Sunny Autumn Afternoons in St. Malo, Brittany
A break was needed, so we piled into the car for a couple of days at the French house just to unwind, spending most days curled up with our books, keeping a ridged aperitif hour and playing mammoth (and very competitive!) games of Monopoly. We ventured out once in the middle of the week to have lunch in Combourg, but on our last day we decided to go on a little day trip to the fortified old town of St. Malo (I had not been since I wrote about it in 2011), just on the coast (well, we had to get up and get dressed anyway to go and stock up on wine and treats to take back with us to London, and it was such a sunny day!)
We parked by the harbour just outside the city walls, then took a wander around the old town to get our bearings. This is the little hermits home, just next to the Cathedral where, way back in Medieval times when the British controlled this part of France Catholic hermits used to live all alone, all the time. While modern St. Malo is big, busy and bustling, and the old town does have a lot of restaurants, shops and hotels reflecting that it is such a big tourist destination, it was really nice to go off-season so you could really see that this is still somewhere living and breathing for local people – stopping for their lunch hour with popular plat du jours, and going to school in the college also right by the Cathedral.
Speaking of the Cathedral, I’d never been in before and I was staggered by the beautiful stained glass set in the back window, light streaming in and painting pretty colours across the stone walls and pillars. Having gone to school in the shadow of Canterbury Cathedral I sometimes find Cathedrals elsewhere a little disappointing as it is such a beautiful building, but this modern, simple building created in collaboration with local artists had a kind of serenity that only the perfect church or other type of temple could have.
After exploring the building for a while we headed back out into the sunshine for a walk on the city ramparts (with beautiful views across the coast and out across the ocean – I simply adore how beautifully blue the sea around here goes (so clear) whenever the sun is shining) and for a walk out to the old fort. I’d never made it out there before because the tide has never been in my favour before, but the beach walk is beautiful, the rock pools are almost as good as those around the coast at Cancale, and while I would have loved for the fort to be open to explore (like it was supposed to be at that time of year – typical France, you can never take opening times as written!) staying out on the beach we did not need to worry about the tide.
Famished by this point, we headed back inside the city walls to find some lunch. We knew we were getting steak and galettes at La Cour Du Temple in Combourg for dinner (my favourite place to eat in Brittany) and sadly my beloved Cancale oysters were not really in season, so we hunted around for good French omelettes and Brittany’s answer to fish and chips: Moules Frites. We ended up in Creperie du Mole, a little place down a side street packed with locals that did good food, but exceptional mussels, which is why I’m flagging it to you. You can’t go wrong with their 15€ formula of Moules Marine and chips, a small glass of (very good) house wine, and a sugar and local butter crepe (the best topping, in my opinion) for dessert.
Well, I say dessert because in St. Malo you either need to be prepared to forgo dessert wherever you’re eating, or to have two. If you’re travelling around Brittany you can also find them in Rennes, Cancale, Dinan, Dinard and Saint-Lunaire, but the original (since 1990) Sanchez gelato shop, who do over 120 rich and creamy flavours (the most popular being ones flavoured with sweets) are based in St. Malo, and it would be an utter crime to miss out on a scoop – they do some of the best ice cream anywhere. I used to adore the rose flavour but it was not on so I had an incredible parma violet scoop (so addictive) on top of my old favourite of Kinder Egg – through they have changed the flavour a bit and I think it is now too sweet. Choose wisely, and if your French is up to it ask to try a few flavours first.
Make the effort to go outside of usual holiday periods on a weekday – not only will the walled town get unpleasantly packed, but prices for things like car parking and entry to a few museums almost double during the tourist season. If you’re looking for other things to do in the area, you can find my blog posts about Cancale, Combourg, and rural life in the area if you rent a cottage (which I fully recommend you do to get the full experience) in spring, summer, autumn and winter here.