping inside the city walls takes you back in time and it’s pleasant to see the modern shops generally fitting in well with the scene of those with a bit more history.
Saint-Malo was a port of strategic significance and so in addition to the thick city walls there are offshore fortifications that ships would have to get past. The famous one is called Fort de la Conchée. I was lucky enough to have a renovation stone donated in my name as a present and so we took a boat 4km out to La Conchée to see it close up. Doing so in older times might not have been so easy as the city was also quite a hotspot for privateering and government pirates were paid to raid English ships and cause them trouble.
With high speed trains connecting Saint-Malo to Rennes and Paris in 3 hours it’s become very accessible for both Parisians and travellers. This is why the coast of Bretagne is filled with holiday houses and weekenders. From Saint-Malo you can also take ferries to England or the Channel Islands like Jersey and Guernsey. Parking can be a bit of an issue so don’t expect to find a park inside the city walls unless it’s quiet or you have your own little secret spot.
Inside the walls you will find loads of crêperies, brasseries and fancy restaurants to eat at each vying for a place in the sun, but they are all covered so you can enjoy them year round and in all sorts of weather. There are also some famous artisan food shops such as Le Beurre Bordier where all the shops buy their beaten butter and Bouvier macarons which in my opinion are better than some of the plastic looking ones you can find in Paris. Being a bit of a destination in France, there are also quite a few brand name and upmarket shops, but fortunately they attempt to blend in fairly well sticking to the look and feel of the city and avoiding big glamorous signs.
As you walk around the city walls you begin to realise that at some points they are almost as wide as they are tall – these are some pretty heavy fortifications! Nowadays though the walls mainly protect the city from the barrage of big waves during storms. Parts of Saint-Malo are bordered by huge wooden bollards to help break the waves before they hit the city walls or crash onto roads.
At low tide though, some of the islands start to become accessible, including Fort National and Ile du Grande Bé. On the Grande Bé you can find the grave of the famous French writer François-René de Chateaubriand. If you get the opportunity and do find you are there at low tide don’t miss the opportunity – the tides rise and fall very fast here given how flat the coast is.
The city is also quite beautiful by night if you are still walking around it’s cobblestone streets. It won’t be hard to find a nice place for a drink or some dessert.