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Saint Malo – many welcome surprises

December 27th, 2010 by Roger in Saint Malo

If you ask a local where they are from, the reply will be: “Saint-Malo”, then “Brittany”, followed by, “”Well, I’m French.” It’s almost the official slogan of the town. A Gaulish monk formed the town in the 6th century, and the inhabitants had to fortify the town to defend it from the Norman invasions. Stuck inside their “town-fort”, the Malouins chose to ignore most of what was going on nationally throughout the ages with regard to the Brittany/France question, or the international conflicts between France and the rest of the world.

Between 1590 and 1594, Saint-Malo declared itself a republic. This independent spirit has given Brittany a large number of famous figures, adventurers, sailors, and writers. Jacques Cartier the “discoverer” of Quebec, took the local architecture to the Canadian province. The town became prosperous thanks to the feats of its explorers, such as Duguay-Trouin, Surcouf, and others. Chateaubriand, who is buried not far from the ramparts, made his hometown famous on the artistic level; he is widely acknowledged as the father of literary romanticism.

It was only in the Second World War that Saint-Malo suffered its first real defeat, being totally destroyed by bombing and fire in 1944. However, the Malouins proved their tenacity once again, and simply rebuilt the town, stone by stone, once the war was over. It was practically identical once they’d finished. So it’s paradoxically a recent town, but very traditional to look at. And the locals are very proud of it. It still resembled a rather austere fortified town, within the ramparts, from which you can get a fine view, maybe making out the king’s ships sailing into port?

On a recent visit to the town I explored the shops and houses inside the old walled town. There were so many welcome surprises with some splendid shops selling all that Brittany has to offer.  The cafés and restaurants suit every taste. When you need to relax for a while,  just mount the ramparts and look out to sea and admire the view. It really makes for a most wonderful day out.


Saint-Malo is also a major ferry port, for destinations such as England and Ireland. It has a long beach, numerous off-lying islands, a fine castle, and a beautiful centre of town. It’s one of the most visited towns in Brittany, and its doors are wide open to you!


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