The beautiful seaside town of Saint-Malo is full of charm. Strategically located in northwest Brittany, Saint-Malo is the perfect get away for a relaxing weekend away that won’t break the bank.
Saint-Malo is a walled town protected by ramparts against stormy seas and the historical Norman and English intruders. The old town called “intra-muros” is small with narrow cobbled streets and feels like a complex labyrinth. The port city suffered during WWII and most of the city was damaged but surprisingly the ramparts were left practically intact. After the war, work was done to bring back the town to its former glory. So now you are thinking, what can you do during a weekend in Saint-Malo?
Things to do in Saint-Malo
Walk down the beaches and admire the sea
The first thing I did when I arrived in Saint-Malo was to walk by the beach. I started from Rochebonne in Paramé to finish in the old town. The tide was low so I was able to walk far enough and discover the surroundings. Contrary to some of the Breton beaches, Saint-Malo is not only pebbles so beautiful sandy beaches are everywhere. La Plage du Sillon is the most famous and very distinctive thanks to its alignment of sand walls. Their role is to stop the tide from carrying the sand away.
The beaches of Plage de la Mole and Plage de Bon Secours are well liked by the Malouins. If you visit in summer time or anytime (if you don’t mind the cold water) you will be able to enjoy the swimming pool at Bon Secours beach.
The ocean plays an important role in the life of the Malouins. Therefore it’s not surprising that the town is cadenced by tides and storms. Whenever you are into high tide or low tide, you will be pleased to see the changes in the landscapes every few hours. Luckily, the tide was low so I was able to visit the fortresses of le Petit Bé and Fort National. These offshore fortresses with dungeons have been built in the small islands to protect the town. You have to be careful and keep in mind the tide timetable as you might end up being stuck when the sea rises. This happened to me when I was in my teens and it wasn’t a great experience.
Saint-Malo is a port town so a visit in the town means a visit by the port. You can even hop onboard the Etoile du Roy. I have not been able to do this attraction however I have heard good reviews from the ladies at the Tourist Information Centre.
Walking up the ramparts and exploring the town
The ramparts are actually in my opinions what make Saint-Malo so special. Accessing the ramparts is simple, you just need to take one of the few stairs and you find yourself on top of the ramparts. The walk is quite nice and is about 1754 metres. I took the stairs in the Saint-Thomas entrance, just by the Town Hall. Walking through the ramparts is a nice way to check out the town. You have the beaches, forts, islands on the sea side and the narrow streets of the old town on the land side.
After walking in the ramparts, you can take another walk and lose yourself within the streets of the old town. The streets are full of souvenir boutiques, craft shops, galleries or clothes and jewellery shops. You can also venture into outside the old town; Paramé and Saint Servan are where the Malouins live.
The maritime town has a strong cultural influence. You can hit the museums and galleries to learn all about the privateers, explorers and writers that made Saint-Malo a historic town. First stop is the castle, home to the city’s historical museum. Following that, you can head over to Maison du Québec, this small museum has been donated by the Canadian government to honour Jacques Cartier who discovered Quebec.
Where to eat in Saint-Malo
Walking all these parts of the town worked up an appetite. Luckily, although small in size, the walled town of Saint-Malo is big in the food department. From small crêperie to Michelin star restaurants, you are sure to find one that will please your palate and your purse. My budget was limited but I managed to eat lots of local delicious food. I took back easily all the calories I lost and even more with all the goodies asking to be eaten like the famous Kouign-amann and Far Breton. I was once told “You can’t come to Brittany without trying the local specialities”. If you are a seafood lover, then you will love Brittany and Saint-Malo for that matter. With kilometre after kilometre of coastline, seafood is on abundance and on the menu in most of the restaurants.
- Crêperie le Mole – 3 Rue de Dinan, 35400 Saint-Malo. The staff were professional and very helpful (they even let me borrow their iPhone charger!) The food was great and the atmosphere warm and cosy.
- Bergamote – 3 Place Jean de Châtillon, 35400 Saint-Malo
- Comptoir Breizh Café – 6 Rue de l’Orme, 35400 Saint-Malo. This place mixes with perfection Japanese and Breton cuisine. Fan of Japanese food, I always find a Japanese restaurant in my trips to fill my cravings. If some of them made me regret my choices, this one was pure delight.
I spent on average €14 for lunch and dinner including soft drinks which is a bargain.
Where to stay in Saint-Malo
I stayed at the Youth Hostel Ethic Etapes Patrick Varangot. It’s a few minutes away from the beach and close to the old town. As well as a hostel, Centre Varangot also offers accommodation to youth and is a holiday camp for schools and associations. It’s the perfect option for people travelling on a budget. I paid £75 for two nights including breakfast. Staying there took me back to my school trip days, very nostalgic!
Ibis Styles Saint-Malo in the old town is a good option with free breakfast – 4 Place du Poids du Roi, 35400 Saint-Malo
Places to visit near Saint-Malo
Saint-Malo is at the heart of the Emerald Coast with Dinan, Dinard, Cancale, Mont St Michel and Rennes within short distance. You can take the opportunity during your weekend in Saint-Malo to discover the other cities.
British seaside town of Dinard
A short trip by boat, bus or car and you are on the beautiful seaside resort of Dinard. Dinard is referred to as the “English resort” due to rich English families making the town a touristic destination. Walking down the coastline, you will be amazed by the number of grand villas.
Bécherel “village of books, village of character”
If you like exploring cities with history and character or like books, particularly old and rare books, then you will love this charming little village.
Medieval town of Dinan
Wandering around the old town of Dinan is like going back in time. As you walk along the town’s picturesque streets to the port of Dinan, you can only marvel at the timbered houses and the famous rue du Jerzual.
Mont St-Michel is by far one of the most famous and amazing sights in France.
Getting to Saint-Malo
Air: Ryanair (ryanair.com ) flies to Dinard-Pleurtuit from London Stansted (and East Midlands). I paid £15.29 for my flight including Priority boarding. This wasn’t actually necessary as the flight wasn’t packed. There is no public transport from the airport to St-Malo, so I recommend you book a taxi before leaving the UK with Bedel Taxis (0033 660 420 415; taxi-dinard.com). The driver informed me that they have an app that tells them when the flights are arriving. Since I wasn’t aware of that, I waited about 15 minutes for a cab. I paid €40 to my hostel in Paramé. Another alternative is to fly out to Rennes and then drive to Saint-Malo.
Sea: You can also sail to St-Malo as a foot passenger on Brittany Ferries (brittanyferries.com) from Portsmouth, or Condor Ferries (condorferries.co.uk ) from Weymouth or Poole (with a Channel Islands stop) to St-Malo.
Train: If you are not keen on plane or boat, you have the choice, although a little long, to take the Eurostar (eurostar.com ) from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord, then Metro Line 4 to Paris Montparnasse and the TGV to St-Malo with SNCF (Voyages SNCF). The train low-cost company Ouigo also operates to Rennes.
Bus: Getting around Saint-Malo and the surrounding towns is very simple. There are three bus companies that operate in Saint-Malo. Illenoo, Tibus and Keolis. You can take the bus 16 from Saint-Malo to Dinard for €5.40 Illenoo
Is Saint-Malo worth visiting? The answer is yes even though I visited in Autumn. With so much to see intra-muros and even outside of town so it’s the perfect location for a quick break away.
Have you been to Saint-Malo or any of the other towns listed above? What was your experience?
Thanks for reading!
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