Inside the walls of the old town of Saint-Malo, one has the impression of being transported back in time. The cobbled streets, the ramparts and the corsair atmosphere set the tone for a magical, unique and somewhat touristy place. If you are looking for a day trip or a short getaway from Paris, Saint-Malo is a good option. Here are our tips for spending a weekend in Saint Malo
Our journey to the Brittany coast (or Brittany, if you prefer) began around noon on a Thursday, when we boarded a bus from Mont Saint-Michel to Saint-Malo, direct. It was the best deal in town, at 4.99 euros each. If you’re thinking of doing a similar trip, check out Flixbus – they operate a number of routes in this part of the region.
We arrived in Saint-Malo about an hour later. We could have taken a city bus to the old town, but we preferred to walk, as the weather was nice. The planning proved painful, as there are more cobblestones in Saint-Malo than you can throw, so bouncing your suitcase around for a good half hour is a bit tedious.
Paved or not, we arrived relatively unscathed at our apartment, the highly prized ” Saint-Malo With Love “. We were greeted by a very friendly young lady who seemed genuinely happy to see us. This continued throughout our stay as everyone we met was super friendly – definitely makes a big difference when you are on the road for a while like we were. We talked enthusiastically in French about all the wonderful things that are on offer in Saint-Malo.
We were shown to our room, a very nice spot at the top of the stairs on the first floor. We hadn’t eaten since breakfast so by then we were more than ready to go get some food. After unpacking a few things, we left.
Finding a restaurant in Saint-Malo is not a problem. There are dozens of crêperies, seafood restaurants, pizzerias and sandwich shops, the usual bakeries, cheese shops and a very good burger restaurant. We opted for the burger. I know it’s a sacrilege not to eat good French food all the time, but honestly sometimes when you’re on the road you just want a good burger, and to be fair this place boasted of only use French suppliers for most of its menu, so we opted for French cuisine.
Knop & Compagnie is located near the main entrance gates to the old town. It’s clean, the music from the 80s and 90s is very much alive there, and the food is amazing. And of course, in France, a hamburger is never just a hamburger.
The owner, a very nice guy, made us two delicious burgers made with fresh bread, cooked to order, with fresh French beef. Mine contained Tomme de Savoie, which I had never eaten before. It’s sweet, and it worked well on the burger. Angela ordered a plain burger with tomato (which I would never do, because raw tomatoes are vile and can’t be trusted). The toppings were fresh and everything tasted good.
A word of caution: in France, they cook their burgers medium, or medium, with a little pink inside. If you’re from Canada, and some places in the US, the burgers are always well done, so you don’t have to worry about how to order them. If you like fully cooked burgers, be sure to order them well done.
Lunch being over, we decided to go exploring. Wandering around this town is a study in contradictions – you’re either surrounded by touristy shops and restaurants, or alone on a quiet cobbled street that conjures up images of medieval Europe.
We just did a few meanders, enjoying the freedom to check things out without having to stick to a set schedule. If you walk long enough in any direction, you’ll eventually come across one of the stairways you can climb in order to walk atop the walls, among the ramparts, and in the company of many seagulls.
If you’re looking for a great calf and butt workout, this is where you need to go. Lots of stairs will help you create the bootylicious look you’ve always dreamed of.
Once you are on the walls the views are quite fantastic…
French privateer Robert Charles Surcouf (1773-1827) points out to sea, towards England. Angela also points to the sea, but she gestures toward her hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia, where the donair (aka nature’s perfect food) is found.
We were there in the off season so we didn’t get to see this place booming, but during the summer the beaches are packed.
Once you’re up there, it’s a good place for selfies and portraits. As you can see from my outfit, it was sunny but still quite chilly. The weather was nice for the end of March, but it was still the end of March, so light jackets and hats were the order of the day.
The island you can see behind me is an island you can explore when the tide is out. The very friendly wife of Quic en Groigne had told us that between 5 and 7 p.m. there would be a good window to walk in. She also warned us that if we came back late the path would be under water and we would be stuck outside for the night.
The hike to the small island isn’t very far, but it’s hilly and the winds pick up from the sea, making it moderately harder than we thought. Except for one other couple, we were the only ones up there, so it was relaxing to breathe in the ocean air and wander around aimlessly. It also gave us the opportunity to look out over the city and see Saint-Malo from the Atlantic.
It’s a good place to shoot over the town and take in the high perspective and distance from Saint-Malo. rises and blocks us there.
We bought a baguette and a few other small items so we could have a picnic in our room for dinner. We bought a baguette and a few other small items so we could have a picnic in our room for dinner. And honestly, a fresh baguette sandwich is very good, so it’s not like we were unhappy.
We had dinner, did some laundry and watched a French singing competition where participants had to find the lyrics to a song on a screen, like in karaoke, then the screen went blank and they had to finish the sentence with the right words. I didn’t know any of the songs and only understood some of the comments, but it was surprisingly addictive. It lasted about three hours, so by the end I was getting pretty good.
The next morning we got up and went to exercise. It was sunny and the air was cool. I wanted to do a full tour outside of town, mostly walking, a little running, a lot climbing stairs. At the end we went to a long breakwater where there were two fishermen and lots of people walking their dogs.
The views from the end of the dike, especially in the morning, are quite fantastic.
Across the Channel, a ferry takes people to Portsmouth, UK. You can also take boats to the island of Jersey, and a few other places.
We went back to the room, went to shower, change clothes and went to lunch. Along the way, we passed many trendy restaurants and small inns. There are great brands and cool little shops in this town.
Watch Dogs, Saint-Malo
We found a great little pizzeria (Le cafe de Saint Malo) near the main gates and settled in. I love the thin crust pizzas they serve in Europe, and this place did an exceptional job. We filled up with gas and did a bit of shopping, where I bought some shoes that fit the French a bit better. My Nikes, apparently, are not suitable for all situations.
Strutting happily in my funky new boots, I’m sure I was the envy of everyone who saw me. On the cobbles, however, they didn’t support me much… I could feel every stone through the soles of my aesthetic shoes. At first it felt like a light foot massage but after a while it became a pain so I went back to the Nikes. The people of Toronto can admire me, where there are no cobblestones. In Saint-Malo, I told myself that I would be a nerd, but a comfortable nerd, and I’m okay with that.
The rest of our time was spent exploring. We ate some ice cream, went to a very cool cheese shop that I wish I had taken some pictures of – it was really old school – and explored a craft beer store where we met one nicest guys in town. He sold me a bunch of beers unique to the region, a few drinks that I got to sample before trying my hand at the French lyrical game show later that evening. The second time around, I wasn’t any better (in real life), but in my mind, I was a real rock star.
Our stay in Saint-Malo was a perfect respite from the hectic lifestyle we tend to have when we are in Paris. It was nice not having a schedule, a program, not having to do anything. We came and went when we wanted, we ate well, we enjoyed the ocean, and being a history buff like me, I loved learning about the city, the corsairs, and the architecture. It’s a unique and relaxing place, and I’m glad we took the time to visit it
The next morning we packed up, said goodbye to Quic En Groigne and left the old town. We took a city bus to the station and hopped on the high-speed train back to Paris. Rested and ready to move, we were excited for the second part of our Parisian adventure.
Have you been to Saint Malo? If so, what were your impressions? Leave your comments or questions below – cheers!