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 car parks 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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I found your photos and blog after googling for something on Saint-mall ramparts and City after reading the book previously mentioned. Lovely photos.
I found your photos and blog after googling for something on Saint-mall ramparts and City after reading the book previously mentioned. Lovely photos.
I’m pretty sure the photo you have of the house with three layers of windows in the attic is the back of number 4 rue Vauborel. I was just in Saint-Malo myself (after reading the book) and I have the same photo. 🙂
You’d think I would have been to St Malo as it is so close wouldn’t you but no – I have never been and I have never even taken a ferry from there (the timings never work for me). I love the kayak polo pool – that is such a good idea and I am glad our “rare” northern sun made an appearance for you!
What a great post with gorgeous images. We’ve only used St.Malo as a ferry port before, we really must make it a proper destination now! Great to find you and link up for the first time with #AllAboutFrance
This is still on our list of places we must visit before leaving France! Looks like you landed on a perfect day to visit. Thanks for sharing. I’ll have to save this for when we go (hopefully soon) #allaboutfrance
If the Pin didn’t work for you GGG I guess it was a glitch (or maybe you don’t have the Pin it app on your computer?) It has been working just fine for others…sorry about that, but not a lot I can do. St Malo is a definite “must see” place.
You’re the 5th or 6th person who’s recommended this book so I have just bought it and started reading.
Oh yes, it’s really beautiful, you should visit if you can.
Looks like I should make time to visit Brittany! It’s beautiful! 🙂
Have you read the book “All the Light We Cannot See”? Ever since I read that amazing novel I’ve been curious about St Malo. Thanks for all the photos!
I haven’t been, shame on me! Now it’s definitely on my “Must Visit” list… I tried to pin your pin so I would have a reminder, but it didn’t see to work?
A glorious place! Glad the sun came out for you although love the picture of the four of you in anoraks. I knew nothing about St Malo so thanks for writing this and sharing on #citytripping
Brings back some lovely memories. The last time I was in St Malo was September 1997 and it was scorching hot!
St Malo is one of the coolest places I’ve ever been/seen! Love this spotlight on it! Thanks for my favorite link-up, Phoebe!
Phoebe, St. Malo is such a gorgeous little city. We were there not too long ago and loved it. It rained on us, too!
What wonderful photos – I know I’ve been through St Malo many years ago after a ferry crossing but I remember almost nothing about it and had no idea it was so lovely to wander around or had do much to see. #citytripping
What gorgeous photos- especially that cloudscape over the beach! All that rain actually made for some beautiful and atmospheric photos 🙂
Ahh wish I had known you were passing through Nantes — could have met you in person! I love St. Malo and was there a few years ago. Luckily it didn’t rain and we got to walk around. Even Dagny jumped up on the wall and had a look at the view. 😉
Phoebe other than Provence, St Malo is one of my favourite places in France…well then there is always Paris. Your photos are beautiful thanks for sharing.
Super photo’s. That beach looks amazing and I love that mad rock pool area with the dive board. We’ve just started exploring France again with the girls in tow and I love the look of this place… although I’m with your teen ref the poncho 😀
This has really made me wish we’d stayed in St Malo when we flew into the airport a couple of years ago, we went to stay with my MIL and just hired a car and drove straight out. Next time I’ll be booking somewhere so I can explore here, it looks beautiful x
Thank you Lydia 🙂
Well now you have Fritha!
Another person who’s read this book…I really must get a copy!
I’m so happy to share with such an appreciative reader Jill. We also went to Mt St Michel and I’ll be writing about it soon. It is also an amazing place and I’m not surprised it’s one of your favourites.
That’s the hazzard when you’ve discovered THE BEST PLACE in France, it’s hard to go anywhere else. Can’t wait to see you back at Lou Messugo next week Catherine.
Thank you so much Jim! Lovely kind words indeed especially coming from a photographer of your talent.
I’m glad you appreciated the poncho Trish!!
If you’re anywhere near Nell then you MUST visit, it’s truly gorgeous.
My theory is that if you carry umbrellas you keep the rain away, I reckon it’s a good insurance! I hope you get to Brittany one day Ruth it’s really very lovely.
I’ve never been to St Malo, it looks gorgeous though, what a lovely beach!
I get in trouble every time I follow the weather reports. Last time we visited Europe, we ended up carrying two umbrellas for two straight days because rain was announced. I am not a poncho person (my mom used to make us carry one in our school bag), so, that solution will not work for me. St Malo is splendid. I have to make a point to visit Brittany one day.
What a beautiful place! i love the buildings and how soft the sand looks!
I visited St Malo as a child, and remember thinking it was pretty. We may well be heading back there this summer – we’re just working out the itinerary of our schedule at the moment. It does look like somewhere not to be missed!
I’d forgotten how gorgeous St Malo is – we visited when my son was little. You’ve brought back some lovely memories for me. Great that the weather forecast was wrong for the week but good to see the poncho for at least one morning!
I absolutely love, love, love the beaches around Saint Malo’s walls. They are stunningly picturesque, and your photos do them total justice. Great post! #wkendtravelinspiration
I must go to St Malo again but I seem to be drawn to the south of France. We will be at Lou Messugo next week. Can’t wait.
We’ve never been but it looks wonderful and I’d love to go 🙂
I took my time reading and savoring your post and photos as St. Malo is one of my favorite places in France (the other being Mont St. Michele – yes, I actually like it there) My husband and I spent a day in St. Malo wandering the wall and the shops and enjoying lunch at an outdoor cafe. What a wonderful place! I have never made it further west into Brittany but it is at the top of my list. Thanks for sharing!
That beach really does look beautiful! I’d love to revisit St Malo after reading the wonderful All the Light We Cannot See which is set in St Malo during the Second World War. It would be fascinating to see some of the places written about so beautifully in the novel. #TheWeeklyPostcard
You need to look closer at the 7th photo and the 3rd from bottom (not counting the PIN)!
I’ve never actually heard of St Malo! How incredible that the castle is pretty much on the beach x
Ha! But no photos of the canoe polo?
Great photos. The Brittany coast is so stunning. Thanks for sharing 🙂
Salut Cath, ça me fait plaisir quand je vois que tu lis mon blog. Merci pour ton commentaire.
Oui, on connait Saint Malo ; on y était allé dans notre enfance et on y est retourné il y a environ 12 ans ; nous étions basés Ã Â Saint Cast le Guildo non loin de la mer. Quelle jolie ville ; on avait arpenté le secteur ; Alain avait même été Ã Â la criée de très bonne heure le matin ; tout est informatisé désormais, cela a perdu de l’ambiance qui régnait avant. Cela donne bien envie d’y retourner avec ces magnifiques photos, merci !
That looks so lovely – and at least the weather kept away the crowds! That’s a fantastic shot with the boat in the background. Love it!!
Good to hear you enjoyed your visit to St Malo, it really is beautiful.
Have a good holiday Emma!
Another recommendation of this book, I *really* must read it!
We visited St Malo a few years ago, it is beautiful and I wish we’d been able to spend more time there. Such a wonderful city and some beautiful streets, I love that part of France and will definitely be back.
Stunning photos! I love Brittany! I’ve been wanting to visit ever since reading “All the Light We Cannot See.” Thanks for sharing!
I’ve heard of it! beautiful photos! #weekend wanderlust
We are off to France in just a few weeks, I think I’d forgotten how beautiful the buildings really are there! x
I thought you had Rin, you’ve been close by though haven’t you?
I’m so glad you’re enjoying my blog Amy, thanks for taking the time to let me know.
Since going to St Malo you’re the 3rd person who’s mentioned that book. I must have a read, it sounds great.
I’m glad you appreciate our parenting technique Emma!!
It’s such an easy place to visit from England, you should go Nichola.
It was April in northern France so it wasn’t warm by any means but after we got rained on and the sun came out it wasn’t that cold either. Just windy.
Next time you have to come to the south-east Jen, but I’m sure you’ll love the south-west!
It was mad weather!
Almost 3 seasons in a day, loved it!
This is the area of France that we normally visit. It is so beautiful and a great area. However, we are off to Sarlat in the Dordogne in may where we have never been!
Looks like a very interesting city–looks like it was chilly when you were there though. I hate the cold. 🙂
This looks beautiful. I have often thought about a trip to St Malo and it looks like such an interesting town. Really like your photos too.
This brought back lots of fond memories of my French Exchange trip aged 13. Our first day trip was to St Malo, our first taste of freedom! 😀 Had to laugh about the rain poncho. What good is being a parent if you can’t embarrass your offspring?! Beautiful photos Phoebe! 🙂
What amazing pictures! I’ve just finished reading “All the Light We Cannot See” which was set in St Malo during the second world war. It was a brilliant book and it has now really come to life thanks to your family holiday. Thanks!
I discovered your blog about a week ago and read through some past posts – love it! 🙂
My family lived in France (Albertville) for a year when I was a child; and, your posts and pics of every day life have brought back all sorts of memories.
I have never been but certainly want to now, thank you