We stayed in a very small town in Brittany, not far from St. Malo, France and somewhere that is probably not on anyone’s radar because there’s nothing here 😂 Our reason for choosing this location is that we had a week to spare before taking the ferry to Ireland and we thought looking around a new area of France would be fun, besides I just really like small towns in France. We are also close to Mont-Saint-Michel where we have been before, but it made such an impression on us in 2018 that we wanted to return. There are also a few other places of interest nearby so it was easy to spend a week here.
Normally we don’t rush around sightseeing every day but the weather forecast was not great so we dashed out to see what was most important to us the first few days. The weather improved during our stay so we ended up with only 2 days of not great weather, which was less than we expected when we arrived so we squeezed in a couple of gym days as well. There is a lot to see around here but keeping our drives under an hour here’s what we got up to:
Saint-Malo is a port city in France’s northwest with a ferry terminal serving the Channel Islands and a few southern English ports. While the ancient town was founded in the 1st century BC, the modern Saint-Malo traces it’s origins to a monastic settlement from the early 6th century. The fortified town has a history of piracy, earning much wealth from local extortion and overseas adventures. Unlike most other walled cities which were built to keep the bad guys out, this one was where they lived!! Then during WWII over 8,000 German forces took over Saint-Malo and in 1944 the historic center of Saint-Malo was was almost totally destroyed by American bombs. The town was rebuilt over 12 years from 1948-1960 so there are very few old buildings left. Surrounded by tall granite walls, there is a beautiful walk along the top of the wall with views over the English Channel towards Guernsey and Jersey. Inside the walls you will find the usual assortment of hotels, souvenir shops, bakeries, restaurants and churches. The walled city is very touristy and the nearby beaches make this town a popular holiday destination. Something interesting we learned while visiting Saint-Malo is that Jacques Cartier was born here. Cartier was a French navigator who was the first European to explore the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and is credited as the discoverer of Canada. He documented the name Canada to designate the territory on the shores of the St. Lawrence River. He is entombed inside St. Vincent’s Cathedral here in Saint-Malo and there is a statue of him inside the old city walls.
For over a thousand years Christians have made pilgrimages to this rocky tidal island where the abbey has been a holy site since 708, when a local bishop had a vision convincing him to build here. The first monastic establishment was built in the 8th century with the abbey construction beginning in the 10th century. Building took centuries as the monks ferried granite from across the bay and to the top of the island. Built from the top down the abbey and monastery were first, below this the Great Halls, then storage and housing and outside the walls at the bottom, fishermen and farmers housing. With scarcely any monks in residence the abbey was closed in 1791 and converted into a prison until 1863 when it returned to the church. The bay of Mont-Saint-Michel has the highest tidal variations in Europe, a 46 ft difference between high and low tide which added to the challenges of reaching the abbey. Connection to the mainland has changed numerous times over the centuries and in 2014 the most recent bridge was opened. Below is a series of depictions showing how the buildings evolved over time. Today with over 3 million visitors a year, Mont-Saint-Michel is one of the most visited cultural sites in France.
In all our world travels, Mont-Saint-Michel has stood out as one of the most beautiful places we have ever been. My favorite part is the walk from the parking lot watching the island get closer and closer. The most spectacular views are on the approach because once you get there, the streets are narrow, steep and jammed with tourists. Obviously it’s still worth a visit since we are back for a second time. Like many places this year, getting there early was the key. I think we were even a bit late arriving at the parking lot just before 9am. It’s a 3km walk from the parking lot to the entrance of Mont-Saint-Michel or there is a free shuttle bus, but for us the walk is the best part. The narrow streets were not terribly busy at 9:30am so we meandered our way up to the entrance of the Abbey. We did not pay to go into the Abbey because we have already done that, instead we explored some of the quieter side streets and the outer walls. By noon it was getting busy so we made our exit, taking the shuttle bus back to the parking lot. There is something magical about this place and I felt sad to be leaving, it’s one of those places I could sit and stare at for hours.
Below are a few photos from our 2018 visit to the abbey:
Over 70 meters high, the shale and pink sandstone cliffs are one of the most beautiful views in Brittany. The cape is a designated bird reserve and the sheer cliffs are home to hundreds of nesting birds while the 400 hectares of moors are among the largest in Europe. There are two lighthouses, one built in 1650 and another from 1950, located at the tip of the peninsula. There are miles of hiking trails along the cliffs and one trail leads from the lighthouses to the 14th century Fort La Latte, taking about 90 minutes one way. We drove to Fort La Latte for a quick peek from the hillside before enjoying a typical lunch of Galetes (savory crepes), Crepes (sweet crepes) and locally produced Cider (served in a hand painted mug) It was so good we totally forgot to take photos before we devoured them 😄 We are learning to arrive early for lunch with the number of tourists around these days!!
Dinan was once a residence of the duke of Brittany and an ancient strategic port before the ships outgrew it’s river port and moved to the harbor in Saint-Malo. This pretty medieval town center with over 130 timber framed houses, is the second most photographed town in France. Many of the buildings date from the 13th century and the town is depicted on the famous Bayeux Tapestry. Luckily Dinan escaped the bombs of WWII and is surrounded by stone ramparts enclosing the half-timbered buildings and cobblestone lanes. The old port is down the very steep Rue du Jerzuel and great place for a walk along the River Rance. Rue du Jerzuel is one of the most important historic streets in town with lots of buildings, monuments, shops, cafes and creperies. We arrived in Dinan just after 8:30am on a Sunday hoping to beat the crowds and it worked, the town was dead quiet. The only folks out that early were the residents picking up their daily baguettes at the boulangeries. Dinan is amazing and I am so glad we came here, the old buildings are wonderfully picturesque and by the middle of the day we saw numerous artists standing at their easels on the street painting the scene in front of them.
The Church of Saint-Malo in Dinan was built in the 15th century and while the church is very plain inside there are some fabulous gargoyles on the exterior and some beautiful stained glass windows. Even though the windows were added in the 19th and 20th century they are quite beautiful and each one represents a story.
Galette and cider for lunch in Dinan (remembered to take a photo before it was all gone!!)
And so ends our week in Brittany, France. It has been fabulous to explore this small section of Brittany, there are always interesting sights to visit, and never very far away. We are happy we had an extra few days in our itinerary before sailing away to Ireland. Emerald green hills and Guinness, here we come…..