When in Jersey do as the locals do and take a trip to Saint-Malo, in Brittany, famous for it’s Oysters from the nearby town of Cancale.
Only a short hop across the water to France, 36 miles to be exact as Wendy Trehiou can testify as this week she became the first person in history to swim solo from Saint-Malo to Jersey, coming ashore at La Collette, well done Wendy!
We sailed as a foot passenger on Condor Ferries Rapide taking an hour and twenty minutes from Jersey to Saint-Malo. I am the worst sailor ever and though I love the sea and sailing on her, sadly she doesn’t like me! As luck would have it, the sea couldn’t have been calmer and I almost enjoyed the crossing. The approach to Saint-Malo is always a sight to behold with Saint-Servan across the inlet. We docked at the ferry terminal which is a ten minute walk from the city centre.
The walled city of Saint-Malo – La citadelle, has a rich heritage of seafaring adventurers and nowadays hosts year round events and festivals. We decided not to rush our visit and spend a night staying within the city walls, ‘Intra-Muros’ and really soak up the atmosphere.
Having found and checked into our hotel, La Maison des Armateurs, rue des Marins/Grand rue, we thought we’d start off on the traditional route and choose a Creperie, Vents d’Ouest on rue de Puits aux Braies to have a light lunch at. I had a Gallette, the buckwheat crepe that Brittany is famous for along with a nice refreshing pichet of rosé.
As a major tourist destination, August in Saint-Malo is the busiest month and along with a smattering of English voices there were masses of French holiday makers. Probably not the best month to visit but we avoided the crowds by exploring the historic and less commercial streets and enjoyed a few hours wandering around taking photographs and marvelling at the architecture.
Construction of the old city walls began in the middle Ages but sadly during the second World War, in 1944, the walled city was almost totally destroyed by American bombing and shelling along with gunfire from the British Naval guns. Saint-Malo was rebuilt in the post war years and along with the many ancient and attractive buildings that still survive, the cobbled streets and the ramparts of the city walls are lovely to meander through.
The Cathedral St-Vincent dominates the skyline and inside has a spectacular rose window, well worth visiting and a peaceful place to pause a moment. The museum which is housed in the fifteenth century caste in the south east corner of the citadelle, near the Tourist office which is situated just outside the city walls.
Plenty of bars and cafes to relax and rest weary feet, are to be found, along with endless food stalls selling an amazing array of tempting treats.
We later started our search for somewhere for dinner and en route came across a micro beer distillery producing artisanal beer, Les Brassins de St Malo. I’m not a beer drinker at all but not having any choice in this matter I gave in and have to say that it was really good.
Saint-Malo has reputedly one of the highest concentration of restaurants in Europe so we were spoilt for choice. Le Chalut, holder of one Michelin star, is one of the most popular but we found what turned out to be a fantastic restaurant, L’Absinthe on Rue L’Orme. Housed in a 17th century building with contemporary interior, there are four rooms making for a cosy dining atmosphere. We opted for the 29€ menu and I chose a Melange of tomatoes for my starter with sliced duck, orange, with crème fraiche foam and beetroot reduction. For the main course, slow cooked cod with marsala sauce and following on for desert, the house speciality, L’Absinthe feuille à feuille, peaches and mousseline of vine peaches and white chocolate. Service was efficient and we both highly recommend a visit here.
After such a delicious meal we aimed to walk it off but on the way back to the hotel we stumbled across the maddest bar called L’Alchimiste, with a name like that we had no choice but to dally a while. Several cocktails later we made it to bed!
Sunday morning we skipped breakfast in the hotel and headed next door to enjoy a quick coffee and croissant enabling us to hit the shops before the crowds arrived.
Shops open between ten and eleven in the morning and stay open until seven in the evening. Saint-Malo has no shortage of shops selling the famous navy and white striped Breton shirts that Coco Chanel helped catapult into high fashion. It has become a classic and loved the world over by men and woman of all ages. I stumbled across a lovely interior shop selling one of my favourite Parisien brands ‘Caravanne’ so I was happy!
We crisscrossed the cobbled streets and explored the shops and galleries, antique shops to artisanal craft shops. We loved the Librairie Septentrion at Place Brevet, where we lost ourselves in the old specialist books that had seen hundreds before doing the same.
Now our thoughts turned to lunch. We had been recommended to try the Bistro Autour du Buerre rue de L’Orme and had fortunately booked in advance. The restaurant is beautifully designed, situated in a sympathetically restored historic building using natural materials with contemporary features.
Chef Steve Delamaire creates delightful dishes using seasonal and local ingredients featuring the Bordier butters which we sampled with great interest. Their newest addition was my favourite, the butter with fennel but to be honest, they were all so good.
We chose the following from the à la carte menu, to start with Langoustines rôties aux pêches jaunes – roasted crayfish, peach, quinoa with pesto made with olive oil and lemon butter. Followed by turbot cooked ‘à la plancha’, hollandaise sauce made with fennel butter, artichoke and aubergine caviar. Finished off with Apricot meringue with Earl Grey tea, mint chocolate sorbet. A good recommend!
After lunch we went next door to La Maison du Buerre, where one can read about the history of butter making and buy their incredible ranges of butters and cheese. Cool bags are available to transport them safely home.
The last few hours we wandered around, had a pastis and picked up some French Interior magazines, my favourite summer reading! Collected our bags and off to the boat for home.
I would highly recommend a trip to Saint-Malo, you can easily do it in a day but why rush.