During the recent school spring holidays we spent a week based in Rennes, in Brittany, exploring parts of northern and western France that we as a family didn’t know. We visited places that had long been on the “desperately want to see” list (I don’t do “bucket lists”) including weird and wonderful Nantes, iconic UNESCO World Heritage site Mont St Michel and the magnificent walled town of St Malo.
In the days building up to the holiday I watched the weather forecast closely, as Brittany isn’t known for being kind to its visitors when it comes to holding back on rain. Sure enough the predictions were dreadful, and so we set off expecting storms, hail and rain every day. That great round yellow thing in the sky, that we’re so blessed with in the south, wasn’t due to make an appearance at all. But oh how the meteorologists got it wrong! What joy when the sun shone 6 days out of 7, for most of each day and in fact we only had two short bursts of rain before the last day, which was, as predicted, foul.
On one of those days when it really chucked it down for an hour or so we went to St Malo. The forecast was so bad that we stopped off to buy JF a new waterproof poncho (much to the disgust of the teen who claimed he’d never seen a more ridiculous and ugly piece of clothing. He wasn’t really wrong, but for a 40-something the practicalities of such a hideous item outweighed its bad looks, something that the teen just couldn’t get his head around!) And it certainly came in handy when the black clouds burst just as we were fully exposed on the ramparts, and when the icy wind whipped up a while later. But as luck was on our side the rain didn’t last and it turned into a lovely sunny day, albeit windy.
St Malo is a beautiful town on the north coast of Brittany with a rich maritime history mainly involving pirates in the form of officially sanctioned privateers (corsaires) and exploration of the New World. The imposing granite walled city dates back to the 12th century but has been rebuilt several times, most recently after being destroyed in the Second World War. Nowadays St Malo consists of 2 distinct areas; “intra-muros” (inside the walls) and “extra-muros” (outside). It’s the intra-muros area that is of most interest to the visitor and where we spent our time.
Our intention was to walk around the ramparts quickly and then possibly go to the nearby aquarium, seeing as it looked like it would be cold and wet. And so we set off under a very threatening sky and just as the kids announced they were starving, the heavens opened. In our careful weekly planning we’d chosen to have a picnic lunch that day so the timing couldn’t have been worse, but we were saved by a completely waterproof palm tree conveniently located nearby under which to shelter…and eat. Having wolfed down our sandwiches as quickly as possible we swiftly decamped to a salon de thé for warming mugs of hot chocolate and coffee.
Once we’d thawed and dried out in the warmth of the café the sun was starting to come out and we continued on our way around the ramparts. Our walk had started next to the harbour, with views of ships, cranes and the inevitable carparks that surround these beautiful places. Attractive yes, but not spectacular. However, once we were back on the walls, having detoured a little through the narrow internal streets, the views started to change to increasingly more beautiful scenes of bright blue seascapes dotted with tiny granite islands (some of which have constructions on such as the Fort National built by France’s illustrious military architect Vauban) and enormous sandy beaches.
The tide was on its way out revealing causeways to some of the islands and people were beginning to make their way on to the beaches. We too headed down off the walls to explore some of these paths and play in the sand. Little did we imagine when cowering under our tree with our soggy sandwiches that we’d spend the afternoon in the sun on the beach, forgetting all about the aquarium. We watched crazy kids jumping off a high diving board into a rock pool and others playing canoe polo, their brightly coloured kayaks contrasting beautifully with the turquoise water. As the afternoon wore on local cocklers trooped out on to the mud flats armed with gear to dig for shells. Everywhere you looked there was something interesting to see.
Looking over the estuary of the river Rance to Dinard, with the scudding clouds creating wonderful changing shadows across the ever widening beach and reflecting in the shallow pools, the bright blue sky and multi-hued sea dotted with islands and forts, I honestly think it was one of the most gorgeous (and interesting) sea views I’ve ever seen (the photos don’t do it justice at all). I was expecting St Malo to be an attractive place but not to this extent; I didn’t think I’d be blown away by its beauty. Needless to say, we spent far longer than expected just enjoying the beach before eventually finishing our walk around the ramparts. I believe it takes about 30-40 minutes to walk all the way around without stopping, but on what turned out to be such a lovely day, and with no fixed plans, we took our time.
Here are some more photos from our family day out in St Malo. Have you been?
And finally, a last look at that plastic poncho fashion statement….
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